Top CIO Priorities In A Data-Obsessed Business Landscape

Balls in the air. Irons in the fire. Plates spinning overhead. Whichever analogy you choose applies to the growing number of technologies CIOs have to continually evaluate for their digitally transforming organizations.

“Everything is constantly changing: new technology and new digital capabilities,” said Cynthia Stoddard, SVP and CIO at Adobe. “Just when you have one technology figured out, something else comes around and knocks you off your feet.”

And when you “add to that the ever-looming issues like IT security, cloud migration, digital transformation, and customer experience, it’s fair to say that the job of the CIO is becoming more complex,” she added.

Complex, yes, but with the right focus, also quite exciting, CIOs told CMO by Adobe.

Safe And Sound

As the new year gets underway, security will be top-of-mind for 82% of CIOs, according to Adobe's “2019 CIO Perspectives Survey – U.S. Market Topline Report,” released in November.  

“Security is the No. 1 challenge,” said Gina Tomlinson, chief technology officer at T5 Technology Solutions, who is also a member of the Privacy Commission for the City of Oakland, Calif. She indicated data privacy would be a major focus as well, particularly due to the California Consumer Privacy Act that went into effect in January.

“It will be groundbreaking for corporations to adjust their practices [to comply]," Tomlinson told CMO by Adobe.

CIOs also need to be nimble to deal with all of the changes happening. Ursuline Foley, board member for Provident Bank and a strategic adviser, cautioned that CIOs must continuously keep pace with cyberthreats.

“Enough security three years ago or even a year ago is not the same as today,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are top-of-mind [for the CIO],” she said. The overriding theme? “The need to change fast and do so efficiently in the face of digital,” she said.

CX Collaboration

The importance of engaging with consumers on their terms across different channels and platforms has been an ongoing theme—one that won't let up in 2020. Indeed, customer experiences and technologies that enable them are an area of focus for 57% of CIOs, according to the Adobe study. It’s also the center of attention for marketing departments.

Customer experience management technologies, of course, generate loads of valuable data that chief marketing officers rely on to inform their strategies. With CIOs often leading the data and analytics charge at their organizations, the need for greater CIO and CMO alignment has never been greater.

“The lines have been blurring between marketing and technology for several years,” Adobe’s Stoddard said. “For 2020, as companies continue realizing the importance of reaching their customers online with personalized experiences, the CIO-CMO relationship becomes even more imperative. The key is for companies to work to translate data into growth that ultimately impacts the bottom line.”

Goal alignment, contemporary governance, and hybrid teams are some of the factors to successful collaboration between CIOs and CMOs.

“Clarify your respective roles in business transformation and innovation, define shared business goals centered on customer success, formalize decisions in a new governance body, and empower your teams to collaborate through cross-functional processes,” states Forrester’s “CMO-CIO Collaboration: Resolving The Paradox” report, published in August, which also points to the need for CIOs to systematically translate their technology approach into a business and innovation plan to elevate their role within the organization.

“Technology touches every single area of an organization,” T5’s Tomlinson said. “The role of a CIO has evolved. It’s not just about [information] technology anymore; it’s about business technology. You need to marry the two.”

Eye On AI

One of the most innovative technology game-changers to come along is artificial intelligence (AI). Yet, despite its near-constant buzz, fewer than 20% of organizations are using AI to streamline and speed up processes, according to Adobe's study. That said, 55% of CIOs believe AI and machine learning are vital technologies to help them meet customer experience goals.

“AI has, and will continue to change, business as we know it,” Stoddard predicts. “However, we’ve only just started to see AI manifest itself in the enterprise, and streamline business processes.”

While many CIOs are in the discovery phase of figuring out where AI fits within the organization, Tomlinson stressed the need for AI to be on their technology roadmaps. “Will it be used as a tool for my workforce? What is the ROI?,” are some of the questions that should be addressed, she said. The key, she added, is to “help organizations develop unique AI strategies for their particular use case. You can’t just implement it. You can’t just check a box. It needs to have value and purpose and enhance the business.”

AI is one of the biggest technological shifts in the enterprise, Stoddard agreed, while acknowledging that “building the foundation for successful implementation can be difficult.”

Data Integrity

That difficulty centers around the data from which AI works.

“[AI is] definitely going to be the technology that will have the most impact on customer experience, but it only works if your current data is reliable,” Foley said. “A lot of companies are still dealing with legacy systems.”

Companies that have done the most in terms of data quality efforts are seeing benefits from analytics and modeling to drive business decisions, she added. T5’s Tomlinson, meanwhile, noted that most companies do not have dedicated central resources for data management.

“There’s no ‘vertical’ in most organizations to manage and champion data, to build corporate data policy, corporate data structure, and best practices,” she said. “Over time, individual organizations within the company develop their own structure and process. We’ve only had [the title of] chief data officers in the past six years, but there are decades of data to contend with.”


Gina Tomlinson, CTO, T5 Technology Solutions
“There needs to be an entity within the organization that does end-to-end data management.”
Gina Tomlinson, CTO, T5 Technology Solutions

Adobe’s Stoddard predicts that this year we will see companies place a bigger focus on the management and oversight of their data—a.k.a. data governance.

“It’s no surprise those businesses that are better, faster, and more accurately leveraging their data and acting upon those insights have a competitive edge,” Stoddard said. “As Adobe’s CIO, I see it as my team’s job to enable these types of real-time capabilities for our stakeholders throughout the organization."

Digital Transformation

The CIOs we spoke with said companies just starting to work on their digital transformation strategies shouldn’t worry that they are late to the party, and some are already making good progress. The Adobe study revealed that 15% of CIOs gave their companies top marks for “advanced” digital maturity. Legacy systems and data structure present a challenge for many organizations, leading to starts and stops in transformation plans, but the drive to provide the best customer experience continues to keep them focused on transformation goals.

“Some organizations do it very well,” Tomlinson said, though noting some others lag behind. “It’s like steering a big ship. It takes time to get that done.”

According to Stoddard, in 2020 CIOs will focus on finding ways to enhance efficiencies by identifying specific back-office tasks that could be automated, such as some procurement activities or an IT help desk. The goal, she said, is to free stakeholders across the organization from some of the more mundane aspects of their jobs (using automation as a virtual co-pilot) so they can focus more time on critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation, Stoddard said.

Her advice to her fellow IT execs: “In order to be successful in today’s fast-paced environment, CIOs need to be ready to get out—and stay out—of their comfort zone,” Stoddard said. “Things will continue to evolve, and you can’t fix everything immediately, but you can take it one step at a time.”

Tapping Into Talent

CIOs are of course in an ideal position to shape the future of technology for their organizations, but many are also looking to position the IT team for success. That includes employee recruitment and ongoing training. 

“As CIO, an increasingly important part of my role touches talent recruitment, development, and retention,” said Dick Daniels, CIO of Kaiser Permanente, in a Wall Street Journal article.

In the same article, Carol Juel, chief information officer at Synchrony Financial, noted that, “Preparing people for changing roles is just as important as technology, and I expect my focus on skills and talent to increase during the next year.”

It also falls on the CIO to create a culture of agility, where experimentation is encouraged and failure is accepted as part of the learning process.  

“Many organizations fear change and technological shifts,” Stoddard said, “but rather than letting that hold your company back, I believe CIOs should embrace it and explore new possibilities to move their organization forward.”

Adobe’s Stoddard suggests that CIOs should embrace change and also realize they can’t go at it alone. “Surround yourself with smart individuals, both on your team and in your circle of peers, and tap their expertise to help guide your decisioning,” she said.

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