Mary K. Pratt
Contributing writer

Key IT initiatives reshape the CIO agenda

May 30, 202310 mins
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

While cloud, cybersecurity, and analytics remain top of mind for IT leaders, a shift toward delivering business value is altering how CIOs approach key priorities, pushing transformative projects to the next phase.

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When it came to cybersecurity projects, Daniel Uzupis could always count on executive and board support during his tenure as CIO at Jefferson County Health Center in Fairfield, Iowa.

“Any cybersecurity initiative I wanted to do, they didn’t argue with it; they always did it,” Uzupis says.

In fact, Uzupis says he has seen over his years in IT how leadership has become more security aware and, with that, more enthusiastic supporters of security-related initiatives.

“People are coming to the conclusion that compliance isn’t security,” he says.

And as CIO at Jefferson County Health Center, he saw a “a growing trend to protect data and keep it safe as much as you would protect the patient.”

That translated into a slew of cybersecurity initiatives built around the CIA triad — that is, projects focused on protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data.

Recent and ongoing initiatives include designing and delivering a more robust backup system to boost resiliency and ensure that the organization could continue operations — whether hit by a tornado or a ransomware attack.

Projects also include the introduction of multifactor authentication; security, orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR); extended detection and response (XTR); and security information and event management (SIEM) software, according to Uzupis, who left his position in spring 2023.

Uzupis’ focus on cybersecurity could be considered a sign of the times, as a majority of CIOs responding to’s annual State of the CIO survey said they were focusing on such initiatives.

When asked, “Which areas do you anticipate your involvement increasing over the next year?” 70% of CIOs put cybersecurity — making it the most universal area of interest by a wide margin. Other top 10 initiatives seeing increased CIO involvement include the related areas of data privacy and compliance (at No. 3, with 55% of responding IT leaders listing this area) and risk management (at No. 9, with 47% involved in such).

In general, responses to the State of the CIO question indicate that CIOs are continuing to focus on the technologies that have dominated their agendas in recent years. In addition to the higher attention to cybersecurity, privacy, and risk, CIOs said they’re anticipating increased involvement in:

  • data analysis: 55%
  • artificial intelligence/machine learning: 55%
  • customer experience: 53%
  • product development/innovation: 49%
  • environmental, social and governance (ESG): 49%
  • cloud migration: 47%
  • operational technology (OT): 45%
  • employee experience: 42%

A shift in emphasis to business value

While most of the above key initiatives may be familiar to anyone working in IT, CIOs, advisors, and researchers say there’s more to the story. Today’s focus on these initiatives is more about optimizing the use of technologies to deliver measurable value in those areas, rather than just delivering the technologies themselves. It’s a shift in emphasis that makes all the difference.

“This is all about delivering business value. That’s what we’ve been seeing, that’s what’s really changing,” says Chirajeet “CJ” Sengupta, a partner with research firm Everest Group.

“It has been years since we came up with the term digitalization, and we saw a tremendous rate of investment in the building of new tech solutions and new tech platforms. But today many enterprises are taking a pause and asking if they’re getting value out of the investments they’ve made; they’re also trying to squeeze more value out of the investments they made. That is really the mood of the market today,” Sengupta says.

That attention to value shows up in different ways, depending on each organization’s level of maturity, its position in the market, and its objectives, Sengupta says.

For example, organizations further along in their cloud journeys are now moving to platform-based models “that are being optimized and continuously improved,” he says.

That in turn is changing how IT operates. Instead of teams focused on specific areas, such as networking, many IT departments are moving to a “platform-led IT operating model” where there’s a team to run each platform, with those teams working closely with the business departments using those platforms.

“This is the ultimate cumulation of the agile movement, and this helps IT make sure it’s delivering business value,” Sengupta says.

In addition to the shift to platforms, Sengupta sees many CIOs and their teams focusing more attention on cloud computing as they seek to effectively and efficiently scale their investments there.

“Cloud continues to be a big area of investment, but it’s a different kind of investment,” he explains. “We have been pushing a lot onto the cloud but the next generation of [work] is around how to run things at scale once I’m in the cloud, how do I run things more seamlessly in the cloud, how do I run interoperable clouds, and how do I run IT operations with a cloud foundation,” he says.

There are similar trends when it comes to data and data-related initiatives, Sengupta adds. CIOs have already laid the groundwork toward developing more data-driven enterprises but are now maturing their overall organization’s data programs by pushing for more rationalization to get to that long-sought single version of truth, strengthening data governance, and working to make data more accessible to users.

“All that,” he adds, “points to the conversation around how can IT bring more business value.”

Maximizing the value of ongoing IT deployments

Shane McDaniel, CIO of the City of Seguin, Texas, is among those IT leaders shifting their focus to maximizing the value they’re getting from ongoing technology deployments. Seguin has migrated its legacy infrastructure to a modern IT environment as the first step in its digital journey and is now moving to the next phase.

“We have completed upgrading our technology infrastructure over the past five years, but as the momentum of the city continued to gain speed, we began to transition from not just infrastructure enhancements but also managing operational efficiencies through technology,” he explains.

Seguin’s modern infrastructure has enabled the city to move more of its services online, to mature its cybersecurity capabilities into an award-winning program, and to advance some operational technologies, notably its geographic information system (GIS) system, McDaniel says.

“That said, despite having made substantial progress through technological innovation does not mean we are anywhere close to being done,” he says, adding that IT is “constantly evolving and you do what you can to keep up with the ebb and flow of it all.”

McDaniel says several key areas of focus for his IT team moving forward include cybersecurity and data-related initiatives, noting that because of the transformation over the past several years “we have such a greater volume of data cycling in and out of the city today.”

Such initiatives mirror what other research has identified as IT trends for this year. The 2023 IT Priorities Report from Snow Software, for example, listed a range of priorities, including reducing IT costs and security risks, delivering digital transformation, improving customer service and satisfaction, and driving innovation for competitive advantage, as well as helping make the company more sustainable and employees more productive.

John Ang, CTO of EtonHouse International Education Group in Singapore, says the key initiatives shaping his IT agenda today, in order of priority, are data analytics, cloud migration, the digital marketing customer experience strategy, and AI, including ChatGPT.

“Analytics is the No. 1 priority as we will be using data to understand and predict our business needs and student enrollment numbers, resource allocation, etc.,” Ang says, adding — in a nod to the fiscal realities facing more and more IT leaders today — “every dollar counts.”

As for the focus on the digital marketing and customer experience strategy, Ang is looking at “how we can accelerate tech and use it for business opportunities [and better] customer acquisition,” he says. As part of this initiative, Ang and his IT team are looking at AI as a possible component, with a plan to investigate its use internally first before rolling it out for customer-facing use cases.

Like others, Ang says these initiatives are ongoing, noting that EtonHouse has been focused on migrating to the cloud for several years and that the other initiatives are carried over from 2022. But the emphasis now is more on how such uses of technology impact EtonHouse’s core mission.

Accelerating on what’s next

Marcus Murph, head of CIO Advisory for KPMG, says his work with CIOs as well as KPMG’s own research sees similar trends around IT leaders’ key priorities and how those priorities are shifting focus.

More specifically, Murph says CIOs are continuing to replace their legacy tech with software-as-a-service (SaaS) options and optimizing their cloud purchases. But for many CIOs that now means modernizing past prior lift-and-shift projects.

“We’re seeing some clients who are beginning to modernize even after they’ve migrated to the cloud,” he says, noting that for some this means moving to serverless and composable architecture — a new phase in their cloud transformations.

Meanwhile, other CIOs are “looking at costs, seeing if they’re spending at the right levels” in the cloud, he says, adding, “It’s a journey, right? It doesn’t end the moment you land on the cloud.”

Murph also sees CIOs increasing their investments in data-related products and services. Purchases range based on the maturity level of their organization’s data programs. Some are building out cloud-based data fabrics, while others are supporting more advanced data initiatives such as deploying more AI in the enterprise. “But they’re all figuring out how to get access to the data in a way that helps them the most,” he says.

And nearly everyone is increasing their focus on cybersecurity, with significant investments in security tools happening. “That has been on the top 3 list for CIOs for a very long time,” he adds.

CIOs, however, also have their eye on newer and emerging technologies such as edge computing, blockchain, and other Web3/metaverse capabilities, noting that they generally believe they’ll be on their roadmaps sooner rather than later.

“I think we’ll see some acceleration on those ‘What’s next?’ questions,” Murph says.

Still, he sees some continuation of today’s trends as CIOs move forward. IT leaders remain firmly focused on delivering for their organizations, looking at creating more agility and customer centricity with their investments while also improving security and reducing risks, he says.

And all that, he adds, rolls up into creating value.

“It’s now really about articulating technology in terms of the value it brings,” he says.