Top Strategic Priorities for CIOs in 2021
2020 has introduced dramatic changes in the way enterprises operate. This was mainly due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has had a significant impact on many businesses worldwide. For example, some businesses had to operate on a reduced capacity, while others applied teleworking policies at a massive scale. Moreover, many enterprises had to rapidly transform physical activities into digital ones. This accelerated the digital transformation of business enterprises in many different sectors, including non-IT savvy sectors such as manufacturing and energy. Most importantly, 2020 revealed the great importance of digital infrastructures for business operations, as these infrastructures ensured business continuity during the healthcare crises. Specifically, it become evident that IT is no longer an auxiliary tool, but rather an indispensable enabler of successful business operations in areas like sales, production, and marketing. In 2020, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) changed: CIOs undertook critical responsibilities and acted as leaders of many innovation projects.
2021 is bound to build on 2020’s legacy. It will be another COVID19 year, as most businesses will have to operate on restricted modes for several months. However, it will be also the year where enterprises will prepare for the post-COVID19 era. The latter will bring to the foreground a new normal, where most business activities will remain digital. CIOs must be prepared for the adaptation of their companies to the new normal, building on lessons learnt from 2020 and leveraging the latest technological developments in areas like Artificial Intelligence and the Tactile Internet. In this context, CIO must shape their strategic agendas for innovation and business growth.
Work-from-home and teleworking policies are expected to remain in effect for a significant part of 2021. Hence, CIOs will have to maintain and improve the implementation of remote working arrangements. For instance, they will have to fine-tune work-from-home plans, improve teleworking protocols (e.g., protocols for remote meetings), and implementing the most up-to-date cybersecurity controls. However, in 2021, CIOs will have to prepare the integration of teleworking in the new normal of their enterprise processes. Following the end of the pandemic, CIOs must be ready to recommend and implement the optimal strategies for the long term. In this direction, they will have to work closely with the Human Resources and the Senior Management of their company to towards maximizing the benefits of teleworking. Teleworking will be an integral element of the new normal and companies must be prepared to make the most out of it.
COVID19 has slowed down AI investments. However, it accelerated the digital transformation of enterprises and their ability to gather data about their processes. This is expected to facilitate enterprises to deploy machine learning and AI systems in the years to come. Furthermore, COVID19 has unveiled the importance of flexible and data-driven decision making in times of uncertainty. Specifically, many enterprises have leveraged business analytics (e.g., forecasts about their logistics operations and the market demand for their products) in order to plan their response to the pandemic. Business analytics have helped them gain agility and deal with uncertainty. Building on these experiences, enterprises are expected to accelerate their AI and machine learning deployments during 2021. AI and ML systems can help them automate business processes and increase the productivity of their employees. Furthermore, businesses will leverage existing automation solutions (e.g., Robotic Process Automation), which will complement emerging AI-based solutions. Overall, 2021 could be a year of hyperautomation for many enterprises, notably the businesses that will leverage multiple AI solutions to support their business processes. The benefits of Hyperautomation will extend to multiple application areas including customer service, intelligent production, and improved managerial decision making.
COVID19 dictated a shift from physical activities to digital ones. This accelerated the digital transformation of industrial enterprises such as enterprises in manufacturing, oil & gas, mining, and supply chain management sectors. For these industrial sectors, 2021 will be a year of Information Technology and Operational Technology integration. This will enable monitoring and control of physical systems from remote while facilitating the configuration of physical production processes. Technologies like digital twin coupled with BigData analytics and Cyber-Physical Systems will play a key role in realizing this digitization.
The wave of digitization will sooner or later extent to a broader range of business processes. This was already happening, yet COVID19 has accelerated it. Hence, businesses and their CIOs will seek how to do more things from remote i.e. in a digital way. In this context, tactile internet applications that break the time and space boundaries for industrial processes will start to proliferate in 2021. Most of these applications will leverage technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Remote support in industrial maintenance and tele-surgery are two prominent applications in these areas. In many cases, AR and MR will be also used to enhance existing experiences in areas like retail and e-commerce.
2020 unveiled the importance of the continuity and resilience of IT infrastructures. In 2021, CIOs will be concerned with how to provide the best possible security and data protection solutions for their digital infrastructures. They will adopt and deploy a rich set of security solutions while focusing on how to apply them in a fast and agile way. IT and security teams will be empowered to apply patches and other security improvements at very short timescales (e.g., daily) to avoid the pitfalls of potential security incidents. Likewise, CIOs will have to prioritize defense against attacks that are on the rise. For example, in 2020 many adversarial parties launched attacks based on deepfake video representations i.e. synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness. Specifically, adversarial parties took advantage of the increased use of video conferences to launch such attacks. Likewise, defense against attacks specific to AI systems (e.g., adversarial training of neural networks) should be prioritized by CIOs and their cybersecurity teams.
IT’s shift from a supporting activity to an innovation enabler requires the engagement of talented IT professionals. Hence, CIOs must prioritize the attraction of talent in their IT teams. They should employ individuals with knowledge and skills in emerging technologies like AI, BigData, AR, while ensuring that their teams have sufficient expertise in the ever-important areas of cloud computing and cybersecurity. The need for attracting talent is not new: Most businesses have a proclaimed talent gap in cutting edge IT technologies. Nevertheless, this talent gap is currently becoming more critical, as a result of increased reliance on digital infrastructures and of the rapid digitization of business processes. That’s the reason why it’s time CIOs make IT talent attraction a top priority. Furthermore, as attracting talent is challenging, CIOs must also look at the efficiency of their upskilling processes. The latter can also contribute to closing skills gaps in modern enterprises.
The revert to the new normal will allow enterprises to refocus on areas that have been ignored during the past year. Enterprises will put emphasis on innovating with IT in their business processes. In this direction, IT is expected to play a key role towards improving applications in all functional areas of an enterprise, including sales, marketing, production and human resources. CIOs must explore the latest advances in technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning (ML), which can be key innovation enablers in a host of application areas. As per their revised role, CIOs will be in charge of defining how novel IT technologies could enable innovative business models. Moreover, CIOs will have to focus on accelerating innovation cycles and present tangible results that improve productivity, reduce costs, and advance the strategic position of their company.
2021 is a new promising year, yet severely influenced by 2020 and the Corona virus crisis. It will set the basis of the new normal i.e. the era after the pandemic. CIOs must drive their enterprises safely to the new normal, leveraging best practices from 2020, while planning ahead with a growth mindset.
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