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Stepping up and stepping in: how technology must support the evolving role of the CIO and CTO

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock)

18 months ago, the race towards digitalization accelerated at breakneck speed. However, in the face of the trials, tribulations and turbulence that accompanied the pandemic, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) had to step up, step in and make cutthroat decisions on which the immediate future of their organizations depended. 

Digital innovation and technology-led change have transformed the global enterprise – and with the increasing importance of IT in modern business, the role of the CIO/CTO has needed to shift accordingly. Whilst very separate roles – the CTO being focused on technology infrastructure and the CIO overseeing the people, processes, and technologies to support the goals of the business – their scope of influence has both advanced from technology leadership to business leadership. In fact, according to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO Report, 95 percent of CIOs said their role was expanding beyond traditional IT responsibilities, whilst for 31 percent, strengthening business resiliency through IT and data security was a top priority. 

As digital becomes a core competency, the CIO plays a key leadership role in the critical strategic, technical and management initiatives — from information security and algorithms to customer experience and leveraging data — that mitigate threats and drive business growth. For CTOs, challenges surrounding digital skill development and the demand for software developers led them to focus on rapid recruitment and retention – with 63 percent of senior executives admitting the shortage of developers was an area of concern. 

Today, with innovation playing an ever more critical role in business strategy, CIOs and CTOS have found their place amongst other members of the c-suite, including Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), Chief Experience Officer (CXOs) and even Chief People Officers (CPOs), working with them to drive business performance and growth. What CIOs and CTOs need now are digital strategies that align with those of the businesses more broadly, and the tools and technologies to allow them to do this. 

However, before this – and with the roles having changed so much in a short space of time – a thorough assessment of the key challenges and priorities faced by today’s CIOs and CTOs is needed.

CX – a growing priority for today’s CIO

Whilst already firmly on the agenda, customer experience (CX) has risen significantly on the CIO’s list of priorities since the beginning of the pandemic. In the age of the ever-connected customer, CIOs now plays a greater role in keeping up with growing customer expectations, since every stage, or ‘touchpoint’, in the customer journey is upheld by technology in one form or another – from marketing and advertising, all the way through to purchasing and customer experience. In fact, according to IDG’s 2021 State of the CIO survey, 57 percent of CIOs reported improving customer experience as a priority, second only to increasing cybersecurity measures.

Most organizations have legacy systems and complex IT structures to contend with: a recipe for disconnected processes and data silos, not to mention poor CX. Indeed, many attempts to meet customers’ needs are held back by back-office processes and systems incapable of meeting these digital expectations. If you’re stuck in this constant cycle, what’s going to help you get out of it? Well, a solid IT infrastructure is certainly a good start, and CIOs should begin by working alongside CFOs to invest in the right digital tools to enable their business to become composable. Access to low-code application platforms that act as a key technology precursor, and are easy to use whilst enabling innovation, will be key for businesses to build a better digital customer experience.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will also prove pivotal in driving great customer experience – indeed, broader complementary technologies such as automation and robotic process automation (RPA) can be easily built into processes using low-code software solutions. These platforms, due to their ability to be easily deployed and used, can be integrated across all departments and used by developers and non-experts alike. Crucially, applications such as these can sit above legacy software and integrate with it – providing businesses with the opportunity to incrementally improve customer experience without overhauling their entire existing IT infrastructure at a high cost. 

Balancing digitalization and developer demand 

Another challenge CTOs face has been getting a handle on the increased demand for developers stemming from the pandemic, which sparked several years’ worth of digital transformation in several months. As millions of businesses across the globe have pivoted to increase their digitalization efforts, the demand for talented developers has continued to surge dramatically, creating a burgeoning skills gap. Recruitment has therefore become a major pain point for CTOs.

So, what can businesses do to resolve this? Bringing in highly skilled developers to drive new initiatives is not necessarily the answer – or even an option, given the costs involved. An alternative would be to enable existing employees to become citizen developers within their organizations.

Citizen developers can add value to businesses and drive developments from within, their in-depth understanding of specific process challenges helping ensure that new systems and applications suit the needs of the business. 

The sky’s the limit when it comes to the opportunities a citizen developer can present. According to Gartner research, on average, 41 percent of employees outside IT – or business technologists – customize or build data or technology solutions.  And here’s where low-code comes in. By democratizing the process of app development through easy, drag-and-drop tools, low-code platforms empower the non-technical players within a business to create the solutions they need, whilst alleviating some of the burden from developers. Business technologists want to create and execute their own ideas to drive more automation across their business applications and workflows – and this will be one of the key drivers for low-code adoption in the year ahead. In fact, Gartner predicts that ‘globally, most large organizations will have adopted multiple low-code tools in some form by year-end 2021’. In the longer term, as companies embrace the tenets of a composable enterprise, they will turn to low-code technologies that support application innovation and integration.

Delivering against corporate objectives

Whilst keeping up with customer experience and managing the skills needed for growth is certainly enough to keep the CIO and CTO occupied, delivering against corporate objectives could certainly be keeping them awake at night. Following a period of sustained economic uncertainty, growth has been repeatedly cited as a top strategic business priority for CEOs, and the CIO and CTO are required to help the digital components for future success.

So, if CEOs want growth and improved experience at a lower cost, what can CTOs and CIOs do the support this? As their roles continue to be redefined by changing pressures and expectation and they become an increasingly central presence amongst the c-suite, delivering against corporate initiatives has become a crucial requirement – as is having the right tools to do so. 

Like the rest of the world, business does not stand still. The roles of those in the c-suite will need to continue to evolve to keep up with the pace of change. Only with the right tools, and a solid technology foundation can CIOs and CTOs lead businesses forward toward future growth and success.

Richard Farrell, CIO
Richard Billington, CTO,
Netcall

Richard Farrell, Chief Innovation Officer, Netcall.