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CIOs in 2021: New Mindsets, Cultures and Leadership Rules

CIOs in 2021: New Mindsets, Cultures and Leadership Rules
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 01 Feb 2021

In the era of technology acceleration and of the rapid digital transformation of business enterprises, the rules of the IT game are no longer the same as a few years before. IT is increasingly seen as an innovation vehicle and a source of competitive advantages for organizations in many different sectors like media, publishing, industry, trade, retail, and healthcare. Furthermore, companies are under pressure to adopt and fully leverage cutting-edge digital technologies such as cloud computing, BigData, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Nevertheless, they are also confronted with new challenges, including cybersecurity incidents, IT governance challenges, and the need to attract IT talent. Recently, the COVID19 pandemic outbreak manifested the importance of resilient and trustworthy digital infrastructures for the continuity of modern enterprises and their ability to deliver exceptional business results even in eras of high uncertainty. For all these reasons the role of IT managers, digital transformation managers and CIOs (Chief Information Officers) has become more strategic than ever before.

To succeed in this strategic role, IT directors and CIOs must change their mindset and play with the new rules. In this direction, they should adhere to the following principles.


1. The Cloud is the Computer

Cloud computing enables enterprises to access virtually unlimited amounts of computing resources in flexible and scalable ways, and according to a per-per-use model. For over a decade, many enterprises have realized a shift from conventional on-premises data centres to cloud services. Based on this shift enterprises reduce their capital investments in IT infrastructure and become more agile. Moreover, cloud computing enables employees to work from anywhere (e.g., from their homes or while on the go) without compromising their productivity. These benefits lead enterprises to allocate a significant portion of their IT budgets on the purchase of cloud products and services. In this context, CIOs must shift the focus of their IT infrastructure investments to the purchase and use of cloud services, as needed for their activities and projects. For example, rather than purchasing product licenses and integrating best-of-breed products, they should emphasize the purchasing and assembly of the best possible collection of cloud services. Likewise, they need to be able to manage relationships with multiple cloud providers, while addressing the technical, organizational, and legal issues that come with cloud computing.

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2. From Supporting Enterprise Operations to Boosting Business Innovation

CIOs and IT directors are increasingly having a say on how to initiate and support business innovation. This is largely due to that many innovations are digitally enabled. CIOs must therefore establish close links with business innovators towards supporting them in implementing novel IT-based products and services. Likewise, IT processes must be streamlined with the innovation management processes of the enterprise. Moreover, CIOs must be actively engaged across the entire lifecycle of enterprise innovation processes.


3. Value Market Momentum over Perfection

Nowadays, enterprises must sustain global competition. IT is a powerful tool for competing globally, as it enables enterprises not only to develop novel products but also to market and sell them worldwide. CIOs must support their companies to adopt and fully leverage IT tools that could boost their competitiveness. In this direction, it is important to facilitate enterprises to implement short innovation cycles, as a means of capturing the market momentum. Hence, they must also prioritize the early release of novel IT-based products rather than delaying product launch towards achieving perfection. Even though the pursuit of perfection can be positive, it should not create a static mindset. The latter introduces delays in the production and release of novel products and services, which makes it difficult for enterprises to keep up with the market momentum.


4. Complement DevOps with DevSecOps and DataOps

For nearly a decade, companies have been actively implementing DevOps methodologies towards ensuring proper communications between IT teams, along with an agile culture in the development of software products and services. In recent years, companies realize the importance of extending this agility in other areas such as data operations and security. The latter must be formally injected into their development and operations methodologies. Modern CIOs should take a holistic approach when leveraging the communications and agility advantages of DevOps. Specifically, they should be prepared to employ DevSecOps and DataOps as part of their development and deployment pipelines.


5. Invest in Team Excellence

Once upon a time, IT skillsets were limited to the knowledge of few technologies and related IT operations. Nowadays, enterprises must cope with a host of emerging technologies such as BigData and data modernization technologies, Internet of Things and smart objects, blockchains and distributed ledger technologies, as well as various cybersecurity techniques. Thus, CIOs must inevitably change the scope of their staffing processes, to ensure access to a broader range of competencies and skills. IT has become a team excellence game, which means that CIOs must emphasize the creation of highly competent teams.


6. Holistic Security

Security is no longer about repelling attacks from a limited set of malicious third parties. IT systems can be attacked from virtually anyone and from any part of the IT infrastructure. For instance, the provisions of virtual private networks, remote logins, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) options at scale, does not come only with extra convenience for partners and employees. It also creates new opportunities for security attacks. As another example, insider attacks have also become easier, as enterprise information can be more easily leaked to third parties. Likewise, corporate presence in an unprecedented number of internet channels creates more opportunities for accessing sensitive information and provoking data breaches.  For all these reasons CIOs and security officers must work based on a “trust no one” culture, which leads them to the implementation of holistic approaches to securing enterprise IT infrastructures.


7. From stability to Continuous IT-Driven Innovation

IT managers were never keen on frequent changes on IT systems and services that worked well. “If it works, don’t touch it!” is a famous quote that is still embraced by numerous IT directors and CIOs. In the era of technology acceleration, this quote can no longer serve as a guide for the enterprise IT function. Rather, IT departments are obliged to help their enterprises reinvent themselves and innovate based on IT and digital technologies. This means that IT teams must experiment with new technologies and business opportunities stemming from them. It also implies a need for more flexible IT procurements and partnerships with new vendors as part of a continuous improvement mindset. CIOs are expected to pave the way and lead for this change.


In 2021, CIOs must exhibit a new mindset that fosters innovation over conservatism, while prioritizing users and employees over IT stability. Many enterprises are embracing these changes, yet the challenges of realizing the shift are acknowledged. The transition to a modern CIO culture requires collective changes in several technological, organizational and culture fronts inside an enterprise. As such it is a great challenge, which IT directors and CIOs must be willing to take.

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