by Myles F. Suer

Top priorities for CIOs in 2019

Dec 20, 2018
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

Where are leading CIOs placing their bets in the coming year?

high priority gauge
Credit: Thinkstock

Each year most of us look back at the same time as we project forward. In the act of projection, it is natural to want to compare within an industry or even across industries. For this reason, it came as no surprise when several CIOs asked for a #CIOChat focused on 2019 priorities. Here is a summary of what was learned about CIO goals and priorities for 2019.

Stakeholder activities CIOs should embrace to get ready for 2019

CIOs had many entities on their lists to meet with. For the most part, they said it is important to get out of the office and listen. One CIO said talk to the people on the loading dock, in sales, and at a trade show. In addition, CIOs said buy coffee for random folks up and down the ladder.

In terms of meetings that CIOs should be in, here is a partial list.

  • Board meetings
  • C-Suite planning meetings
  • Line of business goal setting meetings
  • Customer meetings
  • Company planning meetings (topics: business goals, business growth, strategy, planning and financial priorities)

By this time of the year, CIOs believe IT leaders should have already been discussing and influencing 2019 investment decisions especially those that are about increasing value for customers. At the same time, CIOs should have been planning to move forward on continuous improvement of IT delivery at scale, velocity, and affordability. Part of this includes attending governance advisory committee meetings.

In addition, CIO networking activities should include:

  • IT liaison surveys/focus group meetings
  • CFO collaboration on the 2019 budget
  • Change agent priority elicitation
  • Open sounding board of 2019 IT priorities

CIOs suggest that while engaged in stakeholder activities, it is important that IT leaders share on ‘tech debt’, vendor market environmental scans, and functional and technology obsolescence. Where IT leaders lack relationships, CIOs suggest IT leaders use cybersecurity or digital transformation as the “bait” for a bigger discussion. The goal should be to find out what keeps business leaders and even board members up at night. CIOs suggest as well that in public companies, it makes sense to build relationships with the firm’s chief auditor and the risk folks. From here, you should get to know the board audit committee chair. They will listen regarding cybersecurity and help you get your ideas socialized. Saving big bucks on audits by improving controls is a worthy discussion for them.

What type of transformation is most important to initiate in 2019?

Answers varied significantly by company and industry. Transformation types discussed included the following:

  • Customer experience
  • Employee experience
  • Digital business services
  • Ecosystem driver/platform/microservices

In addition to these, CIOs said that they need to spend time and effort reducing business friction and minimizing wasted time and resources. This includes investment in pervasive analytics including BI and AI. CIOs stress that in defining business transformation targets, IT leaders need to focus upon things which provide value to customers whether it is CX, digital business services, or other needles that must be moved. These must be defined, prioritized, and measured. Emphasis must be given to the velocity and quality of delivery expressed in terms including better, more effective, and more efficient.

For universities, everything today boils down to customer service, user experience, inclusion, efficient operations, and innovation. Industry CIOs said that they are seeing customer experience as their number 1 goal and partner integration as their number 2 goal. CIOs say they want to reduce baggage to allow for faster turns as digital transformation takes hold.

CIOs insist the IT leaders need to be pragmatic and strategic about organizational capabilities and about creating the capacity for their organizations to deliver. It is important for CIOs to know their organizations’ barriers to improvement and get them addressed quickly. CIOs need to think like a coach preparing for a championship game. CIOs stress transformation starts by educating the board, gaining trust of CEO and other CxOs, and influencing the process to drive digital transformation

At the same time, it is important that CIOs work to minimize the historical tension between IT and the rest of the organization. Meanwhile, CIOs say budgets are increasingly linear while demand is growing exponentially. For this reason, new sources of IT capacity must be found by:

  • Tapping change agents and their budgets
  • Participating in partner ecosystems
  • Establishing external hackathons
  • Enabling citizen developers

CIOs, as leaders, need to increasingly teach others how to respond to coming transformation. Culture, change management, and change leadership are critical to this journey. New staffing modalities can enable this too—in other words, bringing in more data and mobility folks and retraining/exiting developers and infrastructure as the organization moves to public cloud. CIOs need to enable a consumer-centric view of technology.

What are your top priorities for 2019?

In the #CIOChat, answers varied, but most fell into two categories: personal change and organizational change.

Personal change priorities

  • Improving change leadership and management
  • Enabling organization and strategy alignment
  • Driving innovation/increase relevance of IT
  • Increasing customer engagement through improved CX
  • Becoming critical to the enterprise
  • Getting managers onboard with data
  • Enabling digital inclusion/equity/accessibility
  • Increasingly customer focus internally and externally
  • Establishing thought leadership for driving digital transformation

Organizational change priorities

  • Keep the organization safe (cybersecurity/cyber resilience/GDPR compliance/data protection compliance)
  • Tech debt reduction
  • Increasing digital footprint
  • Data analytics/data quality
  • Modernize governance
  • Kill the data center
  • DevSecOps
  • Automation
  • Supply chain digitization
  • Master data for CX

CIOs say reducing technical debt needs increasing focus. It isn’t wasting money. It’s about replacing brittle, monolithic systems with more secure, fluid, customizable systems. CIOs stress there is ROI in less maintenance labor, fewer incursions, and easier change. CIOs suggest, as well, the good news is that recent low code/no code products from SaaS/iPaaS vendors can harness shadow IT without adding crushing technical debt, data isolation or security burdens.

One of our CIOs ended this discussion by saying, “I’ve been a CIO or similar since 1982 and I’ve never been bored. Cybersecurity is a bugaboo that’s going to keep the CIO up at night more than ever in 2019. It’s a roulette wheel that will curtail many IT leader careers next year.”

Top investment priorities for 2019

This list was longer. Here are the common elements prioritized by response.

  • Security
  • People/talent (training, acquiring, and leading)
  • Digital Transformation
  • Analytics/BI/AI/IoT/RPA
  • Cloud
  • Improve, lose, or replace activities relative to applications and infrastructure
  • Low Code/No Code
  • Business/IT continuity
  • Application upgrades
  • Getting more value out of previously made investments

Two CIO suggestions about these priorities were particularly interesting. First was that the top three priorities should be ‘people’ to paraphrase Doug Conant. This CIO said that people are the basis for strategic growth after data strategy. The second was it is time to file for technical bankruptcy. This CIO said without this you can’t disrupt existing operations and service delivery. It is time, they said, to push the reset button. This is clearly easiest done in the first 100 days as CIO, when the CIO is not perceived as part of the problem.

Personal transformation in 2019

CIOs believe personal transformation is difficult. They call this kind of improvement the human factor. They, nevertheless, believe people are the key to digital transformation and cyber risk mitigation. As for CIO transformation, CIOs say that they want to listen better and talk less in 2019. They need as a part of this to open themselves up to new ways of thinking. After all, CIOs say Gen Z is coming.

CIOs, also, need to spend more time with the board and in getting on boards. And while they do this, CIOs need to take the time to learn new technologies including low code, RPA, and cyber security. Overall CIOs say IT leaders need to make more time for learning, networking, and collaboration events. And Joanna Young, former CIO at Michigan State University, wants as part of this to do more exercise, kale, and #CIOChats. Joanna added that she wants to stop wasting time with negative people and eating too much chocolate. I am finding the later hard especially during this holiday season. Finally, CIOs want to keep challenging themselves professionally to extend their reach in new areas include going to the point of discomfort and unknown.

There was clearly a diversity of responses by CIOs, but with this said there was conformance about the importance of building teams. This includes putting resources first on people and then security and digital transformation in close alignment with business counterparts.