CIO PrioritiesKey CIO Trends for 2021

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann

Principal Analyst & Content Director at ITSM.tools

For many organizations, the CIO and IT department “stock” is likely the highest it has been in the 2000s. Thanks to the key role both they and technology played in ensuring business continuity during the global pandemic. 2021 is now the time to both leverage and improve this level of perceived business value. By not only helping to ensure continued business survival but by also providing technology capabilities that drive growth.

This requires that CIOs and their teams focus on a number of trend-driven priorities during 2021, which can be grouped into three areas – “the 3Ts”:

  • Tightening-up the status quo
  • Transforming business operations
  • Recognizing the importance of IT “talent.”

1. Tightening-Up the Status Quo

While the transfer of some day-to-day budget to digital-transformation-related improvements will be seen as a wise investment, there’s also a need to deliver as much improvement – and the associated benefits – as early as possible. In particular, where these improvements free up even greater amounts for digital transformation. Three potential “tightening-up” priority areas for 2021 are:

  • Optimizing for a distributed workforce. Here there’s much to be learned from IT’s heroics in the second quarter of 2020. From the ability to quickly enact business-driven change, through enabling greater business resilience, to the change in focus of IT support from the technology to the people that need it to work.
  • Meeting the immediate need for greater efficiency. There’s likely the need to cut costs in light of the adverse commercial impact of the pandemic. However, any changes and improvements related to greater efficiency need to be focused on, and deliver against, all three of “better, faster, cheaper.” Importantly, some of the chosen “tightening-up” improvements will also be necessary changes for future digital transformation investments to be successful.
  • Providing greater resilience. This isn’t just business resilience, which is usually covered off by business continuity and disaster recovery plans and at both a corporate and IT department level. There’s also the need for service resilience, which can be considered a subset of business resilience related to the ability to continue to provide business-critical services in unforeseen circumstances. And people resilience, which is how well IT personnel can handle “everything that’s thrown at them” going forward.

2. Transforming Business Operations

The increased adoption or acceleration of digital transformation strategies in response to the global pandemic is not only the ability to ensure that the organization is “future fit,” but it’s also the opportunity for IT departments to regain their status as drivers of technology-enabled business innovation. After all, digital transformation is ultimately about business transformation. Three potential “transformation” priority areas for 2021 are:

  • Leveraging pandemic-created wins. Much was achieved, in service and support terms, in a short timeframe during the global pandemic. There was also a changing of focus for IT service delivery and support personnel as both they and the people they serve better appreciated how what the IT department does and achieves is important to business operations and outcomes. In 2021, both of these elements should be seen as platforms for the required acceleration of digital transformation strategies.
  • Facilitating digital transformation through the tightening-up efforts. The impact of these “more immediate” improvements also involves where the improvements are made to prime operations for digital transformation. After all, why would an organization want to automate, or add intelligence to, something that’s currently a suboptimal way of working?
  • Recognizing the role of IT in all three elements of digital transformation. IT’s role across new digital products and services, improved customer engagement mechanisms, and optimizing back-office operations is likely already well thought out. However, the availability of an existing technology-enabled solution to back-office transformation might not be. This is the use of IT service management (ITSM)/enterprise service management (ESM) technology for the enablement of digital workflows across the organization. Plus, two other ESM opportunities shouldn’t be overlooked: the sharing of non-service-desk ITSM capabilities, such as continual improvement, and the extension of ITSM’s new intelligent automation capabilities to other business functions.

3. Investing in Talent, Not Just Technology

CIOs have hopefully long known the importance of people to their success, with this something that will continue even as new technologies – including intelligent automation – are added into the mix. In 2021, people, including employee wellbeing, needs to be an area of focus in addition to the many trends or priorities related to processes and technology. Three potential “talent” priority areas for 2021 are:

  • Investing in new skills. So much of what’s changing in IT service delivery and support operations affects IT employees. Not only in how they need to work but also in terms of the required knowledge, skills, and experiences. Especially their personal skills or qualities. Plus, not everyone will be prepared for the changes happening around them in 2021 and organizational change management tools and techniques will thus play a big part in facilitating change. New employees – who have the required knowledge, skills, and experience – will, of course, likely be needed too.
  • Investing in IT-employee wellbeing. 76% of employees think that working in IT is going to get harder over the next three years. This is indicative of where many corporate IT departments are right now, with more and more being asked of IT employees. In the same survey, 52% of survey respondents stated that working in IT has adversely affected their wellbeing to some extent. A statistic that’s made worse when 74% of employees felt that their immediate manager is not suitably skilled, or only partially skilled, to identify and deal with employee wellbeing issues. Whatever you think about the validity of these wellbeing-related statistics, how certain are you that the wellbeing of your IT staff is as good as it can be? And what is being done to both prevent and improve wellbeing issues?
  • Reinventing IT performance metrics. The required changes in 2021 affect the continued relevance of current IT metrics. Using IT service desk metrics as an example, there are many drivers of metric change across all three “T” areas. For example, with tightening-up, the support of remote workers might necessitate the resetting of some SLA targets to reflect the different priorities needed for home workers. With transformation, the use of intelligent automation will change the targets for a variety of traditional IT service desk metrics. And with talent, the changes expected in 2021 require more than an annual employee satisfaction survey to gauge and manage the employee impact.

A variety of changes to IT service delivery and support and the wider IT department operations are needed in 2021. While accelerated digital transformation will be prevalent within most organizations, the CIO agenda for 2021 should include far more, and across the 3Ts of tightening-up, transformation, and talent.

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