After three years of pandemic pressures and the resulting shifts in established business operating procedures, CIOs are looking to shift out of reactionary mode and become a more strategic partner in the business.
This means engaging with the business earlier in their business decision-making cycle about how technology can help them, partnering closely with the CEO and the CFO to narrow the focus on how technology can help the organization achieve its business outcomes for the year and beyond.
“The CIO must transform their own IT organization and how that organization operates,” says Janelle Hill, Gartner vice president, analyst. “One of the reasons CIOs are in this reactionary position is because for the last 40 years, their team has been trained to ask for requirements, upon which they then deliver.”
She says one of the first pieces of advice she gives is to stop asking for requirements and refocus the question on what business outcome the department is trying to achieve or improve.
“Then you find out what are the obstacles that prevent the department from getting to that outcome,” she says. “Then you can have a conversation about whether there's a role for technology to play to help get to those outcomes.”
Combatting Legacy Perspectives of CIOs
Scott Sellers, CEO of Azul, adds CIOs are “understandably” in reactionary mode because they’ve had to combat two legacy perceptions.
One is that “IT is slowing us down” and the second is “IT is primarily a cost center with ambiguous business value”.
“Therefore, CIOs have been put on a tactical back foot, either fighting fires or jumping on opportunities to support business-critical initiatives,” he says. “CIOs must anticipate business needs, not react to them.”
Sellers says IT leaders don’t need a crystal ball to see that cost efficiency, margin health, and profitable growth are the top priorities for boards today.
“Cloud migration and cloud native strategies are examples of areas where CIOs have the opportunity to be more strategic,” he explains. “They must not merely wait for their CEO to walk into their office and ask to see a plan for controlling cloud costs; CIOs must proactively craft a strategy and present it to executive stakeholders.”
Hill adds instead of CIOs saying they can do everything and anything for everybody in the business, they should outline the set of services they can provide given the budget, resources and competencies level.
“That is a big wake up call for CIOs to figure out what should those services be,” she says. “Maybe it's digital workplace re-engineering or digital workplace design, maybe it's digital process re-engineering.”
CIOs Dealing with Rising Workloads
Dennis Monner, chief commercial officer at Aryaka, says the truth is CIOs have more on their plates than ever before, which has forced them to maintain the status quo instead of shaking things up.
“The CIOs that have been able to take a more proactive approach, rather than waiting for the next major disruption, are the ones that are investing in time-saving solutions, such as managed services,” he says. “Eventually, we see most CIOs taking this path as security risks rise, legacy architectures prove insufficient, environments change faster, and in-house staffs struggle to keep up.”
Monner says CIOs must be bold enough to reject the status quo of existing contracts and legacy systems that keep customers locked into outdated operations, and CIOs that are constantly measuring and evaluating their performance will be better suited to make more strategic, goal-oriented decisions.
“If your current approach simply isn’t working and you have the data to back that up, it’s going to be a lot easier to make a change, even if that process feels uncomfortable or overwhelming,” he adds.
From his perspective, CIOs need to be in alignment with key business leaders across the organization to ensure that they have full buy-in from leadership and everyone is on the same page.
“With the growing convergence of network and security, the teams that are currently overseeing those operations will be most impacted by a strategic shift, so it will be paramount that those teams understand the vision and are on board with any new, innovative opportunities and solutions,” he explains.
Evaluating Priorities for the Year Ahead
Sellers says in 2023, CIOs should have the same priorities as the board of directors, the CEO and the rest of the executive staff -- profitable growth, margin health, and cost efficiency.
“With a looming recession, softening demand, and overall uncertainty, CIOs who anticipate their company’s needs will play a strategic role in operating lean and efficiently while still driving transformative applications,” he says. “Those who fail to do so will be stuck reactively putting out fires and minding the IT estate.”
Monner says given the current economic climate, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate everything.
“Just because your organization has been doing something for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s working as well as it could be and that it’s the most cost-effective solution for your organization,” he notes. “A small change today could be the difference your organization needs to have a successful year.”
Hill says one of her big pieces of advice for CIOs this year is to build a metrics hierarchy that helps define the business outcomes the enterprise wants to get to this year.
“If profit margin is the thing you're trying to improve, then you must determine what are the three or four initiatives going from technology foundations to process initiatives or employee initiatives,” she says. “CIOs must determine the set of factors to be reconciled, integrated, and coordinated to drive that top outcome.