3 ways CIOs can thrive in unpredictable times

Political instability, the threat of a recession, and a drop in tech spending can affect how leaders approach work this year. Here's how to turn unknowns into opportunities.

With major events like Brexit and a US election on the horizon, stagnating global trade, and worries about weak spending on technology threatening to destabilize the economy, it may seem like a time when tech leaders should play things safe and continue to operate as they have been.

A recent Gartner survey, for instance, shows that nearly half of private sector CIOs are observing organizational disruption. And for government CIOs, it's even worse––56% are not expecting budget increases this year, and 35% say they are working under very tough cost pressures.

But for forward-thinking CIOs, uncertain times can present new opportunities.

A new report from Forrester, "The CIO In 2020: A Window Of Opportunity," takes a look at how exactly this uncertainty can inspire CIOs to develop innovative agendas and achieve growth.

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According to the report, CIOs can take advantage of the situation by shifting focus. They must be visionary, independent, confident, and collaborative, Forrester reports.

With changing markets, "the persona of the CIO has become more complex," said Bobby Cameron, a principal analyst serving CIOS at Forrester. He has been talking to CIOs for more than a decade. 

According to the report, "this new CIO fully understands the company's goals, customers, and strategic agenda and makes recommendations on how to achieve those goals."
 
Here are three goals that CIOs should make to weather uncertainties and turn them into opportunities for innovation: 

  1. Making data strategy a top priority

IT leaders must make using clean data a top goal––in particular, they must "start tying customer-based metrics to IT investments."

According to the report, CIOs will focus on harnessing AI applications, using clean data, to improve customer experiences. (Machine learning has been named as one of the most significant trends of 2020).

 "Customer-centric CIOs will issue a strong mandate in 2020 to fix their source data so data scientists can build models efficiently without having to first prep, clean, and rationalize the data," the report states.

2. Automate IT tasks 

This year Forrester predicts CIOs will automate 10% of routine jobs, and will also create what it calls specialized "strike teams"––meaning anything from "robot architects to project specialists who accelerate user journey mapping"––to integrate automation technology into the business structure.

IT environments aren't always suited to generate innovation and focus on customers, the report states, but taking a thorough account of factors like team size and evaluating individuals' roles within the teams can make room for a restructuring of tasks. This reevaluation, Forrester asserts, will show which areas can be automated, and, thus, free up employees for higher-level jobs.

The report also states that "a more embedded, connected, and adaptive IT approach will gain momentum in 2020." This goal can be met as firms marry business and IT departments, allowing developers in the former group to adopt projects.

Cameron provided an example of why embedding the IT approach is critical. "In the healthcare delivery sector, a senior IT exec recently took a position in a hospital network to revolutionize care delivery," he said.

"His whole approach has been to get his leadership team moving. He discovers that all the data looks good from a business performance perspective," he said. "But the IT is real old school and healthcare informatics doesn't talk to the hospital operations people who actually create the data and use the data––and they don't all talk to the labs." 

This example proves that using digital technologies to transform healthcare will require a rebuilding of the foundation, Cameron said.

3. Use employer experience technology to bolster customer experience

CIOs can make a difference––by teaming up with the chief human resources officer and others on the HR teams.

In 2020, they will focus on developing HR expertise, becoming adept at workforce composition, skill-development, and talent acquisition, according to the report. 

Beyond focusing on customers, the successful CIO will understand the importance of digital employee experiences, which will likely result in greater productivity and a stronger cohort of loyal employees. This will then translate into improved relationships with customers.  

Human capital management (HCM) systems, which have been traditionally unsuccessful, are due for an overhaul. According to the report, less than half of global software decision makers believe their HCM system is working, and more than half (56%) are looking at other solutions. 

Cameron has been doing detailed research since 2015, and just 55% of firms are getting started in truly understanding who their customers are, he said. Twenty-nine percent are more sophisticated, platform-based, cloud-first, he said. And the the last 15% are "customer obsessed," Cameron said. 

If these partnerships between CIOs and HR teams are successful, IT organizations can develop strong, efficient, and satisfied employee teams that will prioritize serving customers.

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