CIOs are wielding greater influence at the highest levels of their organizations, according to the 2017 Canadian CIO Census. The online survey by IT World Canada found that organizations are increasingly looking to their CIOs to lead digital transformation initiatives.

That’s because the pressing need for innovation is affecting the bottom line, Kovar Gregory, senior director at CA Technologies told participants at an ITWC webinar on the census findings. “No longer is IT just keeping the lights on,” he said. “It can actually change the game for your business. It can also put you out of business if you don’t keep pace.”

The results of the census, the largest of its kind in Canada, are based on a survey of 164 senior IT leaders across the country.

A good year for CIOs

“There has never been a better time to be a CIO,” said Ron Babin, the lead researcher on the census and an associate professor at Ryerson University. Developments in the digital era are putting the CIO in the driver’s seat, he added.

There is a definite “step-up” in IT investment as a result of digital disruption, said Babin.   Fifty-seven per cent of the survey respondents say their budgets are higher this year, with 11 per cent reporting an increase of over 15 per cent. For the third year in a row, the survey showed that organizations are spending less on operations, and more on innovation.

Forty-four per cent of organizations plan to hire IT staff this year, especially in the innovation hot spots like big data and business intelligence.  The much hyped role of Chief Digital Officer has had very little uptake, leaving the CIO responsible for both improving the customer experience and IT operations.

Finally, the census shows that CIOs are staying in their jobs longer. “Increased job security, larger budgets and hiring plans all demonstrate the increasing influence of the CIO,” said Babin.

Although IT leaders are thinking about innovation more than ever before in their daily priorities, they continue to face a number of challenges. In the wake of high profile security breaches like the Equifax case, CIOs are anticipating that this will be a big year for security issues. As well, with almost 40 per cent saying they rely on passwords and firewalls for application security, there is more work to be done, said Gregory.“This is a little scary,” he said. “You still have to do firewalls and passwords, but it’s not enough.  If you’re not protecting the customer’s data, they’re going to go to the competitor that is.”

Trends: What’s hot and what’s not

Cloud is the hottest technology trend according to the survey results. Seventy per cent of respondents say that cloud has met or exceeded their expectations as the most productive technology, by far. That trend is bolstered by the arrival of major cloud providers in Canada, which is causing people to be less concerned about data sovereignty. Almost as many participants were bullish about the benefits of enterprise mobility. “Mobility is becoming part of the fabric of what we do,” said ITWC CIO Jim Love.

Outsourcing has been a disappointment for many CIOs. In a wakeup call for outsourcing providers, Love noted that 23 per cent of senior IT leaders say the benefits have been below expectations. Similarly, the jury is still out on the value of blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and social media, all rating low in terms of the return on investment.

Ultimately, digital transformation is rarely about the technology, said Love. The census shows that the “CIO has arrived at the executive table by realizing that digital transformation moves at the speed of security, culture and leadership, not at the speed of technology.”