The past year has been a challenging one for everyone, not least of all the technology leaders in companies who have suddenly had to restructure their operating environments to accommodate employees working in different ways as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.Fortunately, constant change is nothing new for the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and other technology leaders in organizations who increasingly face unique challenges as they navigate an ongoing landscape of rapid technological change, security threats and skills shortages across the industry in 2021.
Changing priorities for the CIO in 2021
The CIO has an important role to play within an organization, and it is a role that is often evolving to expand and encompass different skills, responsibilities, and knowledge.
A 2017 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, The Changing Role of the CIO, found that to cope with new business structures and issues, increasingly CIOs need to play roles with business strategy, customer engagement, business growth, and business leadership.
CIOs need to have a thorough understanding of their company and its business objectives – they are no longer just responsible for overseeing IT departments and systems run smoothly. This is because of IT’s central role in ensuring the productivity and profitability of an organization and how IT systems are the lynchpin to project and product successes or failures.
This holistic understanding of the business and the external business landscape and the needs of customers and stakeholders helps today’s CIO to be responsive in the decision-making process to ensure the smooth delivery of the IT department’s KPIs.
How the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping top CIO goals in 2021A recent KPMG survey, technology leaders want more influence within their organizations and a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that this is increasing. The survey found more than six in 10 CIOs felt like they are more influential within their companies as a result of the response to the pandemic.
According to Scott Findlater, the CIO for global power distribution company Anord Mardix, he’ll be focusing on two top priority areas in 2021: digital wellbeing and continued cyber awareness training.
“At least 75% of our team now works from home as a direct result of the pandemic,” Findlater says. “Therefore, a key consideration for me is to continue the feel of office-based working, whilst supporting our staff remotely; providing them with the digital tools they need to sustain their quality of work.”
He says that introducing the digital workplace holds key strategic benefits for the business and for staff, working unanimously with existing systems to enhance employee communications through a central, user-friendly interface.
“Enabling staff to stay connected has been of paramount importance for the business throughout the pandemic,” he says.
“However, with most of our communications moving online, implementing the new digital workplace will reduce the eventuality of ‘video call fatigue’ – streamlining non-essential communications and making online meetings more productive and engaging,” he adds.
Findlater also explains that by simplifying employee interaction and safeguarding employees against communication overkill, the company hopes to support its staff as individuals.
“Ultimately, we are striving for the most efficient path of communication, getting the right content, in the right format at the right time,” he says.
“We also acknowledge that our team has unique home-working environments. For instance, this may mean that some are now full-time teachers as well as full-time employees at Anord Mardix,” he says.
This new way of working can pose risks, which he has anticipated.
“In such unprecedented times, we’re acknowledging that home-life and work-life will overlap now more than ever before, potentially leaving our employees open to cyber-attack,” Findlater says.
“By encouraging our team to undertake short, informative and regular cyber training, we’re hoping that cyber awareness becomes an automatic response - even when focus may not be at 100%.”
The top eight CIO priorities for 2021
With all this in mind, these are the top challenges that the CIO can expect to prioritize in 2021 and beyond:
1. Increasingly digital and/or remote workforces
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a range of new challenges present themselves for CIOs, adding new areas of complexity to the mix. CIOs had to pivot quickly to ensure that their organizations' information systems were able to continue functioning under a challenging set of circumstances.
This has included:
- Managing a workforce that suddenly became distributed as opposed to having most people on the same site
- Security issues posed by bring your own device (BYOD) policies and unsecured home networks
- Pressure on remote access systems that were never designed to have the organization’s entire workforce attempt to access them at once
- The need to quickly deploy new software systems and apps to facilitate a collaborative working environment
- Increased calls to the help desk for assistance to deal with problems caused by all of the above.
While much of this is now embedded in organizations, it will continue to have an effect in 2021 - especially when there is still no end in sight to remote working in many parts of the world - or, indeed, it may become the “new normal” for many organizations.
2. Driving and embedding digital transformation in the company business strategy
As part of the expectation the CIO needs to take on a more strategic role in their company, this includes an expectation they will be responsible for driving necessary digital transformation across the business.
The rapid response to COVID-19 last year highlighted this, and this will continue into 2021 and beyond.
According to a McKinsey survey, organizations are reporting that their digital transformation has accelerated by seven years during the last year, as organizations shift to embrace the needs of both employees, customers and other stakeholders alike.
This includes the balancing act of ensuring the systems are performing well while investing in new infrastructure and fostering innovation to help the business compete in a constantly changing business landscape.
3. Being responsive to internal clients
Internal clients rely on IT systems functioning and being available to them around the clock in order to do their jobs… this is the reality of business life in the 21st century. Unstable systems, outages, slow responses from IT when support is required is frustrating for internal customers and they have little patience when things don’t work – particularly if problems are frequent and the same issues recur, unresolved.
The PriceWaterhouseCoopers report found that 47 % of IT spend in companies is now falling outside the remit of the CIO’s budget while other areas of business invest in their own IT systems and infrastructure.
This is blamed on IT’s traditional inability to respond quickly and flexibly to the business’ requirements.
4. Dealing with industry disruption
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only type of disruption that is a top priority for CIOs in 2021. Industry disruptors have changed the business landscape for good across many different industries. As companies have had to respond to these incursions into their traditionally held marketplace, entire business models have needed to be rethought in order to compete. In many instances, disrupters have caused companies to collapse.
For the CIO the challenge will depend on their company’s industry: are the threats there already, or are they likely to come soon? Being placed to respond to new systems and technology required to compete with new business models within the industry is crucial.
In doing this the CIO needs to be constantly eyeing the future so they can launch new projects and initiatives quickly in order to protect their company’s market share.
5. Finding and keeping top IT talent
A recent Gartner report found that 63 % of senior executives believed that a talent shortage in IT was a key concern facing their organization.
The rapid growth and change in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and automation, has meant that there are more requirements for IT specialists within an organization. Unfortunately, there is also a problem finding someone with the niche skill set to fill these roles.
This has created a global skills-gap shortage. And if a CIO is lucky enough to have found the right people for the job, hanging on to them is also a challenge because they are so in demand, a company with more money and a better cultural fit could lure them away.
6. Increasing focus on cybersecurity
Cybersecurity has been one of the top CIO priorities for many years now and 2021 will be no different. They need to have a proactive mindset in this area in order to constantly ensure their company’s systems are secure and protected from internal and external threats.
Employees are the biggest risk to any organization when it comes to cybersecurity… from deliberate acts of espionage by disgruntled, disaffected or corrupt employees through to laziness or negligence, the risk within any company lies with those who have been trusted with access to the systems.
Cybercrime is constantly evolving and threats become more and more sophisticated. This includes viruses, malware, ransomware, phishing, and hacking. And business is booming for cybercriminals everywhere!
A recent report from RiskIQ found that every single minute, cybercriminals cost the global economy $2.9 million, with a global annual cost of $1.5 trillion.
Staying ahead of new and emerging threats, identifying ongoing risks, ensuring systems are protected and employees are educated appropriately on cybersecurity risks will be a top priority to protect systems and data from this ongoing and increasing threat.
7. Increasing focus on privacy and security of customer data
How customer data is stored – including health and financial information – has been a focus for regulators around the world in recent years, most notably in the form of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It’s expected these requirements will follow in other jurisdictions as the public are increasingly savvy and concerned about information that is kept about them by third parties.
The CIO has a critical role to play in this to ensure that the company is complying with these regulations and that any future changes to systems will continue to comply. The risk of non-compliance can be hefty penalties and other legal issues, as well as negative publicity and reputational damage.
8. Rethinking the IT budget
Budgets cause a headache at the best of times, but residual problems from last year might really put the squeeze on IT budgets in some organizations, depending how badly things went economically last year.
The CIO will have to refocus the budget in 2021, depending on how the pandemic affected both the sector the business operates in, and how the business itself was affected. For example, if the company has to change its business model entirely this will have a different effect on the IT budget compared with whether there is more demand for digital products from customers.
CIOs have really needed to step up and help take their companies to new heights over recent years, and 2021 will be no exception. They’ll have to juggle many balls of accountability and make wise and informed business decisions.
And while their roles are expanding into other areas not traditionally held by the CIO, the ongoing IT needs and IT investment decisions are still just as important and need to be factored into their daily agendas.
These CIO goals may need to be achieved on a shrinking budget, so looking for ways to do things more efficiently while still delivering on corporate priorities and expectations is crucial.
One of the savviest IT investment decisions a CIO could make in 2021 is DeskAlerts, which can help with many of the challenges to improve communication with the organization, take the pressure off the help desk and improve its internal reputation, and strengthen the cybersecurity culture in the organization.
Contact us today to find out more about how DeskAlerts can help IT leaders in your company to deliver on the priorities and challenges expected in 2021 and beyond.