Workday Global Study: CIOs Hold the Key to Data-Fueled Transformation

According to our latest global survey, the requirements of digital transformation are placing huge demands on technology leaders. See how CIOs can gain a strategic edge in the new world of work.

Because technology has become so firmly embedded in almost every organization’s strategy and decision-making, the CIO’s role is more important than ever. 

From collaborating with the CFO to plan, execute, and analyze operational change at pace and scale to empowering the CHRO to deliver hybrid and inclusive digital experiences, the CIO is a vital driver of organizational agility and sustainable digital transformation. All the while, they need to ensure a sound data foundation is in place across the whole business.

However, according to ”Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation,” our global survey that included 437 IT leaders, digital transformation efforts are creating formidable demands for CIOs. We found that half of IT heads (50%) are struggling to keep pace with IT service upgrades, and 59% say that it can take weeks or months to change an automated business process.

So, how can CIOs attain and retain a strategic edge in the new world of work?

“Having half of the picture is often worse than not having anything at all, because you can make half-baked decisions.”

Pete Schlampp Chief Strategy Officer Workday

Pace of Change Will Make or Break the CIO

Despite frustrations with their ability to keep up, and amid challenging conditions for all functions during the pandemic, IT heads are actually the most optimistic of all leaders about their ability to continue to meet the demands of their organizations. More than half (53%) agree that their teams are equipped to ensure continuity in times of crisis—the highest proportion of any of the business functions surveyed. 

Charles Ewen, CIO and director of technology at the Met Office (the UK’s national weather service), says as a digital transformation leader, the Met Office started “from a great place with much work done” when transitioning to working remotely due to COVID-19, but he warns there is little room—or time—for complacency. Organizations that broke into this field during the pandemic are now leapfrogging ahead. “I don’t think we’ve built the pace and momentum that some other organizations have built,” he acknowledges. “The risk is that we’re going to be left behind.”

For digitally mature businesses such as the Met Office, dealing with legacy systems poses a major organizational and technical challenge. According to our research, just 42% of IT leaders are confident in their teams’ ability to adopt cloud technologies without legacy constraints. Nevertheless, they are driven by the knowledge that unifying technology is the key to data accessibility and, ultimately, unlocking their ability to deliver on digital transformation initiatives. As such, more than 45% view unifying technology as a priority investment area to ensure their team can continuously meet the demands of their business as it evolves. 

Bigger-Picture Visionaries With Sight of the Customer

Another challenge lies in the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of the CIO role, which has evolved as technology has gained prominence in helping companies achieve their wider business objectives.

As well as a 360-degree view of the business, a customer-first mindset is a vital attribute of the progressive CIO.  An intense focus on the consumer is in the DNA of e-commerce company Tokopedia, which has identified key technology priorities as a foundation for its innovation. “Tokopedia intends to continue to innovate by offering, through technology, solutions to any problems Indonesians experience,” explains CTO Herman Widjaja.

The Met Office’s Ewen also highlights growing evidence of multidisciplinary skills within the IT function, a trend that has grown in response to customer needs: “Often, part of application development these days will involve an element of data science, as well as UX specialists, social scientists, and hardcore scientists. That’s the kind of team of people who will go and engage with the customer, try to discover what they want, and then go ahead and build it.”  

A Data-First Culture to Facilitate Change

Data security, privacy, and governance are critical concerns for CIOs, but the imperative to transform digitally, at pace, requires them to reimagine their place as the gatekeepers of all data and decentralize the report-writing function. Only by doing this can they start to liberate themselves to focus on innovation and transformation projects.

For example, more than one-third of IT leaders (35%) are focused on removing reliance on IT as data gatekeepers in order to democratize decision-making and empower their teams to become strategic partners of the wider business. This highlights the need for IT heads to provide secure channels, applications, and systems that will allow their organizations to break down data silos while maintaining a firm grip on data security and governance.

Ensuring all business leaders are confident using a data-first approach will also be critical to the success both of the CIO and of the wider organization. For example, to empower CHROs and their teams to overcome critical skills and talent-management issues, CIOs must ensure that the right data is unified and made accessible, and that HR leaders are equipped with the skills, tools, and access necessary to remain informed of new developments in real time—not after they become a problem or once an opportunity has already passed.

CIO: Data-Literacy Champion? 

Artificial intelligence (AI) analytics will have an increasingly important role to play in helping teams crunch the numbers, supporting the CIO in delivering data-fueled transformation. “There’s so much data that you need to ask 100,000 different questions of it to really get at the insights,” says Pete Schlampp, chief strategy officer at Workday. “Most businesses lack the people and the skills to interpret the data in front of them. That’s where we have to rely on machines to help us find the trends that we need to look at.”

According to Schlampp, few companies have all of the data they need collated in one location. Indeed, our research shows only 12% of leaders say their business data is fully accessible to those who need it. Moreover, Schlampp suggests, looking at only part of the available data can have its own pitfalls: “Having half of the picture is often worse than not having anything at all, because you can make half-baked decisions.” 

To retain a strategic edge in the new world of work, CIOs must champion data literacy and communicate its business value across their organizations. CIOs already know that data is at the core of the digital transformation that is essential to the modern business; now, perhaps their most important job is to make sure everyone else does, too. 

Download the full report “Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation” for more findings from the office of the CFO, CIO, and CHRO.

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