Once primarily occupied with internal technology systems and supporting users of those systems, the CIO role has certainly changed over the last few decades. But most significant change has probably happened over the last 12 months, driven by circumstances. In that time, chief information officers have come to the rescue of organizations forced to operate in a new digital environment when so much of the physical environment shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes hit so many parts of the business, from how customers buy to how customer service is delivered. Organizations shifted workers from offices to home offices, setting them up with the equipment and technology needed to work securely in a remote location. Businesses that used to sell exclusively or primarily from physical locations suddenly needed to explore an expanded ecommerce operation. Logistics and delivery operations were turned upside down as ecommerce became a primary way for customers to buy.
All these changes and more put CIOs and other IT leaders in an important and influential role if they weren't there already. Sure, these executives had already been trending toward becoming more important advisors to the rest of the C-suite over the years. But now digital had become the central way of doing business, not some side project that we could spread out over the next five years and pull funding from during a lean year.
These changes are permanent. The move to digital is here to stay, and the business needs technology leaders to take it into the future.
"CIOs now have new responsibilities," said Terry White, an analyst at Omdia and author of Reinventing the C-Suite, in an interview with InformationWeek. "They are the transformation manager, business development manager, customer experience manager. There's a bunch of new roles that are not purely technology-related, but because the world has gone digital it is affecting every part of the business."
As we are now a year into the pandemic crisis, what are the new trends that CIOs should be looking at today? White put together a list and a report to help CIOs and their organizations sort out the priorities. At a high level, those priorities are summarized with five key messages.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a period of rapid change and challenges for organizations, and that has accelerated technological change. Future conditions will be significantly different from the past and even from the present, according to White.
Second, operating models have had to change. Now that the dust has settled, organizations will be using the rest of 2021 to review and consolidate all of the changes that have happened in organizations, White said.
Third, the pandemic has raised new business priorities. Work from home has been one of them. But deeper in that trend, the pandemic has disrupted traditional research conducted by business and has raised different priorities for innovators, according to White. Plus, the work-from-home trend will drive significant organizational changes. Remote leadership poses challenges for presence and influence, according to White. Leaders and managers will need to adapt their styles to encompass non-line-of-sight supervision and performance management.
Fourth, the CIO role has changed and will continue to change. Technology and the CIO's response to the pandemic, lockdown, and economic downturn, meant that many organizations were able to survive the initial crisis. White believes that CEOs will now expect CIOs to play a more strategic role in their organizations. In particular, CIOs will be asked to expand their non-IT responsibilities. White sees seven possible new responsibility areas for CIOs including business strategy, customer centricity, product development and support, business development, business resilience, agility at scale, and ecosystem enabling.
Finally, this year will continue to be challenging and disruptive. White advises CIOs to revisit their digital transformation programs and reprioritize them for current budgets and realities. While digital transformation was patchy before the crisis, now digital interactions are the most prevalent interactions in our everyday lives, White points out. For instance, more customers are browsing and ordering products and services online, more employees are working from home and also being recruited and interviewed online, business-to-business interactions are further online than before, and business travel has largely been replaced by online meetings.
CIOs need to take stock of all these changes in 2021 and develop an organization-wide digital transformation strategy, according to White.
"COVID has accelerated existing trends five-fold," White said.
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