As financial headwinds gust into 2023, a more uncertain economic environment demands a new breed of CIO, one who can combine business knowledge with technical depth along with evangelism and leadership abilities.
With many CIOs now acting as key business strategists, they must reevaluate and recalibrate which technologies they are making bets on and ensuring value in the investments they made and will make.
In short, CIOs need to recognize IT must evolve from a cost center to a profit center.
As companies reinvent their data processes, CIOs and their chief digital innovation officer (CDIO) counterparts also need to challenge their data teams and programs to stay ahead and innovate to show sustainable business impact.
Leading Programs to Drive Revenue
Ignacio Segovia, head of product engineering at Altimetrik, says organizations are increasingly becoming digital native, and naturally CIOs must lead that transition.
“This transition entails re-thinking the business with technology and digital channels at its core, not just as an operational function,” he explains. “CIOs are key drivers for digital business transformation initiatives and will need to develop new skills to design strategies they can learn quickly and develop new products.”
Segovia adds that while sharing plans and objectives is par for the course, an effective CIO must also create motivational, inclusive, and unbiased environments. “This is especially relevant with the advent of AI tools and automation which will bring significant workforce and processes consolidation to most industries,” he says.
Eric Johnson, CIO of Momentive, says if you aren’t already leading programs that are clearly driving revenue, you are missing a huge opportunity and are falling behind in what you can deliver for an organization.
“Moving data centers from a business cost to a business profit needs to be a priority,” he explains, adding that a big factor pushing the evolution of the CIO role is the evolving digital world.
From his perspective, it’s the job of the CIO — now more than ever — to help companies shift from the traditional, analog ways of doing business to getting on board with automation.
“This could mean utilizing new technologies and processes or adjusting to new business models, as well as being proactive to determine where the best opportunities for new innovations are,” Johnson says.
He predicts that in 2023 and beyond, executive teams will invite new titles to the decision-making table, as the CDIO becomes mainstream.
“This signifies a larger industry move towards embracing data and prioritizing digital strategies and business development,” he says. “There is a timely demand for data-focused expertise, and the modern CDIO will be responsible for improving business outcomes by underpinning strategies, encouraging innovation, and cutting waste.”
Top CIO Skills for 2023 Include Optimization, Resiliency
Sree Kancharla, CIO at Coalfire, says his top four CIO skills going forward include thinking in a data-mindset, understanding the business process, developing key relationships across the organization, and optimization.
“CIOs need to take on a data mindset by first understanding the data, and then determining how critical the data architecture and data governance is,” he says.
For understanding the business process, they need to think about how they can move the needle for the company, prioritize the projects that drive business, and implement or evolve the systems they already have.
“The third important thing is building business partnerships across the organization,” Kancharla adds. “Having all levels of relationships will go a long way for the CIOs to be successful. The last thing is really thinking of what optimizations they can bring to the company, especially next year.”
He points out that next year, every company will have to bring down costs, which means streamlining and optimizing the software within the company and deploying the tools they already have to the full potential.
Segovia adds effective CIOs must also be able to understand the tech and recommendations their teams are executing on.
“They need to understand areas in a reasonably deep manner in order to lead teams of wide technical and digital acumen,” he says.
The role of CIO can greatly benefit from foundational technical training on product, cloud, and data engineering technologies or even better growing into the role with a practitioner’s pathway, having been “in the trenches” at least for a portion of their career.
“This background is key to understanding decisions and trade-offs their teams are making,” Segovia says.
CIOs Need Assertive, Adaptable Strategies
From Johnson’s perspective, if the tech investment isn’t providing demonstrable value, critical review is needed.
“With tightened budgets, more leaders will need to consider using bot technologies to provide IT support, as well as help with key processes in the finance, HR, and sales departments,” he says. “Investing and deploying systems that automate processes will free up teams to do more meaningful work and save costs, laddering back to the company’s bottom line.”
Johnson says by becoming a well-rounded strategist, CIOs can use their expertise to guide strategy for successful outcomes. “An assertive strategy will also drive value to existing investments,” he notes. “As we continue to navigate tumultuous times, CIOs also need to be increasingly adaptable.”
This means they will need to be confident in their decisions and comfortable pivoting as the macro environment shifts. “Resiliency is also key when it comes to building a strong, buoyant workforce and workplace culture,” Johnson adds.
Segovia says given the recent slowdown of corporate earnings, strong inflationary headwinds and a likely global economic contraction, CIOs should focus on aligning the organization’s technology strategy with the organization’s business objectives more tightly than ever.
This means implementing technologies and strategies that drive operational efficiency and cost savings and investing in technology that can help the organization adapt to the changing economic environment and gain a competitive advantage in new areas.
“This will enable CIOs to defend their budgets and help the organization navigate the challenges brought by current uncertainties and the quickly changing economic environment,” he says.