The demands of the pandemic forged new requirements for executives.
Successful leaders need to be nimble, in-tune with workforce demands, creative, empathetic, resourceful, visionary, adaptive and willing to make difficult decisions.
Though those might look like the skills of any leader from any era, pandemic-era executives are bound by recognizing the human element of the workforce and understanding how decisions at the top affect workers throughout a company's ranks.
For technology leaders, this means understanding what role technology systems play in an employee's life. Companies need flexibility and adaptive technology as they plan for hybrid returns to work. But it requires thinking beyond tech and creating a long-lasting strategy that will sustain companies for years to come.
Whether a long-standing executive or a newly-minted manager, a crisis can have a profound impact on how a person leads and who they will become. The key to success is creating a vision and strategy that is effective long term and will resonate long after a crisis subsides.
Technological innovation transforms the technical requirements for CIOs, but expectations for professional competencies and soft skills have changed, too.
By: Katie Malone
A lot has changed since the first CIO roles emerged in the 1980s.
Personal computers became mainstream. Automation emerged to streamline menial tasks. And data storage shifted to the elusive, omnipresent cloud.
As the technology changes, so do business use cases and the executives needed to lead the way.
The CIO role has, generally, been dictated by technology over time, according to Jonathan Blake Huer, chief learning officer at Eleven Fifty Academy. As technology changes, so do the responsibilities and purview of CIOs. From mainframes to bring your own device to internet-based applications, CIOs lead the enterprise through adapting to new technologies.
When the CIO role first broke out in organizations, it was needed to technically manage a group of engineers and executives frequently came through those technical ranks to fill the role, according to Steve Bates, principal, management consulting at KPMG.
The role shifted in the 1990s when businesses embraced tools such as enterprise resource planning software. "It became much more around the implementation of large, integrated on-prem platforms, and so that role shifted from the technical and operational elements," Bates said.
Then, the rise of the dot-com saw new ways of computing and storage for business to manage, tapping the CIOs for help, according to Bates. It was still a supply and demand relationship. Technology and operational systems were inaccessible without IT fluency, and CIOs stepped in to fill that gap.
The latest change for CIOs has been toward omni-channel digital transformation continuing to change businesses, letting CIOs gain more strategic influence over business outcomes, according to Bates.
Recent evolution of the CIO
CIOs — and other tech-related positions such as CTOs and chief digital officers — "really evolved over these past three to five years to be more outwardly focused, as opposed to inwardly focused," Bates said.
Today, CIOs "need to have a point of view on the business … that [they] didn't need in the past," Bates said. "CIOs are really expected now to deeply understand the business strategy and then translate that into the technology roadmap."
But the CIO has always been tightly tied to operations, too. William Synnott and William Gruber, the individuals that coined the term CIO in a 1981 book about information resource management, originally predicted CIOs would be a pipeline to becoming COOs.
Synnott and Gruber wrote the book to pitch the CIO as a senior-level executive tapping innovative technologies to oversee and strategize information systems in line with business objectives.
"At some level I think that their vision is still correct," Huer said. "The CIO being heavily involved in operations and processes is where things are going."
What businesses look for in today's CIO
The responsibilities of the CIO's role differs depending on who you ask. If you ask a CIO, they'll say communication, business and management are important to the job, according to Huer. But if you ask people outside of the function, they'll typically bring up technical proficiencies.
In reality, it's a combination of the technical and leadership skills making up members of IT leadership.
Becoming a CIO requires a "multidisciplinary toolkit," Bates said. A technical background and data acumen coupled with a strategic vision of the business is necessary to be a modern CIO.
"If the last year has taught us anything, it's that the IT function itself is absolutely core to the execution of the business strategy," Bates said. CIOs are under a new spotlight as they've proved their value through business continuity in response to the pandemic.
The expectations of a CIO can vary depending on who they report to. For example, reporting to the CFO, the CIO may have specific duties around cost and operations.
But when CIOs report to the CEO, "We see that the revenues are actually even higher and their ability to grow and scale is higher because that CIO truly is a part of the decision-making and the discussions on the opportunity," said Kristi Lamar, managing director and U.S. leader for women in technology at Deloitte.
Four in 10 CEOs expect the CIO or equivalent technology leader to become a key driver of business strategy, according to a Deloitte survey of 500 technology and executive leaders. CIOs can expect CEOs and other members of leadership to ask more of them in the coming year.
Lamar recommends CIOs have a seat at the C-suite or board-level table to partner on enterprisewide decisions. When CIOs are relegated further down the organization, it becomes harder to take IT seriously and do transformational work. The CIO becomes an "order taker," slowing down and prohibiting progress on technology, Lamar said.
As appreciation grows for what technology can do, companies have maintained CIOs as a decision-maker higher up in the company. Companies failing to realize the importance of technology — and of their CIOs — will struggle to keep up with transformation, according to Lamar.
Institutional knowledge, or promoting the CIOs from inside the organization, is also prioritized for the role across more organizations today, according to Lamar. Even if the path to becoming CIO is nontraditional, that knowledge combined with executive abilities and tech savviness builds successful CIOs.
CIOs encompass four major areas, according to Lamar:
The operator: keeps the lights on
The technologist: evangelizes new tech capabilities
The strategist: partners with the business
The catalyst: leads disruptive change to how an organization works
The phases shift to accommodate business needs, but generally a CIO needs to operate in all four spaces proportional to enterprise conditions, according to Lamar.
The pandemic and shift to remote work served as a proofpoint for the importance of leadership competencies beyond the technical. In 70% of job searches for a new CIO, companies seek individual determination and sensitivity, according to a Gartner survey of 93 members of the Gartner CIO Research Circle.
Businesses seek communication skills, entrepreneurial tendencies, systems thinking and other core leadership competencies in CIOs today, according to Huer. But those qualities aren't new to the role.
"Since basically the 80s, a great IT leader is just a great leader who's in charge of IT," Huer said.
To counter tech debt, center the customer in IT modernization
Continue upgrades for an IT structure that can keep up with the times, tech leaders advise.
By: Roberto Torres
When Johnson Controls VP & CIO Diane Schwarz worked at Bell Helicopter, a mainframe replacement project led the company to sort existing applications by which U.S. president they were built under.
The oldest application harkened back to Lyndon B. Johnson.
An aging tech relic sitting within the company tech stack helped illustrate for the team "how old, and therefore fragile, something can become," said Schwarz, speaking Thursday at Forbes CIO Summit. "We can't be running on things that are that old."
CIOs frequently inherit mountains of technical debt, aging technology that's a byproduct of mergers and acquisitions. Post mergers and acquisitions, CIOs can communicate the urgency of tech modernization to company leadership, sustain tech advancements previously made and keep the customer at the center of the process.
To manage technical debt, you can't stifle ongoing modernization efforts, according to Roshan Navagamuwa, EVP & CIO at CVS Health. The ideal approach for a company such as CVS Health — which through acquisitions and mergers ended up with "a fair share" of technical debt — was to build on the existing work of previous leaders.
"Coming in, I took a look at what was already in flight," said Navagamuwa. "What I found was that each of the companies had their strategic priorities, most of it was essentially around trying to buy down the debt by consolidating applications and systems from many to few."
With the consumer in mind, Navagamuwa laid out a strategy to make the company's tech applications — things like point of sales or claims processing systems — become "more atomic," and work together in a composable way to improve the consumer experience.
In her current company, tech integration advanced in the employee experience side, Schwarz said. But customer experience "wasn't front and center or the north star of all of that integration that we needed to work on." Now, the company's working to offer "one face of Johnson Controls" to customers interacting with the brand, said Schwarz.
Weighing the impact of tech debt
Technical debt stares down companies as they adjust to change. It's a clear lesson from the pivot to remote work, and a critical piece toward embracing a hybrid work model.
But modernizing to meet customer needs isn't cheap. IT spending is set to reach $4.1 trillion in 2021 globally, an 8.4% year-over-year growth spurt, according to Gartner projections. Pent up modernization needs, coupled with the demand for tech talent, is pushing companies to expand their use of outsourcing.
At Johnson Controls, the CEO and leadership team recognized how critical integration projects are to becoming an agile digital company, said Schwarz. "You can't be agile, digital, if a system is older than your adult children."
Never letting a crisis go to waste helped push integration projects forward at Johnson Controls.
"We've had some very painful outages," said Schwarz. "I sure don't like to manage with fear or threat, but it is very real for us to say: 'This outage, potentially cost us X dollars of revenue or margin.'" Tech modernization impacts the customer, in that a downed system can prevent them from ordering products.
Communicating the importance of modernization to business leaders also touches on the customer experience, said Navagamuwa."Legacy and tech debt slows you down," he said. "It creates a disjointed experience because consumers can tell if you try to patch old things together."
In care management especially, a disjointed tech stack hampers care management, said Navagamuwa.
"How can you take care of a patient if clinical information is just aggregated across tens of systems?" he said. The systems "might have been fit for purpose the day they were born, but they've now become an impediment and they've fragment that care experience."
No matter the aftermath, a full return to the old ways seems unlikely.
By: Roberto Torres
Roughly one year ago, the pandemic caught software firm Deltek partway through a migration to Zoom. Removing its existing on-premise solution became urgent, requiring a fast shift to a cloud-based platform.
"As the pandemic hit, we realized there were definitely areas we needed to optimize around our tool set to better collaborate as an organization," said Ronda Cilsick, group VP and CIO at Deltek. But simply investing in different tools didn't suffice: the company also encouraged adoption of videoconferencing tools as its 3,000 employees relearned how to operate.
Most of the business world followed a similar cadence last year: Sudden remote work shifts. Short-term reliance on new tools. A trial-and-error approach to solving the crisis.
Nearly three-quarters of IT decision-makers were technologically underprepared to handle full pivots to remote work, according to data from IBM. Systems migrations were hurried and IT strategies shifted as the pandemic helped identify what was critical and what could wait. In response, executives prepared to invest in cloud-based software, remote IT support and collaboration software.
But now, leaders contend with how to sustain those processes in the long run, and how IT strategies will shift. Armed with lessons from 2020 leaders must decide what stays and what goes in the tools and processes that power their companies.
No matter how the pandemic aftermath unfolds, a full return to the old ways seems unlikely.
On the way out: ownership, health checks and fixed line phones
Flexibility was the name of the game in the early response days. Business leaders found it advantageous to make their processes more adaptable, and that strategy stretched into the technology space.
"Ownership won't come back, for the most part," said John-David Lovelock, distinguished research VP at Gartner. Operating workloads in company data centers, on their own location will give way for the more flexible framework of getting things as a service.
"Even PCs are going to desktop as a service, data centers are starting to be outsourced into the cloud or into colocation and other sites," said Lovelock.
With millions of workers spending a whole year away from their desk phones, fixed voice lines are another example of technologies on their way out.
"One of the biggest declines continues to be voice," said Lovelock. Spending on fixed voice lines from telecommunication carriers will go from $200 billion in 2019 down to a projected $149 billion in 2025.
"That's $50 billion in spending being freed up to go elsewhere," Lovelock said. Unified communication systems stand to attract some of that spend. Spending on cloud-based telephony alone is expected to grow 17.8% in 2021, according to Gartner estimates.
Another downshift accelerated by the pandemic was the office printer, with homebound workers unable to access the equipment and many processes necessarily going paperless in order to reduce contact risk.
"It's basically how things were going in the industry in general," Paul Barresi, IT manager at accounting firm Drucker and Scaccetti, told CIO Dive in August. "Everyone's been focusing on the paperless office for years, and it's going there."
In an eventual return to the office, the large central printers that serve entire units will give way to smaller, more ubiquitous units. But some of the contraction in the office printer market is irreversible, experts say.
As the office of the post-pandemic scenario begins to take shape, so does the technology that underpins it. When the pandemic first hit, Cilsick recalls an uptick of emails from vendors offering new technologies around health checks, and check-in applications for the office, whether they be integrated into existing platforms or adding new features into existing software.
"I don't believe that those will have necessarily as much sustaining power post pandemic," said Cilsick. "I think that the office world has changed. I think that there's just fewer people going into the office."
The familiar tech that stays
Collaboration tools will remain the lifeblood of operations, backed by a year's worth of experimentation. Its permanence shows that one of the ways companies are determining what stays is employee preference.
Typically, IT organizations grapple with resistance when rolling out new technology, said Cilsick. But the pandemic reduced the friction on collaboration platform adoption, because workers were naturally seeking ways to stay connected and productive.
"Having that buy-in, almost immediately, by your workforce as a whole for a change is unique," said Cilsick.
In the next three years, in-person meetings will account for just one-quarter of all enterprise meetings, down from 60% prior to the pandemic according to Gartner estimates. The new operating model puts collaboration systems front and center as connective tissue to keep businesses running.
"After we get back to our new normal, we believe that it is something that will sustain post pandemic," said Cilsick. "Because people are seeing the value they're able to get from it, they're able to collaborate more effectively. They are more productive, they're rethinking how they do their jobs and doing their jobs differently as a result of the platform."
The way businesses understood remote operations changed fundamentally in the era of COVID-19. Deltek used to have just one-third of its workforce of 3,000 employees fully remote before March of 2020.
"The new normal is always going to be heavily remote," said Cilsick. "Our new normal is that there are always going to be virtual employees." And as business adapted last year, employees that were normally in the office now "have a greater empathy and appreciation for that remote employee."
Technology's role as a means of supporting a company is on the way out, Lovelock said. Leaders are called to make technology become the business.
"Companies that have completed a digital business transformation are seen as more successful through the pandemic, and likely to be the ones that are successful going into the future," said Lovelock.
Article top image credit: EVG Photos. (2018). "Person Typing on Laptop." [Photograph]. Retrieved from Pexels.
Only 7% of companies have digital-savvy leadership
Organizations need technology to compete. Leadership teams need executives who are aware of how technology will change their business.
By: Roberto Torres
Just 7% of large companies have digitally savvy executive teams, according to research published by MIT Sloan Management Review. The authors of the study define digital savviness as "an understanding, developed through experience and education, of the impact that emerging technologies will have on a business's success over the next decade."
A review of nearly 2,000 companies found that organizations with digitally savvy leaders outperformed peers on revenue growth and valuation by over 48%.
CTOs and CIOs top the list of digital experts in the C-suite, with 47% of CTOs and 45% of CIOs having digital know-how. Just 23% of CEOs are considered digitally savvy.
Businesses will become irrelevant if decision-makers are unaware of how technology fits into their strategy — a lesson learned by Blockbuster and Kodak. Competition, soon, will outpace laggards through innovation and slimmer operating costs.
Without a digitally savvy top leadership team, businesses will struggle to use digital tools in a strategic way, said Stephanie Woerner, research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research and coauthor of the study.
"There's a real pressure to become future ready," said Woerner. "These firms need to become ambidextrous, innovating and taking costs out."
Appointing leadership figures tied closer to innovation to the CEO seat is a frequent move, in the tech realm especially. In February, Amazon tapped AWS CEO Andy Jassey as its future CEO, taking over for Jeff Bezos following his retirement in the third quarter of 2021. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, appointed in 2014, nabbed the top leadership spot after serving as EVP of the company's cloud and enterprise group.
Expect the trend of CIOs escalating to the CEO role to continue, said Woerner, as well as the addition of CIOs to the leadership board and partnerships between CIOs and other C-suite leaders to support digital strategies.
A partnership between a CIO and the CFO, for example, means the CIO "has a partner with someone that knows what technology can do for the firm, and rather than acting as a gatekeeper on the finances is actually thinking about 'How do we use our investment dollars wisely?"'
The pandemic drove forward the criticality of having leaders with digital skills, a clear business mandate prior to the crisis.
"What the pandemic did was, all of a sudden, smash right in front of you this idea that we've got to change the way that we do business," said Woerner. "A lot of companies had made a start on this, but many of them were really quite surprised by it all, and found that they were having to make significant changes in months rather than years."
But having a tech-informed perspective of the business isn't solely a C-suite responsibility. Leaders "should also be thinking about people below and how they're going to tap them, and what are the exciting things that they can do with those people," Woerner said.
The next phase of hybrid work focuses on the gaps technology struggles to bridge, with a disconnect looming between workers who can operate from home and those who must be on site.
By: Roberto Torres
In the COVID-19 era, it's easy to think of work as a fluid experience that roams between virtual and physical spaces. But some functionalities aren't well suited for a seamless connection between remote and on-site workers.
Picture a power plant, where safety requirements are life or death for workers and those living in the surrounding areas. Physical supervision is required to detect, for example, if a screw is showing signs of rust as a consequence of fumes from a chemical plan built 10 miles down the road, said GE Digital SVP and CTO Colin Parris.
"For things like that, you need physical people," said Parris.
The rust on the screw is the kind of nuance that won't stand out in the background of a Zoom call with managers. It's the type of issue business leaders refer to when they say there are limitations to a hybrid work setup.
Most businesses detected and addressed the short-term pressures of a remote work set up in 2020, a phase that focused on putting out fires. Now, businesses are dealing with obstacles shaping a long-term hybrid work model. For some companies, hybrid work means splitting time between home and the office, letting staffers choose their location.
For others, it means that fully on-site workers need to seamlessly coordinate with remote managers or operators, an area that proves especially challenging for industries such as healthcare, construction or engineering.
The pressure to ensure workers can stay connected "all the time to the right applications" to uphold operations has increased immensely, said Irvin Bishop Jr., CIO at engineering and construction firm Black & Veatch. "From a technology perspective, we have no control over the home network, the bandwidth."
When thinking about where hybrid work fits, business leaders estimate 57% of their workforces could work entirely remote, while nearly two-thirds can work remotely at least some of the time, according to Gartner. And while hybrid is emerging as a dominant pattern, it's only possible for 50% to 60% of the workforce, Gartner says.
The next phase of hybrid work focuses on the gaps that technology can't bridge. Tech tools can help ease concerns of longer term operability, but not without challenges — either due to the nature of the work or the added pressure of adding more systems to the tech stack. Despite the strides that traditionally in-person companies have made, there are places where hybrid work simply won't work.
Construction and engineering: On-site demands
The challenge with managing physical locations in the post-pandemic era is to smoothly link together on-site workers with experts who can provide insight remotely.
"I can't have one good, top-class engineer flying around every plant that we start," said Parris. "You're going to have people on the ground … then connections back to that person."
For the construction industry, the disconnect is evident. A building can't get built on Zoom — at least not yet.
"I think it would be foolish of me to say that there's a way we can completely make the construction management operation a remote one entirely," said Matt Daly, CEO and co-founder of StructionSite. Daly's company makes a platform that helps monitor construction sites through user-mounted 360-degree cameras and AI technology.
"Every company is going to deal with that struggle of half remote, half in person or some combination of the two."
Co-founder and CEO, Beyond20
Though tasks such as visual supervision of a wall before it is fitted with sheet rock might be suited to a hybrid model, other tasks need to take place on-site.
"If you need to physically test a valve to make sure that it's operating correctly before you put that building into commission, that's something that you're just not going to do remotely," said Daly.
The challenges of bridging together the digital and physical worlds look different across industries. While companies in the financial services and insurance space could perform up to 76% of the work remotely while still being effective, in manufacturing that number is 19%, according to a McKinsey study. Construction industry employees could spend about 15% of their time working remotely, while in agriculture that standard falls to just 7%.
In the engineering space, the digital twin is a digital metaphor for the hybrid work disconnect and a means of solving for it. Armed with data, digital copies of real-world physical components can help predict failures and assist with management.
When disruption struck due to COVID-19 concerns, companies wanting to defer maintenance turned to digital twin technology to understand what might happen. Without flying to a plant in the Middle East, GE could predict "the amount of cumulative damage" and determine if it's safe to postpone maintenance, according to Parris.
Adoption came out of necessity. With more pieces of work becoming "tech-enabled workflows," tools helped provide performance metrics as individual workers self manage, self supervise and stay on schedule, said Nathan Ray, director in West Monroe's Healthcare & Life Sciences.
In 2021, solving for these kinds of challenges will put more pressure on the IT backbone that powers companies. After a year of financial constraints, worldwide tech spend will show signs of improvement in 2021.
"The wave of automation is going to allow you to manage an operation with less, and more remote control," said Sam Dawes, managing director in West Monroe's consumer and industrial products practice. More monitoring, managing and exception control can now happen remotely, giving way to less time directly monitoring the execution of a given task.
"I think it would be foolish of me to say that there's a way we can completely make the construction management operation a remote one entirely."
CEO and co-founder of StructionSite
Black & Veatch is trialing wearables as a means for reducing the amount of people who need to go physically to a location.
"One person can go out to the site, look at something through a wearable and others working remotely can see those same, in-real-time activities happening," said Bishop. "People with different expertise on the team can suggest, you know what should be done and not have to physically be there all the time."
With sensor and IoT devices placed throughout the facilities, the company is hoping to reduce the need for physical presence on site and help the site directly provide information that can guide decisions.
Healthcare sync: Challenges and workarounds
Hybrid work introduced the expectation of flexibility; because workers can perform well from the home office, work processes should accommodate it. More than half of workers say they want to work from home at least three days a week, according to PwC.
A hybrid work model means asynchronicity, which puts pressure on the natural cadence of work in spaces such as healthcare. The shift created a need to manage scheduling so as to uphold operations.
Workers in what McKinsey defines as the healthcare and social assistance space could spend 20% of their time operating remotely.
When the pandemic hit, it immediately pushed a lot of caregiving and administrative staff into a completely virtual workforce, said Tom Kiesau, director and digital health leader at The Chartis Group.
Some organizations were ahead of the tech curve, and offered online scheduling to patients for-in person visits once non-essential care began to ease up again.
But "they didn't have a way to schedule a virtual visit online," said Kiesau. "Paradoxically, you had to call the call center if you wanted to schedule a virtual visit, or in some cases even call the physician's clinic individually."
Healthcare's overarching problem with remote operations has been one of scheduling, said Ray.
An organization's ability to orchestrate how workers schedule their workflows and coincide in either video conferences or actual physical encounters is helping determine winners and losers in the hybrid work shift, Ray said.
With work taking place online and in person, a simple scheduling calendar just won't cut it, and sturdier rules-based software is needed to ensure that work can carry on during a specific timeframe. "Scheduling, both of their patients and of their workforces and their evaluations, all of these concepts are actually really difficult for these businesses," said Ray.
Tech tools are helping to orchestrate healthcare operations coordination. If syncing the availability of practitioners or other staff for an appointment is difficult, workflow management software can be used to confirm if health workers are available and if they'll be present. Physical access management technology can assist capacity control on site.
Technology, processes, and culture are moving "in the direction of a more hybrid work environment," said Laurent Bataille, EVP of Digital Energy at Schneider Electric. The company makes technology to let healthcare workers pre-book spaces, indicating when they'll be in a specific location at a point in time.
Managing workers through a hybrid model is another challenge facing healthcare leaders, a task that workflow management tools can ease by adding a layer of self supervision, said Ray.
Tech debt: A hurdle toward hybrid
Though it's true that the pandemic caught most businesses technologically underprepared to face a pandemic, trouble persists even a year after disruption began.
Four in 10 businesses said they won't be ready to operate without a central work hub for at least another 12 months, according to a survey from Info-Tech Research conducted at the end of 2020. Technical debt on platforms that power work can trap a company's development cycle. A Stripe study found engineers spend close to one-third of their time on technical debt.
Attempting to smoothly link homebound and on-site employees, executives turn to tech tools and policies in response to the challenges of the disconnect.
Across organizations, technical debt can impact companies trying to onboard staffers in a hybrid work setting or managing their workflows, said Erika Flora, CEO and co-founder at IT consulting firm Beyond20. But the bigger obstacle is centered around designing processes and technology specifically for the hybrid setting, and introducing clarity throughout the organization.
"Every company is going to deal with that struggle of half remote, half in person or some combination of the two," said Flora.
It's a task the CIO can help with, by helping the company understand "how work flows from one team to another," said Flora.
Another hurdle is understanding the availability of IT assets — such as hardware and software — and thinking through managing the infrastructure under a hybrid model. While collaboration tools are a necessary layer connecting the two, analysts worry about messaging overload as new features emerge.
Manufacturing execs struggle with technical debt in their facilities, according to Dawes. Under pressure from financial constraints, given the choice between spending on plant equipment or collaboration tools to solve for hybrid work, managers frequently choose the former category.
"Last year has really forced us to reckon with that problem," said Dawes.
CIOs in the manufacturing spaces found it challenging to address digital sales and service, tasked by their organizations to maintain the same sales experience, relationships and customer service that customers are used to now under a hybrid model.
In turn, the increased digitization of work puts further pressure on the IT function. As offices undergo a retool centered on the hybrid workforce, new technology such as audio and video capabilities get added to the IT workload, according to Kaumil Dalal, a director in West Monroe's technology practice.
In-office technology will need to shift to become "a little bit more engaging, inclusive, as you think about that new hybrid workplace," Dalal said.
Companies pushed through cloud migrations to ensure systems could better respond to customer pattern changes. But in their technology to-do list, some organizations still have updates that are critical to a hybrid workforce, such as optimizing legacy applications for access through mobile devices.
Solving the connectivity woes of employees operating from kitchens and living rooms is one hurdle that remains for many organizations. A report from Navisite published in October identified poor at-home bandwidth as the top concern among IT leaders and C-suite execs when thinking about supporting remote workers long term.
At Black & Veatch, a group of IT workers became specialists at managing connectivity issues, triaging home networks and guiding workers to assess why home internet speeds ran low.
"Tuning professionals' is what we call them," said Bishop. "I had them help me, to be quite frank."
Why hybrid and what's next
Pushing past the hurdles toward hybrid work is an attractive concept to businesses. Operational, financial, competitive and culture advantages lie ahead for companies that can overcome the challenges and strategize around where hybrid fits best.
Businesses that can make hybrid work deployments adaptable and sustainable stand to gain a "huge competitive advantage," Dalal said. Flexible work has become somewhat of an expectation, forcing business leaders to think about employee experience in the context of hybrid work.
Hybrid work packs work/life balance advantages for employees, but there's also a level of technical efficiency and operational cost savings associated with it, said Jeff Frey, VP of Innovation at Talent Path. Companies can lower the costs of having employees commute back and forth to an office and convert that into profit, benefits, better products for customers or other improvements.
"I don't know the scale of it but it's got to be something that a lot of companies are looking at," Frey said.
"From a technology perspective, we have no control over the home network, the bandwidth."
Irvin Bishop Jr.
CIO at Black & Veatch
But a banishment of the office entirely is out of the question for the majority of businesses, who say part of their workforce will be operating on site some of the time, and at least 50% of the workforce has a desire to return to the office, Gartner data shows.
Hybrid work did make leaders rethink their approach to real estate, concerned about "too many square feet that are used improperly," often with rows and rows of cubicles, which "are not necessarily the most engaging work environments," said Bataille.
Long term, business leaders will also need to contend with supporting company culture through the disconnect that hybrid work supposes. It's the top concern amid work model shifts for 60% of executives, according to data from West Monroe.
Executives will need to optimize key processes and the technology supporting it for the long term. But the hybrid work shift will place even more parts of the organization into fresh context, including how companies see specific job titles.
"For example, customer service reps that might be doing things totally remote today," said Dalal. "What would that model look like and the role definition look like for them?"
Article top image credit: Adeline Kon/CIO Dive
In 2021, what kind of CIO are companies searching for?
Following a year of change, companies searching for CIOs will look for strong leadership skills and emotional dexterity, Gartner data shows.
By: Roberto Torres
As companies search for new CIOs in 2021, individual determination and sensitivity will become key personal traits in 70% of hiring processes, according to a Gartner survey. The study consulted 93 members of the Gartner CIO Research Circle.
The demand for candidates who show "determination" increased 34% in 2020, when compared to previous year. Demand for "sensitivity" among CIO candidates grew by 92% in 2020 versus 2019.
Unsettled by what the future holds, CEOs will need determined CIOs to "implement timely decisions, while displaying emotional dexterity to be tactful and supportive," said Daniel Sanchez-Reina, senior research director at Gartner, in a release.
Companies aiming to fill their CIO seat in 2021 will be searching for a different kind of tech leader than in years past, a shift partly informed by the pressures of the pandemic. Atop the shopping list are qualities that describe the CIO as an even-keeled leader, one who is assertive while showing flexibility and empathy.
As CIOs develop their leadership in the C-suite, the people-side of the role expands in importance, said Dianne Lapierre, CIO at Absolute Software. It was one of the lessons from the remote work shift.
"Technology is the easy part these days," said Lapierre. "The challenges are understanding the interaction of people with technology."
In 2021, companies will entrust technology leaders with more aspects of their business, relying on them to accurately track business metrics and shape strategy. Analysts expect executives in this role to equip companies with the flexibility to change course when neede.
"So much of what business depends on these days is the technology," Lapierre said. "All the business leaders definitely looked to us as CIOs to support the work that they needed to do." This function will continue to be a part of the CIO role in the coming years, said Lapierre.
The demand for tech-driven insight is present atop executive leadership. Four in every 10 CEOs expect CIOs or equivalent tech leaders to play the role of a key business strategist, more so than COOs, CFOs, or CMOs combined, according to Deloitte's Tech Trends report.
The CIO of the future will have an expanded scope, overseeing troves of critical data and becoming responsible for operational results. It is becoming more common for the executive to report directly to the CEO, another sign of elevated responsibility within the company ranks
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IT outsourcing to surge in 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic is driving digital transformation, which in turn accelerates technology outsourcing.
By: Allen Bernard
As COVID-19 brought the worldwide economy to a sudden and screeching halt, businesses of all shapes and sizes found themselves adrift in uncharted waters. To stay afloat, most businesses dramatically accelerated their digital transformation efforts.
In typical times, this also would have led to an increased reliance on IT outsourcers, according to a survey by the Boston Consulting Group of 200 selected companies across industries.
"Many companies were forced to take unprecedented steps to survive: 79% said that they asked service providers for help in some form, such as longer payment terms (47%), price reductions (45%), or free support for more processes or additional services (41%)," the survey authors said in a blog post about the survey.
But, like most everything else in 2020, what one would expect to happen, did not. Because of the fear, uncertainty and doubt sowed by the pandemic, businesses began hoarding cash, while cutting expenses to the bare minimum. These efforts were not uniform, however.
To manage the transition to remote work and online customer engagement and order fulfillment, many businesses increased spending on cloud, particularly software as a service (SaaS). (The now-familiar headlines of video conferencing provider Zoom growing by 300% almost overnight were hard to miss.)
This continued through the first three quarters of 2020 but began to turnaround late last year, as the global economy became more predictable, said Kevin Parikh, CEO of Avasant, an outsourcing advisory and management consulting firm.
"Shock and awe and fear happened in [first three] quarters of 2020. And then there was a recognition that big investments were needed in the fourth quarter to transform, to survive. I have one client who told me they went from zero to 50,000 global video calls a day — 50,000 a day — by flipping a switch," he said.
Cuts in IT outsourcing spend due to the pandemic eased from $83 billion in the spring to $31 billion at the end of 2020, said Gunjan Gupta, a principal research analyst at Gartner.
"Some of the service providers, they are reporting even double-digit growth," she said. "I think the acceleration is going to continue for the rest of 2021 and 2022."
Global IT spending on end-user services is forecast to grow 4.4% to $1.19 trillion in 2021, according to Gupta. This is compared to a spending reduction of 2.6% in 2020. That is just the tip of a very big iceberg.
After contracting 4.6% in 2020 to $490 billion, worldwide IT spending on consulting and implementation services are predicted to experience a 4.5% CAGR through 2024. While worldwide spending on IT-centric managed services, infrastructure, and application support, which decreased 1.1% in 2020 to $475 billion, will see a CAGR of 5.3% through 2024.
The pandemic also changed what companies want from their outsourcing providers, said Brett Sparks, senior director analyst, Sourcing, Procurement & Vendor Management at Gartner. Pre-pandemic, companies were often narrowly focused on outsourcing specific services (such as helpdesk), infrastructure and storage, or tasks such as network monitoring and management.
Now, with digital transformation efforts still very much top-of-mind and existential, organizations are looking for more than just five-nines of uptime or to save money on labor costs.
"It's outcomes from two different perspectives," he said. "It's a cost avoidance … and it's also getting a business to truly sit down [and answer the question], 'What does digital transformation mean to you?'"
Because digital transformation means different things to different people and morphs industry to industry and company to company, most CEOs and even CIOs struggle to summarize it for their organizations, he said.
"Larger firms that have full-time staff devoted to … IT operations are more keen to bring in technology consultants and advisors for strategic guidance, and large project execution," said Fred Chagnon, a principal research director with Info-Tech Research Group.
Near-shoring in high demand
Leaning on outsourcers for more than just a fixed set of pre-defined deliverables is necessitating the need for real-time collaboration, said Gupta. Organizations are now looking for providers in similar time zones so they can engage in co-creation.
In co-creation, instead of sending out an RFP, a company works with a group of outsourcers from the outset to brainstorm ideas and develop solutions.
As a result, outsourcers are opening offices in lower-cost countries south of the U.S., including Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia. For outsourcers focused on the European market, Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic serve similar roles.
Here to stay
The move to near-shore delivery based on time-zones is likely a long-term trend as newer paradigm shifting technologies like 5G, mixed reality, AI/ML, robotic process automation (RPA) and host of others become commonplace.
And, since waiting to catch the digital transformation bus has proven, for many companies, to be a costly mistake exposed by the pandemic, businesses will need all the help they can get integrating these technologies into their day-to-day operations.
"What are [companies] doing now?", said Avasant's Parikh. "Well, the change is really happening in 2021. We're still outsourcing all that traditional stuff that we've been outsourcing since 2000-2002. It's still happening the old way, but now we're putting a layer of transformation on top of it that's getting us access to new technology, new platforms and ways of connecting with our clients and customers in a different way."
The pandemic tested emerging tech. Now, CIOs must crystallize strategy
Bringing together multiple technologies can maximize the impact tools like AI and IoT can have in the enterprise.
By: Roberto Torres
CIOs put emerging technologies to the test during the pandemic, with use cases as proving ground for how an organization could benefit from tools such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, low-orbit satellites or augmented reality. But the next challenge for CIOs is to learn from these use cases to understand how to best bring technologies together.
Disparate efforts will need to come together if businesses want to reach for big goals, said Adriana Karaboutis, group chief information and digital officer at National Grid, speaking during the 2021 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.
"That's something I think is the silver lining coming out of COVID[-19]," said Karaboutis. The effects of the crisis made organizations "double down on that focus and crystallization for what we need to do."
Atop the list of emerging tech priorities are usual suspects in the technology realm; artificial intelligence, 5G and IoT comprise the top three technologies capable of delivering "near-term business impact" in 2020, according to CompTIA's Emerging Technology Community group.
In technologies such as IoT, standardization is a must in the road ahead, said Harmeen Mehta, chief digital and innovation officer at BT.
"If the world can consolidate a little bit on standardization, it will actually help pick up speed," said Mehta. "What we've not done well as an industry is truly come together and make some hard choices" in converging around specific types of IoT technologies.
The combined use of emerging technologies is more beneficial than standalone use, according to two-thirds of executives in a KPMG survey.
The power of tech bundling
When technologies and data streams play off each other, it can lead to new outcomes, according to David Neitz, CIO at engineering and construction company CDM Smith.
Using NVIDIA's Jetson Nano device, CDM Smith is able to train an AI computer vision model to detect wrong-way drivers. The technology use case combines capabilities of sensors with the computing power of AI.
"You have someone sitting in a command center trying to monitor 300 screens," said Neitz, speaking on the panel. "Why rely on a human to be observant and alert?" Instead, the company relies on a mix of sensors and algorithms to monitor and track when drivers are using lanes in an erratic way or how traffic is behaving around a construction zone.
Intertwining technologies is already a mark of technology projects underway for the enterprise. One-third of solutions are "AI-powered" and "cloud-enabled," and 80% of companies are currently investing in emerging technologies or plan to do so in the next 12 months, according to the KPMG report.
Another tech use case at CDM Smith combines IoT soil sensors, data analytics and weather information to predict when a potential landslide could impact a railroad track.
The solution can also determine when vegetation is likely to interfere with the power system. The use of sensors gives the company access to "new insights and predictive capability that actually wasn't really necessarily possible before," Neitz said.
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IT staffers are emotionally drained. Here's how leaders can support them
Isolation, business continuity and endless to-do lists weigh heavy on IT's emotional well-being.
By: Katie Malone
The IT workforce is hitting a wall, just as empathy has started to run dry. Struck by isolation, the pressure to keep businesses running remotely, endless to-do lists and personal life struggles, business continuity is a weight on IT employees' shoulders.
Six in ten (61%) technology workers say their stress levels have risen since working remotely, according to a Unify Square survey of 600 full-time enterprise employees released in December. Top stressors include missing the routine of being in the office, lack of in-person collaboration and distractions at home.
The threat of burnout lingers, with 54% of the workforce describes themselves as exhausted, according to a Blind survey of 2,200 professionals.
Workers are also unhappy with the technology — and therefore the IT department — used by their organizations. Forty-three percent of respondents to a ClickUp survey have been frustrated by the number of tech tools and apps they use for work; 42% say their company is stuck in the "dark ages" when it comes to adopting new technology tools or apps.
To help employees cope, IT executives and managers can partner to uplift members of the workforce by:
Eliminating the stigmas around mental health discussions,
Resetting emotional empathy in the workplace,
And investing in tools to streamline IT's work.
But first, leaders can work to understand the struggles faced by IT workers across the organizations. Getting at the cause of the emotional strain can help tailor solutions to the workforce's needs. For some, this starts at the help desk.
When employees run into a technical problem, the first point of contact is usually the IT service desk. The employee tends to be frustrated or unhappy, and empathy they may have had toward the IT workforce at the beginning of the pandemic faded, according to Sumir Karayi, CEO of 1E.
"You keep suffering from challenges and problems and over time then you're going to be less and less sympathetic with the people who are providing the service," Karayi said. Running into recurring IT issues or dealing with long wait times to fix a problem, for example, erodes empathy toward staff trying to help.
Add in a neverending to-do list, and IT employees are worn out. "The problem is the brain doesn't multitask very well. It gets extremely stressed from multitasking itself," Karayi said.
Office return plans raise questions
Workers adapted to the so-called new normal and have found ways to cope with pandemic-era changes. But even more change lies ahead as companies consider returning to in-person work.
Many offices are in a transitional phase, deciding what work will look like as more employees get vaccinated. The unknowns can be a stressor on IT departments unsure what technical support will look like in the coming months, according to Scott Gode, chief product marketing officer at Unify Square.
Management also expects IT staff to be up-to-date on the fast-paced trends shaping the technology space, such as 5G, IoT or AI, according to Gode.
"IT has got to do their day job but they've got to do their future thinking night job, too, to be ready to implement these technologies," Gode said.
IT employees already tend to work late getting caught up on projects, missing out on sleep and time outside, according to Janice Litvin, author of the "Banish Burnout Toolkit." Changing expectations from management in the midst of projects only exacerbates the stressors.
Tech workers also miss the water cooler moments that created organic opportunities to blow off steam or vent to colleagues about a problem in passing, according to Litvin. Socializing has become more formal, making it difficult to find emotional empathy at work.
"Sometimes people are not even aware [of] how stressed out they are," Litvin said. Stress could bubble up into outbursts at home or at work. Litvin recommends IT employees check in with themselves each morning to stay in touch with their emotional state.
Journaling or virtual coffee with an "accountability buddy" brings the unknown stressors to the surface where they can be managed.
Helping IT staffers overcome dark times
Management sets the tone on how employees handle stress in the workplace. Erasing stigma around mental health and creating a culture of communicating about emotional well-being, "funnels all the way down through management," Litvin said.
"Many managers get promoted for technical skills, not emotional intelligence, and it's a really important skill," Litvin said. Without emotional intelligence, managers could be putting down employees without realizing it or creating a culture that lacks emotional security.
It falls on leadership to reset the emotional empathy needed to improve IT well-being, according to Karayi. "We have already seen a lot of the barriers break down, but I think the leadership has to engage in a dialogue where people are talking about emotional state," Karayi said.
"What I think really makes a difference in alleviating stress and also having transparency is having more communication," Angela Bunner, head of enterprise solutions at ClickUp, said. IT can reveal the backlog of tasks they're working on with the rest of the organization so that other employees understand why a help desk request may take longer than usual.
IT can invest in tools that respond in real time, such as automation, to address employee frustrations and take some of the pressure off, Karayi recommended. Investing in self-service functions for employees also helps take some of the brunt off of IT workers and lets other employees solve technical problems before elevating them to the department.
"The key thing to tackle an endless to-do list is to ensure that IT folks can start and finish the job," Karayi.
Leaders can supply tangible benefits such as employee assistance programs to provide the workforce with mental health resources, according to Litvin. It helps people who might be struggling, both preemptively and in moments of intense stress.
Starting smaller, IT leaders can begin every meeting by checking in with staff. Instead of commiserating, leaders can ask everyone to share the best thing that's happened that day or another positive sentiment to set a better tone for the rest of the conversation, according to Litvin.
"For an IT person this is going to sound a little crazy because IT people tend to be very analytical … but if you can help them remember to celebrate the little wins for themselves and for their co-workers, it just in general makes for a happier work environment," Litvin said.
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IT executives hopeful praise will last beyond pandemic
Tech departments are accustomed to only being called when tech stalls out, but the pandemic pulled back the curtain on the work going into keeping the lights on.
By: Katie Malone
The adage that business units only care about IT when something falters may soon be a motto of the past. IT departments have sustained mass scale remote work for nearly a year and the rest of the business is realizing the value of technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic created an "IT appreciation day" when companies suddenly realized the behind-the-scenes work going into business tech, said Jason Walker, field CTO at BigPanda, during a Thursday event hosted by the company. But eventually, the pandemic will pass and IT departments could be thrust back into the dark.
With this in mind, IT execs shared the pandemic-era developments that brought their departments into the limelight last year and their thoughts on whether the moment of IT fame will stretch beyond 15 minutes:
An essential service without internet at home
Supplying energy to millions of customers, a lapse in service wasn't an option for WEC Energy Group when the pandemic hit.
The company operated in a largely desktop computing environment, with no expectation to deploy laptops until further into the technology lifecycle, according to Steve Liegl, manager of network and infrastructure at WEC Energy Group. As if quickly getting laptops into employee hands wasn't challenging enough, Wi-Fi access proved to be trickier.
"Many of these folks, believe it or not, didn't have internet at home," Liegl said.
Liegl said he hopes the IT team's efforts prove the value of IT and flips the equation on how organizations quantify it. "What if we couldn't send 7,000 people home — what's the cost to the business?" Liegl said. "Turn the corner on that so we can invest more in operations, functions and platforms to help us do a better service to the business."
Single cloud provider led to no downtime despite more use
Increased use of PlayStation platforms coupled with the hot launch of PlayStation 5 left very little room for lag time at Sony.
Ben Narramore, senior manager of incident/problem management, global network operations center at PlayStation Network, credits the company's single cloud provider, AWS, for sustaining service despite the uptick.
Multicloud isn't out of the question in the future; "with all the stuff we had coming this last year … the sustainability and uptime are more valuable to us for our brand," said Narramore. Using a single cloud provider "was worth it for us at this point."
The stability of the company's tech during turbulent times has earned the IT team a lot of praise.
"People see us more and recognize what we do," said Narramore. "We're getting called out in the all-hands in front of the whole company … This put a spotlight on what we do and what we provide for the rest of the company."
VR engages customers when they can't shop in store
It's hard to imagine trying on makeup from samplers open to the general public after 11 months in masks and social distancing. When makeup testers became less popular, Ulta Beauty pivoted digital.
The company acquired augmented and virtual reality over the last few years to move toward the ability to test out makeup and hair colors over video, according to Jeff Ybarra, senior IT manager of network infrastructure and telecom at Ulta Beauty. The investments helped with business continuity in the wake of the pandemic.
But the company was also in the midst of a reorganization, announced in January 2020. Departments have been shuffled and leaders are working to bring units, such as the entire stack of network employees, into one team to improve efficiency, according to Ybarra.
"We're taking a look at opportunities for automation because right now doing a lot more with a lot less people is certainly becoming a burden," Ybarra said of what's next for Ulta's tech departments.
Using the pandemic as an opportunity to transform
Travel website Expedia was forced to keep up with shifting customer demand as COVID-19 changed hotel and flight plans. So, the company jumpstarted digital transformation efforts, according to John Chao, VP of technology at Expedia Group.
At a time of uncertainty, customers wanted information about the latest travel guidelines and insights on how and what plans to cancel. Expedia worked to get the site updated with the new data as quickly as it could through a DevOps cycle, according to Chao.
"Now, we have real time know. When something changes on the business side, we know exactly what's happening on the technology side," said Chao. "It has forced us to innovate much faster than we sought out to do in this space."
The shift also presented the opportunity to modernize technical debt, optimize variable costs and become more competitive, according to Chao. With the business value of the transformation proven, Chao noticed a change in business mindset around IT.
The "fundamental shift is you can invest more in this space, help these teams go faster, allow them to optimize and reduce toil over time, and they're going to give back more value to the business," Chao said.
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