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How CIOs can keep and best leverage their newfound place at the table

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Coffee / Pixabay)

To stay afloat during the pandemic, organizations across nearly every industry were required to accelerate change faster than previously imaginable. In this time of crisis, CIOs not only achieved C-suite buy-in for digital transformation, but they also emerged as leaders by adapting strategy as their companies navigated unfamiliar, virtual business models. Now that Covid-19 has ignited an increased appreciation for CIOs and technology’s role in delivering strategic business change, technology executives grapple with a new challenge – maintaining their newfound influence and using it to propel their organization forward.  

As they navigate this challenge, some critical factors IT leaders must account for will be customers, business processes and procedures, employees and culture. While these factors have always been essential in digital transformation, they’ve evolved significantly, and companies will need to approach them strategically in the new normal. Below, I list six key steps to help them get started.

Implement a continuous digital strategy 

To continue building resilience, digital transformation initiatives remain at the top of most companies’ to-do lists. Therefore, they will need to rely on both technology and business leaders to keep them on the bleeding edge of innovation, which means the CIO’s influence will only continue to grow in the coming years. However, to remain competitive, IT leaders must think outside of digital initiative silos and recognize that true transformation means evolving traditional business models and ecosystems for good. 

Perceiving digital transformation as a one-and-done project is a huge mistake, but unfortunately, it’s also common. To implement an ongoing digital transformation program, CIOs must treat the fundamentals of their digital strategy as a critical component of their business evolution. Those that maintain digital momentum will be primed for future success.

Prioritize contingency planning 

Businesses that have agile decision-making processes that empower them to react quickly will prosper in the long term. Furthermore, organizations that prioritize forward-thinking risk management policies position themselves to weather disruptions in the future. 

A notable lesson learned from the past two years is that contingency planning is an absolute necessity. Of course, pre-2020, many organizations had implemented plans to mitigate natural disasters or workplace violence, but very few accounted for the possibility of a pandemic. This lesson highlights a top business continuity rule: it’s essential to prepare for the unexpected, no matter how unlikely an event seems. 

To avoid further damage, CIOs and their C-suite colleagues should ask themselves, “Is my organization prepared for another full-scale disruption?” “Will my workforce operate efficiently if we’re forced to go virtual again?” “How can I budget for another recession?”

Establish an ongoing upskilling & security program  

Companies that historically relied on legacy IT systems were forced to transition to cloud-based technologies to access workloads remotely and, therefore, experienced significant changes to culture and process. Companies may think they sufficiently addressed these hurdles when they first encountered technical and cultural issues. However, likely, the needs and wants of their people have already changed, and they must adapt accordingly. 

As companies tweak business strategy and implement new digital procedures, those who value employees will be the most successful, and the brunt of this work does not fall on HR alone. CIOs are most familiar with newly adopted technology and must audit how it will impact business processes and those interacting with the new technology firsthand–their employees. Then, they can team up with other business departments to create an ongoing training program that frequently upskills their workforce.  

Likewise, in 2020, most CIOs established new information security policies and spearheaded security training for their staff. Like upskilling and digital transformation, security is a continuous process that will continue to be a vital component in the future of business – especially as digital technologies continue to create more data than previously conceivable. Therefore, they must form ongoing upskilling, training and digital programs in parallel.  

Stay customer-centric  

Like employees, customer needs and behaviors have altered dramatically in the last year. 

When governments issued stay-at-home advisories, to avoid losing customers, various grocers added multichannel buying experiences like online ordering, curbside pick-up and delivery features to their websites. These changes elevated customer expectations for the future of grocery shopping and turned novice computer users (such as elderly customers) into expert online shoppers. 

While some of these individuals may miss browsing the produce aisle and ordering at the deli in person, others hope online grocery shopping is here to stay. Therefore, to keep up with competitors, IT leaders at grocery chains must ensure they have the capacity to sustain their current business model while also exploring how they can further develop online operations and continue to refine the digital customer experience.

Consistently assess digital maturity 

This past year, digital transformation metrics hinged on pandemic business models and the constraints specific to this era. Now, organizations are redefining digital success and how it’s measured. As businesses continue to fast-track digital projects, there are several KPIs they must examine to determine their digital maturity. Though digital transformation metrics differ significantly across different business sectors, the dimensions of these metrics are uniform across every industry.

While CIOs continue to identify new ways to retain existing customers and reach new ones, measuring digital maturity from a customer perspective is also crucial. One common metric business and IT leaders can use to examine customer relationships is customer turnover/churn rates. Measuring the impact of a digital project from a workforce perspective can also be quite telling. Therefore, these organizations should keep a close eye on cultural metrics such as digital match of skills needed (DSN), which measures staff availability with the necessary skills to drive digital efforts. 

Empower hybrid work models with collaboration tools

The pandemic uncovered an urgent need for remote communication technologies (i.e., Zoom and Microsoft Teams) that companies did not previously use daily. While these video conferencing tools made it possible to connect face to face virtually, in-person conference room strategy sessions were still missed. In truth, even with video calls, it’s hard for team members to work together on projects effectively. 

Instead, as more and more CIOs strategize their hybrid work models, they should consider fueling success through robust collaboration tools that empower employees to work together on complex problems. Forward-thinking companies that use these collaboration platforms post-pandemic will not only connect team members across the “hybrid office,” but they’ll also effectively streamline and accelerate digital and business initiatives.

Conclusion

We’re now in a new normal and the increased appreciation for both CIOs and the role of technology in dealing with the unexpected is an opportunity for solidifying their influence as forces of change. Although the key factors in digital transformation will continue to evolve, addressing these six considerations will help you stay ahead and lead strategic business change going forward.

Kevin McCaffrey, CEO, Tr3Dent

Kevin McCaffrey is the CEO of Tr3Dent. A serial entrepreneur, McCaffrey is mission-focused on enabling enterprises to develop the complex ecosystems and business models required to deliver new digital services.