by Myles F. Suer

Goals for CIOs in 2020 and beyond

Dec 18, 2019
CIOIT Leadership

With the decade change upon us, one question should be on every CIO’s mind: How will this role change in the next 10 years?

We’re about to step into a new decade, and it’s a great time to think to the future. As you may know, the term ‘Chief Information Officer’ was coined by William Synnott and William Gruber in their 1981 book, “Information Resource Management.”

The question today, four decades on, is how the role will change in the next year – and the next 10 years. This was the question that I posed to our weekly #CIOChat Twitter chat session. Hopefully, the collective wisdom of the crowd will be valuable to you as you progress through the new year and beyond.

What are the biggest changes CIOs need to be ready for?

CIOs feel there are lot of challenges that they needed to ready for. Cybersecurity, as expected, received the most common mention. CIOs stress that cybersecurity events are disruptive to organizations because they erode the organization inside and out. CIOs, in fact, believe a breakthrough in security is needed or their time, resources, and budget will be hit hard within the next 10 years. They see this as an opportunity for governments and cloud vendors to fix. As a part of this, they would like to see heavier fines and penalties put applied to security hackers.

CIOs are concerned about the increasing pace of change. The challenge here becomes the needed speed delivery. This is complicated by the growing maturity of technologies including AI, IoT, data, and analytics. Smart CIOs are asking themselves what can AI do for their organizations? How can their organizations use it? How can it simplify and enhance staff response as well as improve customer service? And with this, what skills are needed to deliver on its potential? Here, IT leaders should chase solutions and not products. They need to be driving value in digital opportunities and empowering the digital workforce.

Part of being effective at these endeavors requires CIOs to increase their focus on delivering value after a project is completed. Too often projects end at implementation and the team is disbanded. DevOps? Capturing the value delivered involves quantifying and fully realizing gains especially from expensive, time-consuming initiatives like CRMs.  Just implementing a project isn’t enough. IT teams need to measure gains and analyzing impacts. Meanwhile, too many implementations aren’t using all their feature and functions and ergo IT teams are paying for licenses and fees that aren’t generating value.

What should be the CIO’s top people goal for 2020 and beyond?

In the midst of the above, CIOs believe there is an increasing issue around talent retention. CIOs need to acquire and retain staffing and skills needed for the increasing pace of technology change. CIOs need to identify the skills needed not for yesterday but for the changing role of IT. At the same time, they need to hire and then grow people that truly add value to the organization’s culture and mission. They need, at the same time, to give them the resources and support they need, and then get out of their way so they can succeed.

This can start with a staffing analysis across the entire organization. As a part of this exercise, existing staff should be considered for succession planning, and career roadmaps should be created for people deemed core. In the digital age, it is about empowering a digital workforce to bridge the interactions gaps that occur between humans, bots, and AI as these matures. This means that CIOs should focus their attention on talent within architecture, cloud, security, data, mobility, and AI. Out of this process, they should identify technology leaders who understand newer technologies and can lead technical change. True leaders understand it is their job to support, empower, block, and then get out of way.

When this occurs, it is important to develop and grow the best talent, irrespective of the latest technologies. This should include a focus too on supporting diversity. For all IT organizations, licenses and fees for solutions and platforms represent a fraction of the cost. Implementation costs both internal and external are often 2 to 3 times outside expenditure.

At the same time, CIOs need to help their executive team acquire business leaders who understand technology. The aim should be to become the trusted advisor including with HR regarding employee experience and enabling employees to work with emerging technologies. This can require skill building, enterprise learning, and general people management. It can, also, require customer-centric business models and revenue streams. Putting these elements together with the right IT leaders will allow CIOs to attract and retain the best people. Lastly, it is important that CIOs keep training and appreciating towards the top of their agenda.

What should be the CIO’s biggest transformation goal for 2020 and beyond?

Doing the above well, starts by CIOs understanding transformation is a business discipline focused on achieving business results. Transformation should never be about enabling cool new technologies. CIOs say there is so much left to be done with data. CIOs believe, however, that data needs to be used within ethical constraints. Importantly, they believe if organizations are going to transform, CIOs and business leaders have to act together.

On the IT side, CIOs need to transform their expectations of IT leaders. Transformation is bigger than the CIO and their team. Transformation involves truly knowing what the business needs and searching for that fit this. Most companies are not doing enough to capture and use data around end-to-end experiences. This matters because transformation that works is about experience shifts. It can start with faster delivery of prioritized customer-centric features and functions that drive both top line revenue and bottom-line profit. To work, CIOs should strengthen, and work to create, an IT and business culture that is digital-friendly and possibly digital-first. At the same time, they should ensure projects/products focus on the right technologies including: AI/ML, automation, digital change, low/no code, RPA, DevOps, and cybersecurity.

Digital, done properly, ensures the customer is fully connected through all channels including to supporting back-end processes. CIOs need to be clear with their teams, in this process, that there are only business projects. Otherwise, IT fails before they have started. 

What should be the biggest overarching goal of CIOs in 2020?

One CIO jested whether Tweeting more counted. With this said, CIOs say this should be about moving the team to being more end user aware and focused on implementing and designing solutions that matter. This means better supporting business strategy and identifying technologies that enable new business opportunities. CIOs who do this keep their organizations mission at the forefront. They determine what the business needs and maximizes the value delivered.

This starts by CIOs becoming respected business leaders. CIOs should be a leader that any employee can support regardless of their role in the organization. This, however, requires them to become a value-added partner to the business. If CIOs does this, the interesting and helpful technology stuff will take place. Here CIOs should continually be coming up with things that wow from basic to complex innovations. CIOs should at the same time focus on raising the bar while making things exciting and sustainable. Delivering involves having a cohesive technical architecture with a rational and articulated strategy. Once these are in place, staffing, security, and data management strategies can be developed.

Clearly, no CIO can distill things down to just one goal, but they should aim to distill things down to just a few things. But today, this is paramount. I remember visiting a large Italian bank several years ago where they had over 200 KPIs flashing on large monitors. No can be effective with so many balls in the air. CIOs, for this reason, should practice aggressive prioritization and focus on delivery with fully resourced teams.

Who do CIOs need to partner with the most to deliver on 2020 goals?

CIOs suggested that IT leaders should establish themselves as a crucial collaboration partner. In this process, there will be many partners. The most important partner will be the community that IT supports.  And of course, this increasingly includes the CEO, the leadership team, and the board.

CIOs say that worrying about just one of these is not enough in a constantly changing world. For this reason, CIOs need to use the word customer whenever it is possible. CIO Joanna Young says there should be 460 degrees of partnership. This should include customers, colleagues, team, vendors, and partners. All of these need to be strongly aligned. CIO should whenever appropriate act as the glue between them. In sum, CIO today should get the basic things right–architecture, platforms, and the partnerships. And with these, they can create the basis for success.

The CIO role is now four decades old. It is still having amazing impact in the organizations that have one. But now, is the time for CIOs to align, team, and transform. The IT leaders that do this will provide value over the next 10 years. Those that don’t will find their positions diminishing and possibly ended.