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How CIOs Can Prepare for the Next Major Business Disruption

In recent times, CIOs have proven themselves capable of innovating in the midst of great crisis and upheaval. Now, what’s next for the role?


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….” Many CIOs will resonate with this passage from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, “A Tale of Two Cities”, in the current time of disruption. While CIOs are facing a range of challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, those challenges allow them to take a larger leadership role as they redefine the future of their businesses.

Indeed, over the past year, CIOs have proven themselves capable of innovating in the midst of great crisis and upheaval. As business leaders believe, there is no going back to the way things were and companies must continue to reinvent themselves to continue thriving in a digital-first economy, for CIOs this means more responsibility, power and budget. And needless to say, oodles of challenges to overcome!

A recent survey done by Genpact and the MIT CIO Sloan Symposium states even though CIOs and other technology leaders have led heroic work to help their companies stay in business during the pandemic, 68% of 500 CIOs surveyed believe their departments are not fully prepared to assist their organizations endure another big business disruption. The study at the same time sees the CIO role post-pandemic is ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ as these tech leaders can becoming ‘co-creators’ of new business models with the right strategies.

The question now is where would the focus of CIOs’ and their organizations be in the future? Based on the findings of research reports and expert opinions, here are some recommendations for CIOs leading IT through the crisis and beyond.

Step up to Influence the CEO’s agenda

The findings of the Genpact study show that it is not enough simply to have access to the CEO, but rather to have a seat at the table in influencing the CEO agenda. It’s clear that to drive strategic change, a CIO needs to report at a high organizational level, ideally to the CEO. But for the most successful CIOs, regular CEO meetings, not just reporting lines, make all the difference in the ability to leverage combined business and technology expertise to influence the company’s strategic business agenda.

Trailblazing tech leaders see the potential of a new path, and they combine that vision with the courage to take a stand to bring about change. As Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital officer, Genpact, comments, “CIOs who are driving alignment across the C-suite and putting the organizational focus on building resilience and innovation will be the co-creators of new business models and future-ready companies. CIOs who do not will see their organizations struggle.”

Invest in the right technologies

The study shows that those who invested in technologies such AI and automation, cloud technologies, digital commerce, and advanced analytics have been able to adapt most successfully.

“CIOs who are not prepared for business disruption and post-pandemic growth risk becoming obsolete,” said Tom Davenport, distinguished professor at Babson College, visiting professor at Oxford, and research fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Tech leaders are aligned on the need to be data driven. Davenport observes that CIOs who make the most of the data at their disposal, generating predictive insights for more informed decision-making.

The Genpact study also showed that Respondents cite AI and ML as the top technologies that will help CIOs achieve their goals and the top choice for investment if they had additional financial resources.

Align business and tech teams

With digital transformation being the order of the day, technology gets far more embedded in business and cloud turning IT into opex, technology spending power has begun to move away from the CIO’s reporting line, and towards the rest of the business.

“Over time, the CIO’s role has changed from that of simply a business support function to a business enabler and ultimately to a business driver,” Vineet Bhardwaj, Head IT, Godrej Properties Limited says. He visualizes the CIO’s role evolving even further into that of a business transformer, constantly building path-breaking innovations.

He adds, “Ultimately the CIO will stand in the position of an indispensable master strategist, thus driving the entire business system.”

Considering his stronghold in technology, CIO is still best placed to become business partner with CMO, CFO and CFO etc, integrating various roles and technologies to deliver business value. Getting to know one’s team and to have strong relationships with the co-workers and business partners is becoming the key success mantra.

Pay attention to human resources

The study noted one area where CIOs need to pay attention is talent. The survey clearly indicates that despite the pandemic turning the spotlight on employee safety, human resources still ranked last among the CIO’s functional areas, as they are prioritizing full-stack technology investment over the next two years. This warns of a potential disconnect in meeting employee needs with new remote and hybrid office models emerging.

There is a dire need to align your talent, leadership, and business strategies. Jaya Kumar, Vice President and Managing Director, Sabre Bengaluru GCC, constantly prepared to embrace disruption, because there is uncertainty at every turn. It is of utmost importance to ensure that your talent and business strategies are closely aligned. This will be a key differentiator in your ability to attract, engage, develop, and retain talent.

Deal strategically with change management

The study makes some interesting revelations about leadership mindset and change management. A study released by MIT Sloan Management Review shows, only 12% respondents believe their leaders have the right mindsets to embrace change management and lead the team forward. As Lori Beer, global CIO of JPMorgan Chase believes, the primary leadership challenge in the digital economy is to develop a new mindset that is open to ideas of change management.

CIOs must take steps to ease people’s anxieties, they must loop in stakeholders on the competitive advantages of their team’s work early and often, and seek input to secure buy-in and feed the human hunger to be appreciated. According to Beer, it is critical to integrate change management into the business fabric rather than seeing it as a one-time event for each project.

Final words

A recent survey from Mckinsey, new behaviors are beginning to emerge, shifting the way consumers perceive value, loyalty, availability and convenience – and these new behaviors are most likely to stick longer-term. In such a scenario, CIOs have the opportunity to emerge as the leaders shaping their company agendas.

With the right mindset and determination, every CIO can co-create with their C-suite colleagues, a new customer-centric business model powered by a modern technology platform, ubiquitous access to data and a frictionless operating model, that can continuously adapt to the changes in the market.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at [email protected]