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Updated by Charles Bystock on 09/16/2020

The times are indeed changing for today’s chief information officer (CIO). The role has evolved into less of an operational function and more of a strategic leadership position. Chief executive officers (CEOs) look to their CIO for more than cybersecurity and data management. Today’s CIO has line item responsibility for corporate innovation that adds revenue. During what has become increasingly challenging times, what are the considerations necessary for succeeding in the role of the CIO in 2020 and beyond?

The new CIO
There is little doubt that the c-suite is on the hot seat this year. COVID-19 promised, delivered, and continues to give us a bumpy ride characterized by hot zone viral spikes, market shutdowns, and rising unemployment. Cash is still King, as enterprise organizations change and then revise profit margins to account for drops in consumer spending patterns. Many IT teams are still virtual — and some plan to stay that way.

It’s one of the most challenging times to evolve into a CIO role. These executives face increasing pressure to move from their traditional job description of keeping the lights on to a strategic role that adds value to the organization. New technologies are forcing evolution from legacy platforms but most budgets require doing more with less. In fact, just under 80% of enterprise organizations say they are in the infancy of their digital transformation. Beyond technology, most say they haven’t even evolved their internal structure to prepare for the artificial intelligence (AI)-fueled changes that are coming. Far too many enterprise organizations are still bureaucracy-laden, Waterfall-structured innovation killers. We know where we need to go but how can we get there? The answer rests in large part on our CIO leaders who must drive much of the change we need.

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Three challenges for CIOs in 2021
In addition to tumultuous markets, internal bloat, and a remote workforce, CIOs will face technology challenges including:

  • Turning data into insight

We’ve been collecting data for a decade but we’re just now discerning how to filter it in ways that improve our organizations. This next challenge requires CIOs and their teams to make data useful.

  • Driving innovation and digital transformation

The economic downturn may have slowed startup competitors, but they’re still popping up like whack-a-mole to encroach market share. “Innovate or die” is still the mandate for enterprise organizations in every industry sector. CIOs will be faced with the challenge of matching the agility of youthful innovators within a much larger organization that may be resistant to change.

  • Maintaining cybersecurity

This challenge is inherent in the CIO job title. A newly empowered remote workforce adds to the pressure, certainly, but the additional goal is to ensure a positive end-user experience. The alternative is a frustrated employer seeking workarounds to security rules that heighten risk.
These are a few of the challenges CIOs can expect in the coming months. A bigger question is: Can they overcome these challenges while still facing the mandate to do more with less?

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Meeting CIO challenges while doing more with less
Successful CIO’s must have disruption coping skills built into their DNA. This is not a job for the typical developer, who is rarely enamored with the idea of drama as part of their workload. Today’s CIO must have a proactive strategy for dealing with disruption, which should encompass either playing defense and maintaining business as usual or embracing these challenges as change motivators to improve the organization.

From the perspective of external threats; CIOs exist in an undisciplined environment. Technology is evolving rapidly, but so are the corporate pressures that threaten budgets. While it’s unlikely that a CIO could distill all of their competing goals into one overarching strategy, some compartmentalization must occur based on budgets, resources, and primary corporate key performance indicators (KPIs). Aggressively prioritizing change management is job one for most CIOs as we near the first quarter of 2021. Unfortunately, most technology leaders will face uncertain markets and tighter corporate budgets at a time when AI has matured and digital transformation beckons.

The CIO is now more than four decades old and we’ve watched the requirements evolve from the back server onto the corporate strategic stage. These IT leaders must continue to find ways to add value to their organizations while functioning effectively during disruption from all fronts.

Critical during the coming months is for CIOs to align themselves with an advisory team experienced in innovative enterprise-level techniques proven to deliver value. The Windsor Group Sourcing Advisory team brings these skills to the strategic c-suite around the globe. We are standing by to help your organization succeed during the challenges that lie ahead.