Leading the business through the COVID-19 pandemic altered the responsibilities of the CIO. While the role will shift again as the workplace evolves, some traits of the new CIO are here to stay.
Human-centered decision-making, digital savviness and a hard-earned seat at the table with leadership across business units will remain central to CIO duties, according to Vipin Gupta, group VP and CIO at Toyota Financial Services, and Anupam Khare, SVP and CIO at Oshkosh Corporation, who spoke during the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on Wednesday.
A 2020 leadership lesson "was that we need to stay focused on people; it's always people first," Gupta said. Instead of digital, mobile or agile first, the team realized what's right for people will be right for the business.
The people-first realization came in the wake of the crisis, according to Gupta. Leaders of the organization had to become cultural leaders as well, showing up for employees in the same way they showed up for the business.
Employees, especially in the IT department, appreciate empathy as proven by the last year of support. Sixty-one percent of technology workers say their stress levels have risen since working remotely, according to a Unify Square survey released in December.
"Be authentic, model this courage and then show this empathy for everyone across the organization," Gupta said. "Be human, and prioritize people first and rest will follow."
CIOs as business leaders leading digital change
The pandemic was also an opportunity for CIOs to become better business leaders.
"We all became business leaders because we had to focus, as a part of the CEO leadership team, on a much bigger agenda of the organization," Khare said. Together, they're entering an era of connected leadership.
"The leadership was connected to employees, connected to customers and society, and has an ability to focus on issues beyond balance sheets," Khare said.
CEOs recognize the value CIOs bring to leadership post-pandemic. Four in 10 CEOs expect CIOs or equivalent tech leaders to become a key driver of business strategy in 2021 as strategy is enabled by technology and driven by data, according to Deloitte's Tech Trends report.
But the biggest change for CIOs and the business has been a shift to digital that ultimately empowers humans with choice and convenience, according to Gupta.
That said, it's not just about applying technology to any given situation.
"This digital savviness is a mindset, a mindset which craves for data and facts, which tries to create predictiveness in an unpredictable world and has an agility to pivot from problem to problem," Khare said. From workers to customers, "convenience and speed will be the underlying theme they are all expecting," Khare said.
At 75% of organizations, the CIO participates in coming up with the ideas and strategies behind digital transformation, according to a survey by Tata Consultancy Services. CIOs lead project management for digital transformation at 54% of organizations.
"We are moving from this idea of omnichannel to what I call 'on my channel,'" Gupta said. The user will decide how they want to do business or use certain tools, and the tech leaders have to be prepared to provide those options.
The COVID-19 pandemic empowered customers to choose how they'd like services delivered and employees to choose their workplace, according to Gupta. "This promise of digital to empower humans is becoming real."