The future cio

The Future CIO: 5 Priorities to Focus on in the Years Ahead

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The future CIO will no longer be a background IT manager – tomorrow’s CIOs will be transformational business leaders.

They will be expected to add bottom-line value to their organizations by helping them succeed in an ever-changing business environment. 


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These changes may seem daunting to some CIOs, but these obstacles also present opportunities. 

Below, we’ll look at a few of the most important challenges and agenda items CIOs will need to focus on in the years to come.

The Future CIO: 5 Priorities to Focus on in the 2020s

In today’s digital age, technology and innovation have completely transformed every aspect of our lives. 

From the way we communicate, shop, travel, work, and live, technology has undoubtedly changed the way we live – and, as a result, the way we do business. 

As the organization’s chief technology leader, the CIO’s role has dramatically shifted and they have more responsibilities than ever before. CIOs who want to stay ahead of the curve will need to start thinking about the future. 

Here are a few areas that CIOs must focus on in order to help steer their organizations in the right direction:

1. Business Transformation

Many CIOs are already responsible for the ideation and execution of digital business transformations that, in many cases, radically change the way businesses create value. 

According to research from IDG, for instance, many CIOs are already becoming responsible for duties above and beyond IT operations.

CIOs will play a pivotal role in leading organizational change that can include:

  • Integrating IT into the heart of the business model and the operational model
  • Adopting agile, product-driven IT practices to stay nimble in the face of a quickly changing technological landscape
  • Cultivating a digital-first organizational culture

The CIO, in other words, is becoming a central player in any business because of the strategic importance of technology itself. 

Yet to fully take advantage of that technology, businesses will need to make significant changes that span the entire business – and the CIO is in an ideal position to be the change leader who spearheads those transformations.

2. Digital Innovation

CIOs are responsible for designing and executing digital strategies that enable the business to compete successfully in the marketplace and respond to the ever-changing needs of the marketplace, customers, and business partners. 

Naturally, the CIO is in an ideal position to both develop and lead those strategies. After all, CIOs are the chief advisors to CEOs and the boards of directors on strategic technology issues facing the business. 

A few tasks that CIOs should focus on include:

  • Researching emerging technology and how it will impact their business
  • Investing in innovation
  • Adopting new technology such as big data, IoT, and artificial intelligence
  • Leading digital transformation efforts 

CIOs are going to be the front line of the digital transformation in businesses. They’re going to take a strategic approach to digital and design and lead digital strategies for their businesses.

Becoming innovation leaders means CIOs are now responsible for digital investments aimed at improving the bottom line. Among other things, this means CIOs must take into account the business side of technology and work closely with the C-suite to obtain buy-in and maintain alignment.

3. Organizational Structure

The IT department needs to be integrated more closely with the rest of the business, as alluded to earlier, and stop viewing itself as a “back office” function. In other words, IT should be working in close partnership with the business and not try to function as an island. 

Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it sounds – other departments tend to view IT as a cost center, for instance, and changing this viewpoint may take some persuasion.

Also, integrating IT into the organization will also involve changes to:

  • Job roles and responsibilities
  • Reporting structures in the C-suite
  • The structure of individual business units

In short, IT units need to be integrated into the rest of the business and they need to be able to work closely with one another in order to maximize the value of their digital investments.

4. The Digital Workplace

A digital workplace is more than just a space that allows employees to work remotely – it is a workplace that utilize technology to its fullest extent. 

In other words, digital workplaces have fully embraced the digital adoption imperative by implementing:

  • Digitally-driven business processes
  • Remote working tools and practices
  • Digital-first employee training tools and practices
  • Digital workflows and business practices

CIOs, as technology leaders, will need to work closely with other relevant business leaders, such as training managers and CHROs, to ensure that the workplace becomes fully digitized and technology-driven.

5. The Workforce

To stay productive and relevant, the workforce must adapt to tomorrow’s digital-first workplace

One of the most important areas to focus on will be digital literacy. After all, if people can’t adapt to the new digital economy then they’re going to fall behind. 

We are already seeing major shifts today’s workforce as workplaces become more digital. 

For instance, the skills required to survive and thrive in this new economy are different – and tomorrow’s job skills will be even more different, which is why cross training employees will be so critical in the years ahead.

To ensure the workforce stays competent and productive, CIOs should invest in:

  • Digital platforms that streamline the digital employee experience, such as unified communication platforms and digital adoption platforms (DAPs)
  • The adoption of tools that streamline HR processes, such as AI-powered talent management tools
  • Cultivating mindsets, behaviors, and an organizational culture that prizes digital technology

Ultimately, the workforce is an organization’s most prized asset, so everything must be done to improve their wellbeing and their performance.

While many CIOs may view talent management as an HR function – which it is – it must also be remembered that digital technology now touches every corner of the business, which only expands the CIO’s domain of responsibility.

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