To say the past couple of years have been tumultuous would be an understatement. From a global health crisis to economic disruptions, geopolitical turmoil, and dramatic shifts in the job market, our world has significantly changed in the past few years. In business, the ability to adapt to change is no longer a differentiator or a sign of progressive strategies—it’s a trait necessary for survival.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, digital adoption was already accelerating across industries. The arrival of a global health crisis only deepened the necessity of digital literacy, technology advancement, and organizational agility for all companies.
As a result, IT departments are facing unprecedented challenges, constrictions, and demands. And IT leaders are at a crossroads with their priorities and expectations.
For many leaders, this is a moment to reflect on their tactics and create a new roadmap for the future—one where digital capabilities and technology will expand their influence on every business function.
To understand this inflection point for tech leaders, we asked our own technology and business experts pressing questions:
Read their takes on this unique moment in tech leadership below.
- Dena Campbell, Chief Information Officer
- Steve Shoemake, Managing Partner, Technology Solutions
- Ina Dwyer, Managing Director, Pursuit Enablement Center
- Mahesh Krishnamurti, Senior Advisor, ESG & International Operations
Question 1: How might CIOs promote empowerment, agility, and resilience?
Empowering their teams to fully utilize and strengthen their respective skills is a key focus of CIO. It’s also important for tech leaders to mentor and trust their employees to contribute in meaningful ways. Safe avenues must be provided for team members to ask questions and feel supported in their growth.
Through communicating the big picture and creating clear change management plans, tech leaders can empower other department heads by conveying the benefits, specific to their respective function, of technology and process transformations and optimizations.
We are living through an unprecedented rate of tech adoption which puts stress on organizations to create change to stay competitive. CIOs are accountable for evaluating the need for and benefits of technology changes and upgrades, the timing and approach to execution, and the resource needs and implications.
The amount of agility needed in environments with competing timelines and demands can easily feel like a frog in water on the stovetop. With so much change, an immunity seems to develop over time. As we grow accustomed to constant adjustment as the norm, we’re at risk of changing for the sake of change versus focusing on the big picture and the broader implications.
The shared purpose and goals of the organization are key to creating resilience. It’s vital to clearly communicate what’s happening, and what impacts and benefits are expected to help each unique audience connect. M&A, regulations, the pandemic, changes in leadership, world events—they all impact our best laid plans. Develop and constantly amend your models for scaling technology.
There are two ways of driving behavior change:
- Recognize someone publicly for positive actions and results
- Address negative behaviors privately, seek to understand, and determine a way forward
If a CIO needs to promote empowerment, start by empowering your VPs and Directors. Don’t make every decision. Seek your managers’ council, weigh their input, and let them try their ideas. Then, if the idea fails or is less successful than you hoped, pivot.
Use real data and real outcomes in your discussions, but don’t hamstring your staff because they invested in a new hire that didn’t work out, or took a chance on a pilot that had an initially promising business case but ended up being a bust. Make sure the lesson is learned, but remember that it’s hard to build a culture of empowerment if every failed idea creates drama and tension.
Letting a fear of failure dominate the organization inevitably leads to all decision-making being forced upward. This creates a “run it up the flagpole” mentality instead of fostering empowerment, and encourages rigidity instead of agility and frailty instead of resilience.
Question 2: How is the measuring stick for IT leaders’ success changing?
Beyond evaluating an organization’s technology stack for value and capabilities, there’s a growing need to measure the success of digital transformation beyond technology. A CIO needs to evaluate and design the integration of digital and technology into all business areas, fundamentally changing how operations deliver value to customers. The CIO is accountable for the entire transformation, which includes cultural changes, facilitating continued experimentation, and learning from mistakes.
The foundation for sustaining governance and keeping the organization informed starts with linking technology, digital and project management goals to overall business strategy. I believe CIOs will increasingly be measured on the translation of strategic objectives into specific business outcomes and actions. They will also be evaluated on how that translation is embedded into an actionable roadmap that encompasses planning for technology, people, and organizational capabilities.
I believe we’re moving into a Post-Digital Transformation age. That doesn’t mean every company has gone through this phase, but most CIOs have dabbled in digital (given approved budgets). They’ve considered how to digitize their processes, and they’ve invested in new user experiences and capabilities. Where appropriate, they’ve pitched virtual reality (VR) as a business tool or robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and/or machine learning (ML).
These technologies will continue to evolve, and new use cases will emerge, but the obvious plays have, most likely, been adopted. Buying a sunroom addition? Savvy general contractors can show you a VR of your new sunroom. Claims adjusters can approve claims digitally via phone pictures. Machines can learn to spot sensitive data, like credit card numbers, and mask them in your data sets.
What does this have to do with measures? Simple. I believe CIOs are increasingly aligning to the business, and are being measured against results that are experienced by other business leaders: outcomes, profitability, hitting growth targets, etc.
In a post-digital landscape, and as IT becomes inseparable from core operations, CIOs will become critical to developing and informing business strategy, with one major caveat: IT security risk (cybersecurity) is a competency unto itself.
For companies that do not have a separate CISO function (wherein CIOs need to cover that area as well), it makes sense that effective risk management of IT assets be part of any management measure. If the function is carved out, the CISO assumes more of this responsibility.
Question 3: What’s your best advice for CIOs to be successful in the near future?
Know the organization’s strategic direction, and be prepared for multiple scenarios to support its goals with digital transformation. Stay current on trends and identify what will and will not work for your organization’s culture, maturity level, and strategic vision.
Shift leadership thinking beyond the success of driving multiple, unique technology projects towards an overall portfolio of products impacting key audiences. Educate and drive the increasing use of data analytics to provide business insights that can guide you in decision making. Make time for evaluating innovation tolerance in your roadmap. Constantly assess ways to grow today’s teams into tomorrow’s teams that align with the CIO and the organization’s goals.
Headwinds currently abound at a macro level: inflation, labor market instability, geopolitical risks, dollar devaluation, supply chain disruptions, rising consumer debt, interest rate hikes, wobbly equity and bond markets…there’s a lot of unknowns out there.
A CIO today needs to be a calming voice and a steady hand. They need to be a buttress against the oncoming challenges. IT leaders and their teams, and other department heads across the business, all see the same writing on the wall. The coming months will be a test of leadership for CIOs, and it’s a pass/fail grade. Budgets may need adjusting, projects may be delayed or canceled. Hiring may need to be paused. Complicated personnel decisions may be necessary. Or maybe not.
None of the “recession talk” is guaranteed to become reality. In the near-term, steady reinforcement of core company values and timeless leadership are needed most. Be present with your staff, advocate for the greater good, and be honest with them about what’s actually happening. As the dynamics evolve, be flexible. Be fair and equitable in your decision-making.
If you’re committed to doing these things, your staff will fight for you, no matter the headwinds.
Question 4: How can tech leaders help advance their organizations’ focus on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG)?
Energy usage, governance and diversity are three areas tech leaders can focus on to help advance their organization’s ESG journey. Data center efficiency, consumer data privacy, vendor analysis and talent strategies are key considerations for companies focused on ESG.
CIOs share heavily in the responsibility of ensuring that ESG goals are at the top of the agenda. CIOs need to engage with internal and external stakeholders to understand the issues that are of greatest concern.
1) Identify and align with an enterprise’s overall ESG goals by identifying IT digital transformation opportunities that help achieve those E, S, and G goals. For example, what are the digital capabilities for collecting external and internal ESG-related information from key stakeholders (e.g., vendors, suppliers, partners, clients and employees ) for timely and accurate reporting and analysis? This could include useful information on anything from an organization’s CO2 footprint, to employee engagement, to data integrity and new insights.
2) Develop a single source of data/truth and leverage that for advanced analytical capabilities to propel the enterprise more quickly toward its ESG goals. This can be foundational in supporting a business as it strives for “true North” goals. The information that can be extracted from the data also becomes a vital asset for the organization and its stakeholders.
3) Socialize the IT-driven digital strategy initiatives across the organization to get buy-in and secure clarity on feasibility, budgets, and business impact. IT leaders and business leaders should become conversant with each other’s roles respectively.
4) The CIO and CTO typically have a unique vantage point across the organization and are well-positioned to understand and help connect the dots across business units and functions. They have the opportunity to bring an objective viewpoint, become strong facilitators, and clarify ESG priorities and their alignment with business objectives.
5) Focus on the “E” in the ESG and invest in energy-efficient equipment. Include energy efficiency as an important aspect of any IT equipment purchases. This will contribute towards minimizing CO2 emissions.
An organization is practicing strong Governance (the G in ESG) when CIOs and CTOs become strong business partners and facilitators.
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