The future of work and how businesses operate or deliver products and services are changing in ways that demand technology solutions to be implemented quickly, at scale and effectively. Any delays or errors could have a material impact on business operations, profitability, or legal implications if businesses are found to be non-compliant with evolving regulations.
Even as CIOs are under pressure to deal with these demands, they face internal challenges as organisational structures, cultures and ways of working are being disrupted. CIOs currently manage their IT portfolios based on a combination of factors including their teams’ capacity, budget and business priorities.
However, as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, CIOs are required to swiftly and effectively reprioritise projects based on business continuity needs rather than resource constraints.
For example, many have been tasked to accelerate technology initiatives in the form of e-invoicing, enterprise workflow and electronic document management to support the business’ transition from manual and paper-based to automated processes.
For the IT team to be an agile business enabler, the CIO and their teams will need to find new ways of operating within the department as well as better engage multiple stakeholders across the organisation to gain a deeper understanding of and advise on the impact of technology in helping to drive business outcomes.
Partnering with the CHRO
As the CIO embark on this journey of transforming themselves and their teams, consultation and collaboration with the CHRO to build an effective talent and change management strategy for the function will be important.
According to Tan Lay Keng, EY ASEAN People Advisory Services Leader, CHROs can help CIOs with workforce planning, such as to understand ways to optimise the team structure and operating model, as well as the competency needs and development roadmaps in order to build a future-ready IT function.
Both can also work together to identify potential impediments in the current structure that would hinder the CIO and their teams in working closely with other functions, and design enhanced support models or ways to incentivise behaviours to overcome these challenges.
For example, instead of a centralised IT team, IT team members could be redeployed to be placed as multiple pods across the business to build a closer working relationship with the business.
One of the key roadblocks preventing CIOs from effectively engaging the rest of the business on new digital initiatives could be the lack of a digital culture in the organisation. Implementing new technologies involves behavioral changes and mindset shifts, particularly for technologies that require the workforce to transform how they connect, collaborate and learn in new ways.
The need to quickly shift to telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic proves that such a change demands as much from IT enablement as it does from a people management perspective.
With the rapid shift to online business models, organisations will also need a workforce that is not only adaptive but also innovative in initiating new digital initiatives from the ground up.
Such a digital-first culture will help businesses to accelerate their transition from offline-to-online channels, from physical to virtual events, from iterations of existing products to conceptualising new online services and products.
Building a digital organisation starts with putting humans at the centre. How can we be more inclusive and people-centric to make technologies friendlier, more accessible and useful to employees?
Lay Keng shared that input from the CHRO and the HR function will be valuable: they can help by identifying employee personas and engagement preferences, as well as highlighting moments in the employees’ experience lifecycle to help CIOs embed talent considerations into the way technologies are designed and deployed for use.
At the same time, CIOs can collaborate with CHROs to enable the workforce to learn new skills that builds a more digital-ready workforce.
An evolved set of leadership capabilities
Clearly, to drive technology transformation that requires cultural changes beyond IT implementation, CIOs will need to evolve their leadership capabilities.
Firstly, CIOs will need business acumen, authenticity, customer-centricity and a results-oriented perspective as a foundational set of skills.
Secondly, they will need to evolve these skills: from relationship-building internally with stakeholders to externally across the network, from learning to ideating, and from managing change to pioneering disruption.
Thirdly, they will need forward-looking capabilities of empathy to pre-empt the impact of technological advancements on the workforce, as well as resilience to make tough but necessary decisions. These capabilities are critical for CIOs to be able to think “out-of-the-box” to ideate, innovate and re-imagine the business using technology as a strategic capability.
The reality is that with the fast-evolving business and technology environment, there will be always be proficiency gaps. The CIO will require the support of a multidisciplinary team that offers a mix of non-technology related skills as well as subject matter experts in new emerging technologies.
At the same time, the technology teams of the future must readily embrace new mindsets, new ways of working and hone their ability to keep up with the demanding pace of change.
Attracting and retaining the right talent will also be an ongoing concern as the competition for talents, especially in emerging technologies, will be intense.
CIOs and CHROs must ask themselves: What can we do to provide the best experience to our talents right from the beginning and through their careers? With the diversity on a multidisciplinary team, how can we better foster inclusiveness and belonging?
A successful CIO of the future will be one who is a technologist, a business partner and a people leader. To that end, putting people at the centre of their technology agenda cannot be an afterthought.
The views in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.