With the accelerated pace of digital transformation, coupled with the unprecedented arrival of the pandemic pushing enterprises towards a hybrid work culture, IT leaders have played a key part in keeping business afloat these last two years. The resulting redefinition of their role is influencing their priorities as they prepare for the 2023 financial year.\n\nOne of the biggest changes has been to bring them closer to business units.\n\n\u201cWe are on a digital transformation journey that will transform our customer, partner, and employee experience by focusing on inclusion, innovation, operational excellence, and agile methodologies,\u201d says Dharmendra Rangain, CIO for India and neighbouring countries at Cisco Systems.\n\nAt engineering and technology services company Cyient, CIO Pallavi Katiyar says that CIOs are closely integrated with business and are more like partners today, making the framework for deciding priorities relatively easier. \u201cWe (CIOs) are working very closely with the business to understand their priorities, focus, and requirements. That helps CIOs to identify and work on solutions that need to be enabled for business to meet their objectives.\u201d\n\nCIO\u2019s top concern: cybersecurity\n\nCybersecurity will continue to be a top priority for Indian CIOs in the year ahead, according to a recent survey of technology executives by Gartner: 64% of Indian CIOs surveyed said they will increase their spending on security-related technologies in 2022, higher than the global average of 57%.\n\nThe IT leaders CIO India spoke with told a similar story.\n\nFor Cyient\u2019s Katiyar, cybersecurity is the topmost concern: \u201cThe threat is real. It\u2019s something that has been keeping me awake for the last couple of years.\u201d She says it\u2019s foolhardy for anyone to assume they are safe even if they have the world's leading cyber security solutions.\n\nShe is currently focusing on improving overall cybersecurity by working very closely with her team. \u201cWe ensure that we build cybersecurity and data security into every aspect of the application infrastructure solution that we are delivering,\u201d she says.\n\nHer colleague, CTO Rajaneesh R Kini, agrees. \u201cOur priorities for the year are to enhance our cybersecurity architecture using data access patterns to better understand security threats for IT and OT systems.\u201d Kini is working to make the company more agile and build a system that would enable the organization to leverage data to create insights that drive real business value. He is also exploring AI tools with the goal of providing workers with a self-service platform for supporting decision making.\n\nThis financial year, Katiyar plans to invest significantly in building cybersecurity capabilities in-house but realises that alone won\u2019t be enough: \u201cIt is going to be an impossible task to have the entire knowledge, capability, and skill set in-house, so it's also important to have the right vendor and partner ecosystem in place to help bridge the gap.\u201d\n\nCisco\u2019s Rangain says now is the time to make bolder decisions, assume newer responsibilities that will boost customer and employee experience, and guard against evolving cyberattacks. However, Rangain is well aware that the hurdles and gaps for IT leaders will only widen: \u201cFrom continuously bolstering security architecture to finding and retaining the right talent, the complexities and opportunities are plenty, as we live in a time of innovation and disruption.\u201d\n\nSustainability\n\nRangain has narrowed down three top priorities for the year: security, sustainability, and strengthening existing technology offering a seamless offline and online experience: \u201cSecurity will continue to be our top concern. Fortifying our security portfolio ensures the enterprise is protected, whether it's the corporate office or the home office.\n\n\u201cAs for our commitment to sustainability, moving to the cloud is one of the easiest ways for an organization to reduce the environmental impact of its data centre and IT operations,\u201d he says.\n\nAt Khatabook, developer of a financial services app for small businesses, VP of Engineering Gaurav Lahoti also ranks information and data security as his top priority. Lahoti has activated several initiatives at Khatabook to secure user, employee, and organization data. This financial year he plans to invest in strengthening the security on endpoints of the devices with employees. \u201cFor the safety of internal data around development, we are implementing new device management solutions. We have also enabled security with tighter access control across the products, defining who has what level of access and automating the access controls for seamless operations,\u201d he says.\n\nThe human factor\n\n\u201cAs they say, 'You are only as strong as your weakest link.' Human errors, unintentional, can lead to security failures, so we have designed training for employees on how to use tooling properly and what pitfalls to avoid. We will do this on an intermittent basis, and every new employee who joins will be required to take this training,\u201d he adds.\n\nCybersecurity tops the list of concerns for Monish Darda, CTO and co-founder at Icertis, a developer of contract management software. This year, he plans to invest in three of its elements: infrastructure security, platform security, and compliance and data protection.\n\nAt Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), CIO Abhijit Mazumder\u2019s major main priorities for this financial year are organizational resiliency and cybersecurity. \u201cResiliency is a continuous journey and I have to continue to invest in it. Increasing agility of the organization is critical for me,\u201d he says. \u201cThough we have invested significantly in building the culture of agility within the organization, I think there is more to our journey. We adopt processes that can be digitized so that we can improve the overall productivity of the organization.\u201d\n\nSupply chain\n\nCybersecurity is also the top priority for Huhtamaki India\u2019s head of IT, Udit Pahwa, Given the way threat landscapes are changing, he believes a defense mechanism is the way forward. He is also planning on investing in education and awareness for all users to reduce the risk of a breach.\n\nHowever, there\u2019s also something else on Pahwa\u2019s agenda for the year: supply chain planning. \u201cSolutions in the areas of supply chain planning and demand forecasting to scheduling are areas of focus in current year. The idea is to have clear visibility into the business and arrange for the same; customer fulfilment on time and in full is the main objective.\u201d\n\nTalent retention\n\nIndian IT firms today are seeing the highest attrition rates \u2014 and the resulting demand for skilled IT workers has led to increased payroll costs.\n\nAt technology consultancy Thoughtworks, Chief Digital Officer Swapnil Deshpande says that after compliance, cybersecurity, and data privacy, one of his top concerns for the year ahead is being able to respond to changes faster. \u201cWith business evolving fast and technology evolving faster, one of my concerns is being able to build an IT department that can match or surpass the current rate of change. Running an operationally efficient organization with the help of data will enable key leaders to use actionable insights and foresight for better decision making.\u201d\n\nDeshpande says that to help solve this issue, talent acquisition and retention will continue to be a priority. He also plans to work towards digital transformation with platforms and data to significantly improve the internal IT effectiveness and productivity, thus helping key business leaders make better decisions to run and grow the company.\n\nTalent development and retention have emerged as key concerns for Kiran Marri, vice president and chief scientist at IT services provider CSS Corp. \u201cMy top priorities include enablement and use of technology to empower employees by equipping them with the required skills to solve client problems. My goal is to prepare employees for a technology-based future and help them hone and acquire needed skills now and moving forward.\u201d\n\nNatarajan Radhakrishnan, president and global chief innovation officer at Hinduja Global Solutions, says lack of digitally skilled talent has been a major concern for IT leaders, and hiring talent exclusively from external sources has become extremely difficult. \u201cCIOs encourage employees within the organization to upskill themselves in necessary technologies. This method future-proofs the careers of employees by equipping them with relevant skills. It is also cost-effective for the organization,\u201d he says.\n\nProductivity\n\nOne way around that is to reduce reliance on staff: \u201cOne of the key priorities for CIOs is accelerating and advancing the automation processes within the organization to deal with crises such as the pandemic,\u201d he adds.\n\nFor Lendingkart CTO Giridhar Yasa, too, productivity is a major concern, and the hybrid working enforced by the pandemic has helped with that. \u201cNot spending hours stuck in traffic, and being able to choose their work location, have helped improve employee productivity. Flexible hours of working and virtual meetings seem to be working well. And so the priority for this year is to successfully implement a hybrid working model, preparing employee rosters to divide time spent remotely and in the office.\u201d\n\nFor the coming financial year, then, the focus for these CIOs is on holding on to their data and to their skilled workers and introducing the tools that will enable their enterprises to make most effective use of each in the days to come.