By Peter Skyttegaard and Kristin Moyer
While 2020 was a year of turmoil in many ways, it also resulted in increased digital business momentum across a variety of industries and regions. In fact, a Gartner poll of 122 business and IT professionals on June 23, 2021 revealed that 69 per cent of enterprises are accelerating digital business in 2021 compared to last year.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, IT departments stood up as the heroes in many ways, leveraging technology resources to pull the organization through the challenges of large-scale remote work and economic instability.
As businesses around the world are emerging from the pandemic and looking ahead to the “new normal”, the question now becomes: ‘How do we maintain our digital momentum?’ Here are five ways that CIOs can sustain the digital business growth spurred by the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.
Shift to a technology-led growth mindset
According to the Gartner 2021 CEO Survey, growth is the top strategic priority among business leaders. Technology is what will get them there, and it’s up to the CIO to lead them down this path.
“Transformation” is a buzzword that many business leaders associate with digital business growth. While some may think that transformation requires a big leap, the most successful companies are in fact optimizing their way to transformation using technology. For example, businesses can optimize revenue by selling more of an existing product. The CIO can support this goal by using automation to drive existing product efficiency, wrapping the existing product with intelligence, and then extending into a new market space.
Address resourcing issues with new funding approaches
Most CIOs find themselves operating with scarce resources and it is unlikely they will receive sudden increases in funding to help alleviate such shortages. Instead, CIOs can shift to a product-centric model to allocate resources in a way that creates the most business value. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 70 per cent of technology related work will be done in a product-centric model, compared to half that in 2020.
Since funding is the biggest barrier in moving towards a product-centric model, CIOs must shift their mindset to funding methods that allow for near-term business outcomes and shorter, more iterative delivery. For example, CIOs could allocate ongoing funding to a product line, and allow that product team to manage that funding to ensure it results in the most value creation.
Make customer experience (CX) a priority
If all businesses are working towards the same goal of growth, how can you create competitive advantage? Customer experience (CX) is one of the answers. Members of boards of directors rate enhanced customer engagement as the top outcome expected from digital business investments, according to the 2021 Gartner Board of Directors Survey. The percentage of CX projects that rely on technology is rising and CIOs recognize it is a high priority, yet they often struggle to make their mark.
CIOs can add value to CX initiatives by simplifying customer processes with technology and seeking out new CX projects that are not currently being pursued. A two-way dialogue between CIOs and CX leaders is imperative to ensuring IT’s contributions to CX are positive.
Drive culture change
Positive company culture is imperative for digital business growth, and CIOs are in a unique position as a key member of the C-Suite to lead positive cultural transformation. CIOs and their C-Suite peers must start by developing an understanding of the current company culture, and then define their desired cultural state that accounts for lessons learned during the pandemic. Think about the behaviours that emerged throughout the pandemic that had a net-positive effect on company culture and look for ways to ingrain those behaviours in the culture for the long-term.
Next, map the culture change journey, creating an understanding of how you need organizational members to change. Action-plan this journey, thinking about how systems, practices and processes that teach organizational members how to behave must be changed to map to the new culture. Finally, measure cultural change as new initiatives are rolled out to assess progress towards the goal.
Enable the future of work through flexibility
No organization will escape the mandate for increased worker flexibility brought on by the pandemic. According to the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 69 per cent of workers in said they were more likely to consider a new role that allows them to work from a location of their choice, and 64 per cent were more likely to consider a role that allows for flexible hours.
Work can’t get done without the right people to do it. CIOs who embrace radical flexibility as the future of work are likely to see higher productivity, satisfaction and retention among their IT teams, which is critical for moving the needle on digital business. By creating a workplace with a flexible, forward-looking culture that’s focused on tasks rather than roles, CIOs can create new momentum as employees see that the positive changes in their working environment brought on temporarily by the pandemic are in fact here to stay.
Peter Skyttegaard is a Senior Research Director at Gartner, Inc. covering strategy development, innovation management, disruptive trends, digital business design and the office of the CIO.
Kristin Moyer is a Distinguished Research VP at Gartner, Inc. helping CEOs, board members and digital leaders find new technology-enabled paradigms.
Gartner analysts will provide additional insights on how CIOs can enable digital business growth during Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2021, taking place October 18-21 in Orlando, Florida.