- As companies embark on digital transformation, CIOs are playing a more critical role in company strategy.
- CIOs must approach technology decisions through the lens of business opportunity.
- Companies prioritizing data-first strategies need to set expectations accordingly.
- It’s time to evaluate the efficiency of workflows introduced during the pandemic in a post-pandemic context.
Has there ever been a more exciting time to be a chief information officer (CIO)? For most organizations, digital strategy is now impossible to separate from business strategy. Boards are taking notice—even when they weren’t previously engaged with IT.
This means CIOs now have a bigger voice than ever before, as well as expanded responsibilities to go with it. Today, they’re no longer just managing in-house technology: They’re stepping up to play a critical role in delivering almost every business goal. But how can businesses leverage this broadened skill set to face organizational challenges, kick-start innovation, and drive growth in the wake of the pandemic?
1. Don’t Just Throw Technology at a Problem
As tools get more advanced, it can become all too easy to throw new technologies at a problem, without taking care of the basics first. “[There are] all these cool things we can now do with technology, but I believe it's fairly meaningless if your systems aren’t up and running,” says Kimley-Horn CIO Nick Otto. “We have a hyper focus on those basics, and as we're growing and scaling, that focus is serving us well.”
“CIOs are generally seen as technology leaders, and these days, we’re all expected to understand the business opportunity or the business problem before we immediately turn to the technology and not be enamored by the technology alone,” agrees Warren Kudman, senior vice president and CIO at Turner Construction. “If we have that skill, we’ve demonstrated our ability to be solid business partners and run effective organizations.”
2. Prioritize Frictionless Experiences to Stimulate Growth
According to Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota, creating a seamless experience for existing users is key to business growth. “One thing that has happened to all of us is our patience level has gone down significantly whether we realize it or not, because whatever we need, we need it instantaneously,” he says.
“That’s why it is very important for us to understand how we continue to create frictionless experiences for our users, whether that’s employees, partners, or customers,” he continues. “While it is very important to add new customers or expand existing customers, it's also very important to retain customers, which means it’s all about engagement.”
3. Use the Right Tools to Attract the Right Talent
Turner Construction’s Kudman shared that, in his experience, young engineers are now incredibly comfortable with new technology. Although flexible working practices help attract top talent, he explained that providing enterprise-grade platforms is essential, too. This will not only make new recruits’ lives easier but also encourage them to be innovative without being too focused on cost.
“There’s this bottoms-up part of our overall strategy, which is find innovators and support them with the development of their prototypes and proofs of concepts: their experiments. They have to have the right platforms to let them do that,” Kudman says. “Part of our job is to keep those innovations or those developments within certain guardrails, and then for the ones that have proved value, ask, ‘How do we help that scale across the enterprise?’”
4. Start Small to Get the Most Value From Data
For years, many CIOs have been inspired by the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI). Businesses everywhere are drowning in data, and AI could help them stay afloat. One day, it might even do things like analyze the financial patterns in projects and give advanced warning when work is about to go south. To begin taking steps toward this future, however, companies need to prioritize a data-first strategy that sets the right expectations, according to Kota.
“What has happened is that we’ve created hype whenever we buy a new technology and work to evaluate whether or not the tool will help us understand our data,” he says. “I think setting the right expectations, taking smaller use cases, solving, and iterating are the most important things that I've seen work. It’s a journey that has only just begun.”
5. Hide Complexity With Automation in Hypergrowth Stages
How do CIOs minimize added complexity when the business is growing fast and even acquiring other companies? One solution is automation.
“While it is phenomenal, hypergrowth can sometimes be a little scary for technology leaders who need to ensure that everyone is collaborating and connecting and engaging properly,” Kota says. “When you want to embark on a journey beyond $5 billion to get to $10 billion, it requires different skill sets and different mindsets. My biggest focus is, how do I leverage automation? Automation helps hide complexity and provides the required system capabilities for onboarding different users.”
6. Consider Reintroducing Pre-Pandemic Workflows
Kimley-Horn’s Otto noted that it’s now good practice to review workflows that were introduced during the pandemic and think about whether businesses truly need all of them to work efficiently in the post-pandemic era.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard for such a consistently long period of time as I did in the first 100 days of the pandemic,” Otto says. “To keep the business running, we had to get people productive and effective at home in a very quick fashion. We needed to quickly implement things without full testing or thinking about how they might fit long-term in our environment.”
Otto explains that, today, his team is starting to review and phase out some of the technologies that were initially implemented during the pandemic. “We’re being very specific and methodical about what changes will help us preserve a culture, allowing us to continue to grow and create an environment for our employees to flourish in the future.”
Gain more insights from Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota and other thought leaders at Autodesk University 2022 in New Orleans, Sept. 27–29.