Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Chris Fielding, the CIO of Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS). An IT leader with over 30 years of experience in the global arena, Chris previously held senior-level positions at TIBCO, Vodafone and Oracle.
CIOs have traditionally been implementers. They managed IT and security based on C-suite decisions to keep business running and data secure.
Now they're taking on a lot more. The pandemic upended many roles, but few have transformed as quickly or dramatically as that of the CIO. While IT has always been an integral part of an organization, it's now critical to the future of the business. CIOs find themselves not just implementing but making decisions from a prominent seat at the table.
How can CIOs best step into those shoes? Here are five ways:
Embrace the role of decision-maker
Technology has long been the backbone of productivity, efficiency and profitability, but has never seen the level of awareness and importance it acquired over the past two years.
At the onset of the pandemic, companies had to quickly shift and adapt processes to enable a productive remote workforce and fend off accelerating cyberthreats. This brought the importance of technology to the forefront.
Seemingly overnight, digital transformation went from an expensive and often-delayed initiative to the linchpin of business survival. That shift has expanded the CIO's role as a decision-maker for tech-driven changes critical to their company's future.
CIOs can no longer simply ensure a smooth transition to new technology or keep the lights on. They must be proactive decision-makers, keyed into the business's greatest needs, objectives and opportunities, and be ready to sell and implement their vision.
Demand for digital business and growing cybersecurity threats are driving growth in IT budgets.
Gartner expects worldwide IT spending to jump 8.6% to $4.2 trillion in 2021. That includes a $100 billion rise in spending on devices to enable remote work, but also allocates money toward cloud infrastructure, cloud applications and data analytics as boards prioritize digital business initiatives.
Some 77% of CIOs in a Gartner survey said they are either planning for or implementing the "next normal" as they pursue post-pandemic opportunities.
But even with an expanded budget, there are projects that need to get done now and others that can wait. How much work needs to be done to secure your remote workforce? What digital business initiatives matter most? Should you be hiring engineers or seeking out service providers? Set clear priorities based on the business needs.
Address ad hoc pandemic measures
A Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of Sungard AS found 74% of respondents, regardless of their current employment status, want to work remotely, either exclusively (37%) or in combination with working in an office (36%).
Yet there are still security, productivity and other issues to address. A Pulse survey of business leaders conducted on behalf of Sungard AS found that only 21% are fully confident their infrastructure security will support remote work — and less than 8% are very confident they'll be able to combat the security risks posed by a hybrid model, such as phishing and ransomware.
CIOs not only need to lead in decision-making for IT, they must also advocate for tech-driven changes critical to their company's future. They must champion investment in hardware and software, and prove the benefits of those investments to the board, CEO and employees. It will take a lot of infrastructure to make hybrid work secure and successful.
Advance digital services
Technology has supported organizations for decades, but the pandemic revealed just how essential and critical it is to business. Beyond remote work, it supports digital services customers have come to rely on during the pandemic.
Use of digital services surged during the pandemic and shows no signs of slowing down. In a Chase survey of 1,500 consumers, 54% said they used digital banking tools more often in 2020 than 2019 due to the pandemic, and expect that use to increase in 2021. Online grocery spending grew by $30 billion in 2020. The number of streaming subscriptions in the U.S. jumped 32% in 2020 to $308.6 million.
Overall, use of digital services more than doubled during the pandemic
CIOs have new latitude for driving this area of the business, from cloud adoption to security to resilience. There's a lot of opportunity here if you advance projects with a big business impact.
Don't forget your direct reports
CIOs aren't just enabling a remote workforce, they're leading one.
Working with geographically diverse teams isn't uncommon for CIOs, but never to the degree seen during the pandemic. Keeping these employees engaged is key to making progress against your priorities.
Set clear objectives, support ongoing training, enable collaboration and find ways to establish inclusive virtual cultures that make up for the lack of informal organic conversations in the office.
The pandemic has raised the profile of CIOs across industries as more businesses embrace remote and hybrid work, migrate to the cloud and consider how they'll handle the next major disruption. The role of the CIO has never been more important.