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The CIO in the New Normal: An Intro to the Digital-First Era

Cio in the new normal

After 2020, the digital business landscape changed permanently, forcing many CIOs to adopt more responsibilities, make hard decisions, and, ultimately, rethink their organization’s operating models – in short, the world has changed for the CIO in “the new normal.” 

In this post, we’ll learn what exactly “the new normal” means and how CIOs can stay relevant in today’s fast-paced business landscape.

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The CIO in the New Normal: An Intro to the Digital-First Era

The world changed significantly during 2020, and many research firms predict that the changes resulting from COVID-19 will become a permanent part of our world. McKinsey has gone so far as to call this new paradigm the “next normal.”

What is “the new normal”?

The “new normal,” or the “next normal,” is a term used to describe the post-COVID paradigm. 

There are disagreements about exactly what types of changes this new paradigm entails, but many agree that we are entering a new era.

Accenture, for instance, has labeled this new era the “Never Normal” and suggests that it will be characterized by constant change.

Changes that we can expect to see in the years ahead include:

  • Shifts in customer sentiment and behavior
  • A greater demand for home- and health-related products
  • An increased need for digital products and services
  • A digital-first business landscape

One of the biggest consequences of the paradigm shift we’re seeing is that the entire economy is becoming technology-driven.

As we’ll see below, this carries several major implications for businesses, IT departments, and CIOs.

What the new normal means for CIOs

Naturally, in a world built upon technology, CIOs will have more responsibilities in terms of leadership, business strategy, and more.

Here are a few trends that are being fueled by this technology-first paradigm:

  • CIOs are being called upon to design and lead digital transformation efforts. Businesses need IT leaders who understand both the technical side of IT and the business value of technology. CIOs often fit the bill. As a result, many are transitioning from operational leadership roles to strategic or transformational leadership positions.
  • Businesses units can no longer operate in silos. Technology’s disruptive effect is both a blessing and a curse for businesses. On the one hand, disruption drives innovation and it fuels new forms of value. On the other, it creates fragmentation and complexity in the workplace. Paradoxically, IT is also needed to combat this fragmentation, and CIOs are often the ones to lead such IT-driven endeavors.
  • Companies are becoming more agile. Agile organizations will lead in the coming era, since disruptive change will define the economy. And since IT is playing a more central role in business operations, many CIOs are building agility into their organization’s approach.
  • There’s an increased focus on data and analytics. Data delivers better results wherever it is applied – and it can be applied to everything from business intelligence to employee productivity to the customer experience. While data management leaders, such as CDOs, are usually in charge of data-driven programs, CIOs are usually needed to guide those leaders.
  • There’s an increased focus on security and risk management. Another consequence of the digital-first age is an increase in cyber threats. As with data management, specialized IT leaders are often needed to head up security programs – in this case, CISOs. However, CISOs often report to CIOs, which means that as the threat landscape evolves, so too will CIOs’ responsibilities.

Ultimately, to stay relevant, businesses must be willing to make dramatic changes to their processes. Those that embrace digital transformation, build a robust digital strategy, and invest in innovation will be the most successful.

For CIOs, however, this often entails significant change, as we’ll see below.

How CIOs should adapt to today’s changing world

As the CIO’s role changes, they will need to adapt in several ways:

  • CIOs will have to develop new skill sets to keep up. CIOs in the new normal will need to learn a new set of skills to keep up. Since they will be called upon to lead strategic initiatives, many will have to learn new skills to stay relevant and add value to their organizations. A few skills to focus on include: leadership skills, people management skills, and soft skills.
  • CHROs and CIOs should work together to manage talent. Today, a talent shortage has beset the IT world. That talent shortage can interfere with business plans, inhibit innovation, lower employee performance, and more. CIOs and CHROs, therefore, should cooperate to recruit top talent and build robust employee training programs.
  • Transform the company’s culture to one that is digital-focused, data-driven. Technology-driven organizations don’t just need digital leadership, they also need technology to be embedded into the very fabric of the corporate culture. As mentioned, this requires the investment in employee training – but it also requires a mindset shift. Employees must have a positive view of technology and they must be willing to embrace it. 

CIOs, in short, must not only become business leaders, they must become involved in many areas of the business.

For more information on the CIO’s evolving role, check out our article on the CIO’s role as an organizational leader.

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