Global Study: How Forward-Looking CIOs Are Driving Business Strategy

We conducted a global study of 603 executives worldwide to see how the digital acceleration spurred on by the pandemic has influenced the thinking of CIOs worldwide. Here’s an overview of the results.

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Technology is the nervous system of an organization. The better it works, the faster leaders can process information and respond to change.

In a volatile environment, fast reflexes and decisive action help businesses survive chaos and capitalize on new opportunities. As CIOs have helped lead their organizations through the disruption caused by COVID-19, investing in the technologies that enable these capabilities has become a top priority.

Connecting different departments with an overarching technology strategy is necessary to coordinate a unified response to market shifts. And focusing on finance is particularly important to CIOs. Workday and Deloitte’s latest joint research report, "A More Effective CIO-CFO Partnership," found that most CIOs (70%) say the pandemic has accelerated their finance transformation strategies by at least a year.

Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) Progressive CIOs say they would like to spend more time educating the organization, compared to just 69% of the wider sample.

The report, based on a survey of 603 executives worldwide, also found that forward-looking tech leaders, whom we’re referring to as “Progressive CIOs,” are more likely to see the strategic importance of technology in the current environment. 

They have a different mindset than their peers, focusing on transformative business issues, agile execution, and the data capabilities that allow organizations to pick up the pace. And firms with Progressive CIOs outperform other organizations in several areas, including employee satisfaction, cybersecurity, customer turnover, and revenue.

Our research found that a unique set of beliefs and behaviors set Progressive CIOs apart from their peers. Here are three priorities that help these forward-looking leaders pull ahead of the pack.

1. Build Partnerships to Fuel Faster Change

CIOs are in a unique position to help an organization meet its strategic goals. But to innovate effectively, technology leaders need to build close partnerships with other leaders across the business. 

According to our survey, almost half (49%) of all CIOs believe they need to spend less time on purely IT matters and more time making IT a strategic enabler across the business. And 60% agree that “our business leaders are too focused on short-term costs of system modernization to see the long-term value of digital transformation.”

Progressive CIOs meet this need by building strategic partnerships, particularly with CFOs and other C-suite execs. About 60% describe themselves as collaborative, compared to 44% of all respondents. They work to align their priorities with the broader business strategy and keep all key stakeholders informed, motivated, and onboard with the transformation. 

These connections are critical, as there can be serious financial implications if communications between IT and the finance function misfire. To avoid disconnects that can disrupt mission-critical operations, Progressive CIOs have prioritized enterprise-wide integration. A full 90% agree that their IT department is much more integrated into other areas of the business than it was 12 months ago, compared to 72% of the wider sample.

2. Take an Agile and Incremental Approach to Transformation

Organizations have a need for speed. In a rapidly changing marketplace, they have to continually beat the competition to market—and keep up with shifting expectations to remain relevant. Overall, 45% of CIOs say they need to innovate more quickly, and 43% are under pressure to create greater enterprise agility.

In this environment, digital acceleration is key to success—as long as innovation and change drive strategic business results. One in three Progressive CIOs cite “time to deliver a defined business goal” as the most important metric by which they measure the success of new technologies, compared to about one in five of the total population.

To help their organizations move faster—and adapt as plans change—Progressive CIOs are focused on agile, incremental innovation. This approach helps IT teams stay in lockstep with more risk-averse departments, such as finance. It also balances the need to keep the business running smoothly with the demands of modernizing core systems.

Almost half (49%) of all CIOs believe they need to spend less time on purely IT matters and more time making IT a strategic enabler across the business.

When it comes to finance transformation in particular, Progressive CIOs believe in the power of the cloud. More than half (54%) are deploying an end-to-end cloud strategy to modernize their enterprise management environment, compared to just 37% of all CIOs. But while Progressive CIOs believe in the value of a unified move to the cloud, they also know they need to take an iterative approach to get there.

Getting to the desired end state requires stakeholders across the organization to develop a more innovative mindset—and Progressive CIOs want to help other departments wrap their heads around what new technologies can do. Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) say they would like to spend more time educating the organization, compared to just 69% of the wider sample. A similar portion of Progressive CIOs (90%) also prioritize working with other departments on digital innovation projects, compared to just 70% of all respondents.

3. Unlock the Decision-Making Power of Data 

Predicting the future is no simple task, but the right data capabilities can help organizations better plan for an uncertain future. From how customer demands might evolve to how revenue streams could shift over time, analyzing data from across the organization can help leaders make smarter strategic choices—and plan for multiple possible outcomes. 

Developing these capabilities starts with making the right technology investments. And this need is accelerating transformations across sectors. According to our survey, 41% of CIOs say the need to improve decision making by enabling secure, timely access to reliable data is the biggest driver of technology modernization within their organizations.

For their part, Progressive CIOs prioritize data aggregation and data management. “Aggregating enterprise finance data into a single source of truth” is the top priority for 92%, compared to only 72% of the wider sample. 

They also focus on data integrity, as a data-driven culture must be built on trust. An end-to-end cloud strategy that provides unified access to the organization can provide a single source of truth that allows leaders to access accurate, real-time data at a moment’s notice. And as the speed of the market continues to accelerate, organizations that can make faster, more informed decisions will be better positioned to gain a competitive edge.

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