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Building the new CIO playbook

Building the new CIO playbook: Trends, emerging technologies and predictions for the year to come

The final quarter of any calendar year ushers in thoughts of what’s ahead. For those who oversee their companies’ technology, the look forward often involves moving a particular strategy closer to fruition or launching a component of a larger plan designed to support business goals.

Based on analyst insights, knowledge of technology directions, and understanding of the industry in which the enterprise sits, it has been relatively easy for CIOs to chart a path into the next year and beyond.

Until 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a whirlwind across all business sectors. Like the Tasmanian Devil of cartoon fame, it ripped through the orderly plans and processes of companies of all sizes. In its wake, the demand for digital solutions was urgent.

Leaders who were able to respond successfully pivoted to provide the infrastructure needed for suddenly remote workers deployed new digital customer experiences, and created new paths to market. In many cases, this required pivot brought leaders to question everything they thought they knew, and think, "Okay, if we can do this, what else can we do?”

So, what now? What should the CIO playbook look like going forward? Host Mark Ardito along with guest speaker and Forrester Analyst Brian Hopkins spoke with a group of CIOs about the following key technology movements, predictions, and the way forward for tech leaders in the post-COVID marketplace.

Movement 1: IT advancement enables the business need for hyperlocal operations. 

An environment impacted by the pandemic, changing regulations, uncertainty about the future, and the need to mitigate risk have given rise to much more value-focused customers. Such customers want to engage with businesses that reflect their values, and many values are location-, culture-, or community-specific. Giant monolithic companies will not see the success and growth they experienced in the 2010s unless they move toward sales and delivery tailored to specific locations. IT will facilitate the ability of large organizations to become hyperlocal while retaining a centralized tech infrastructure.

For the CIO Playbook:

Think in terms of IT infrastructure that enables increased localization to attract value-oriented customers.

Movement 2: The recipe for success has changed. 

The recipe for technology innovation is no longer growth-based; success relies on modernization. The COVID-19 pandemic has put companies into one of three modes.

  • Firms that are in survival mode are at one end of the spectrum, where they are simply trying to stay in business.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are the growth mode companies that have benefitted from consumer behavior changes; good examples are Peloton, Zoom, and companies like Vuori, an athletic wear business that has seen a significant spike in sales of its sweatpants line.
  • Mid-spectrum companies are in adaptive mode, working to position themselves favorably in the new market environment.

Over the next few years, growth mode companies and those in adaptive mode with positive balance sheets and forward-thinking boards will focus technology spend on modernization and creation of platform infrastructures. This strategy will include investment in the back office to bring it up to speed as well as spend in technologies that improve resilience and allow experimentation to prepare for future tech scenarios. These firms will be ready to accelerate and capture competitive advantage from enterprises that haven’t put modern platforms in place.

For the CIO Playbook:

If necessary, focus on the back office to bring it up to date. Modernize tech infrastructure in ways that allow rapid accommodation of new features and capabilities over time.

Movement 3: Savvy companies and investors are focusing on business resilience.

Today, emphasis is on shifting from paper-based disaster recovery tests to live simulations. In some cases, there is a keen focus on chaos-based software engineering that incorporates intentional fails to understand and proactively address the results.

This kind of thinking goes way beyond disaster recovery and business continuity planning. “Business resilience” is the sought-after goal. Competitive advantage will go to companies with systems, people, and processes that can effectively respond to unanticipated events. This capability is so important that investors will look at business resilience as a factor in company valuation.

For the CIO Playbook:

Plan for “business resilience” rather than “business continuity” and build scenario-testing into software and systems engineering functions.

Movement 4: IT and data’s role in the future of employee experience

Mark pointed to the castle-and-moat and zero-trust security requirements that Cloud 2.0 demands, leading to a discussion of employee experience (EX). The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered a range of weaknesses in how employees were supported in their work. Though generally agreed that it’s impossible to deliver on your brand promise without happy and empowered employees, it became apparent that many companies were not doing what was needed to create the right EX.

One of the “people effects” of dealing with COVID-19 that will likely become permanent is the significant increase in the portion of the employee population working in more distributed ways. CIOs will need to work with senior leaders and their HR functions to create the technology infrastructure that supports remote workers, virtual people management, and recruiting methods that leverage shifts in the talent pool. HR will also need to lean on IT more for the data and analytics required to serve a post-COVID employee landscape.

 For the CIO Playbook:

Ensure that a secure, remote-friendly IT environment HR-specific data analytics are permanently in place to support an enhanced EX.

When we think about these movements, these aren’t simply trends that will come and go, these are big, everlasting, and impactful changes for organizations.

Business success comes to companies who reinvent themselves to win, serve, and retain customers, by looking at their business as their customers look at them. Those who will win will be taking a look from outside in, not inside out, and reorganize and reinvent around that view.

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