CIOs became more essential to the enterprise than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. As digital transformation went into overdrive and technology became more pervasive across organisations, the technology function also grew in scope and complexity. Today’s technology portfolio is a dynamic mix of centralised, decentralised, and federated services, and CIOs manage hundreds of applications spanning dozens of functions.
Given the CIO’s critical role, it makes sense that 51% of CEOs surveyed in ASEAN including Singapore by IBM said their tech chiefs, CTOs - will be the most critical C-Suite members over the next few years, only below the CFO and COO.
Today, CIOs have a firm seat at the leadership table not only because they are driving the core IT services that power the day-to-day operations of the business, but also because they’re driving agility, innovation, and business growth. But there are three key challenges looming for the years ahead.
Climate change has become an existential threat to businesses across all industries. On the heels of the global COP26 conference, we are seeing ever-increasing expectations from regulators, consumers, investors, and employees alike, and the urgency to reduce carbon emissions has never been greater.
CIOs can play a pivotal role in helping their organisations achieve ESG goals. 43% of CIOs in ASEAN including Singapore, in the IBM Institute for Business Value 2021 CIO Study expect technology to have a significant impact on sustainability in the next three years, highest of all areas of impact.
But the challenge is complex. A flexible, secure, and scalable hybrid cloud platform for combining relevant and disparate climate-related data will be critical. Equally important is using technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, IoT and more to reinvent critical workflows across functions like procurement, supply chain and energy management.
One area of particular potential is responsible computing – CIOs modernising infrastructure and applications as well reducing the energy consumption footprint of digital technology with more sustainable code and coding practices.
CIOs increasingly serve as a bridge across other business functions, with involvement in every functional unit, according to the new IBM study. They’re connecting the dots across business functions to balance and rearrange technology resources and capabilities to drive agility and efficiency. The number of CIOs surveyed in ASEAN including Singapore reporting high maturity in digital process automation increased 2288% compared to 2019.
Lasting digital transformation requires data, with a strong cross-company view and data governance policies. 73% of CIOs in ASEAN including Singapore report they are proficient in integrating data from sources inside and outside the organisation, while 79% of CIOs in ASEAN including Singapore indicate they occupy a leadership role in their organisation’s data strategy. But they can’t do it alone, and only 4 in 10 CIOs report they frequently interact with CTOs.
The underlying challenge ahead is to ensure exceptional coordination across CIOs and CTOs using cultural levers, processes and tools. For example, establishing a data fabric can enable insights on demand that drive moment-to-moment calibration and optimisation.
One company leading the way on this is ING, which worked with IBM to create a data fabric solution that enables just-in-time access to the right data across any cloud and on-premises, at the optimum cost, at the appropriate level of governance. It also addresses the challenge of providing high-quality, governed, business- and regulatory audit-ready data across the entire enterprise, including the multiple locations in which the company operates.
The ongoing hybrid workplace
At the start of the pandemic and the massive shift to remote work, CIOs were essential to ensuring employee productivity, supporting everything from cloud-based collaboration tools to new digital communications tools like AI-enabled chatbots. 76% of CIOs in ASEAN including Singapore in our study reported they implemented remote work strategies.
Fast forward to today, nearly two in three (65%) employees surveyed by IBM report they'd prefer to work exclusively remotely or in a hybrid model, if given the choice. However, only 23% of CIOs expect remote workplace changes from the COVID-19 pandemic to become permanent.
CIOs must not let this become a blind spot in the current war for talent and the reality that the hybrid work environment will be profoundly different than more traditional workplaces where location and presence are paramount.
CIOs must continue to be at the centre of efforts to establish a productive, supportive, and enriching work environment. That means putting the employee/user at the centre of employee experiences and using technology to break down siloes and empower people to collaborate and innovate, no matter where in the world they are working.
Whatever the future holds, the CIO’s ability to adapt to the unknown with the help of exponential technologies like AI, automation, and hybrid cloud, enable people and culture, and transform risks into opportunities will be indispensable.