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CIOs need to build digital self service options for their organizations

(Image credit: Ditty_about_summer)

Many businesses have finally shifted out of survival mode and, wise of what pushed them there in the first place, are laser focused on developing their own digital products and services. As the businesses shift tactics, customers are making it clear that not only do they like their vendor going digital, they’d prefer it to stay like that for the future.

This year’s Gartner CIO Agenda Survey shows that 76 percent of CIOs increased demand for new digital products and services as a result of Covid-19 and 83 percent expect demand will increase further in 2021. In addition, 65 percent of CIOs saw an increase in the use of self-service by customers/citizens, and 79 percent expect that usage will increase in 2021.

This is especially true among top-performing businesses, with nine out of 10 pursuing digital channels and nearly 75 percent introducing new digital products faster. And it seems to be working. Businesses that increased their use of digital channels to reach customers or citizens are 3.5 times more likely to be top performers than trailing ones.

These changes allow businesses to maintain and develop deeper relationships with established customers at a time when new customers are tough to find. More digital products and services or self-service avenues encourage established customers to spend more, despite a lack of in-person touchpoints. These digital avenues will also enable businesses to extend sales and service hours without requiring more staff.

The pace of digital

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, most businesses moved their digital strategies forward at a steady pace. Leaders either wanted proof of success and didn’t feel great urgency to invest more in digital or the organizational culture seemed resistant.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, many businesses ramped up digital engagement with customers. The increased development of digital products was initiated not only to maintain and develop their customer relationship, but to help the businesses reach its revised revenue growth targets.

The way forward for them was to increase, rather than decrease, the speed of their digital business initiatives and to elevate funding for IT to support this acceleration.

A survey boards of directors found that 87 percent of corporate directors deemed technology as having a transformational role in addressing strategic business priorities. Sixty-seven percent of corporate directors expected budgetary increases in technology, and the majority of them anticipated a 6.9 percent increase in their current IT budgets as a result of the acceleration.

Why is digital strategy acceleration important now?

Digital business acceleration is important now for three reasons:

  • Covid-19. The pandemic demonstrated the value of digital initiatives in e-commerce, deliveries, supply chain virtualization, process automation and other activities, especially where physical activities were no longer possible.
  • Costs and operations. The recession has driven the need to overhaul costs and streamline operations.
  • Results. The rapid responses to the pandemic make accelerating digital business seem feasible and also critical for the survival of a company.

Boards of directors position the CIO as a partner in digital strategy

To respond to this crisis and its aftermath, the role of the CIO as an advisor to the board on digital business issues will also increasingly change. More than half of boards of directors said that CIOs will serve as partners with senior business leaders, while over a third look to the CIO to lead digital business issues alone.

This is a watershed moment for CIOs across the world. There is no going back to the way business used to be. CIOs are reporting an increased standing of IT within the business with 71 percent of them saying they now have more attention from the business and are actively using that to increase their efforts to measure and articulate IT’s business value. Furthermore, 69 percent are deepening their business knowledge to provide even better advice about the most-needed new digital products and services.

In 2021, not only must business leaders hasten to understand the true potential of digital transformation, but CIOs must continue to get themselves involved in the higher-value, more strategic business discussion they were previously left out of. The better CIOs perform for the business, the more the business will ask of them next year.

CIOs need to educate the C-Suite on digital goals

Digital is just a tool, it is just a means to an end. We virtualized the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo conferences not to ‘go digital’ it but to solve the problem of global lockdowns preventing ticket holders from attending – by doing so we found a means to an end and unlocked an unforeseen benefit; for the first time ever we’re able provide an on-demand replay of the entire conference.

Nobody digitalizes just to be digital, just as nobody transforms just to transform. CIOs need to work with their C-Suite colleagues to clearly define and articulate the reason for digitalizing in 2021. If you digitalize without that kind of extra-clear hard-edged goal, you can end up with imbalances in the resilience of your business – the digital products may be exceptionally built but your customer service system is not prepared for the increased volume from your self-service offering.

To protect against “doing digital” just for the sake of being digital, consider what you’re trying to optimize or what the desired outcomes are and create an agenda. Maybe you want to make more money or increase margins or improve transparency or make things more secure. Above all, remember that digital is not a destination.

Andy Rowsell-Jones, Vice President Analyst, CIO & Executive Leadership Research team, Gartner 

Andy Rowsell-Jones is a Vice President Analyst in Gartner's CIO & Executive Leadership Research team. His recent work has focused on defining the management agendas for CIOs.