Changing Times Cause CIOs To Change Their Priorities

Image Credit: Peter Reed

Every CIO starts out a year with a clear set of goal: things that we want to get done because of the importance of information technology. However, and this year has been no exception, things have a habit of changing on us. When these changes happen, CIOs are faced with two choices: make no changes and hope for the best or adjust their plans to match the new set of realities that they find themselves dealing with. With all of the changes that CIOs have experienced this year, they had no choice but to create a new set of priorities in order to make it through the year.

Changes Cause Reordered Priorities

People in the CIO position have been responsible for rolling out a lot of changes at their firms. The past year has caused them to reprioritize their efforts in regards to remote work and to accelerate certain digital projects. At the same time they were called upon to set new boundaries to prevent team burnout. Just to make things a bit more complicated, in addition to supporting sometimes widely dispersed workforces, many CIOs helped lead their companies’ accelerated digital transformation efforts to meet evolving customer demands in the wake of the pandemic.

It turns out that Covid-19 accelerated such corporate digital efforts by three to four years. In response to the shifts, CIOs have reordered their priorities. A good example of CIOs who have made changes can be found at Target Corp. Their headquarters workforce became fully remote, with its IT team helping the retailer set up about 15,000 employees in their homes. At around the same time the company was seeing an explosion in digital sales, which were up 282% compared with the same month a year earlier. At Target, system stability became paramount from the CIO’s tech perspective. In order to deal with all of this change, Target put a short-term hard freeze on code deployments and technology changes that didn’t help the company safely buy, move or sell merchandise. The thinking was that any work that didn’t fulfill that purpose and serve communities by keeping stores and digital channels up and running was temporarily deprioritized.

Another example of a person with CIO job who did a pivot can be found at United Airlines. The airlines stopped every project it was working on in order to determine which were the most critical. What was gone were the long-approval cycles and debates over what were the company’s priorities. If it wasn’t clearly obvious that it was needed, they decided not to do it. The flip side of this was that if it was needed, it needed to be done fast. The idea of touchless kiosks, for example, went from being an idea to a prototype in less than 30 days. These machines let passengers print out luggage tags by scanning the boarding passes on their mobile phones at the kiosks. Customers don’t have to touch the screen. United started rolling out the kiosks, and they are now in over 300 airports.

Changes Bring A Bigger Spotlight Onto IT Operations

CIOs have come to realize that shifting technology demands has also brought IT and the business closer together. As technology teams become much more integrated into the business and develop deeper business knowledge and expertise it has led to technology being at the table much more often than in the past. CIOs are now looking for ways that this collaborative style of working together can be built on for the future.

One of the benefits that the pandemic has brought to CIOs is that it has thrust IT teams – often the ‘unsung heroes’ of a business – into the limelight like never before. These employees have worked to deliver secure, reliable work environments that are keeping employees engaged and productive and business moving even during extremely challenging times. As good as this has been, CIO’s need to remain mindful that workers can burn out and they need to encourage a good work-life balance. CIOs realize that it’s all about flexibility and trust. We all know that life happens – often during work hours – and we let our IT teams know that it’s OK to be offline for a few hours to manage it.

CIOs always have to be searching for creative ways to get employees to disconnect a bit. One way to go about doing this is by designating ‘no meeting’ hours, ‘no video’ meetings, and virtual social events where teams can de-stress together. CIOs should be actively encouraging employees to take days off and spend them away from their computers. The thinking behind this is that a rested employee is a happy and productive employee.

What All Of This Means For You

Plans are what CIOs make at the beginning of the year. We think that we understand what is expected of us and we have some ideas about how we want to go about achieving our goals. However, as is always the case, things can change on us. When we are facing events that are out of our control and which serve to upset even the best laid of our plans. When this happens, CIOs need to take steps to adjust our plans.

What CIOs found themselves confronting were teams that were now more remotely distributed than ever. At the same time, CIOs had to remotely find ways to deal with and combat team burnout. The pandemic forced a lot of IT programs to move faster than had been planned. Remote work and other digital efforts were all accelerated. At Target the IT teams helped other workers set up to work remotely. Code deployments were frozen unless vitally necessary. At United Airlines their plans to deploy touchless kiosks were sped up and quickly deployed to airports. The changes have caused both IT and the business to find ways to work together more closely. IT teams have been placed into the spotlight as they help the company to adjust to changes. It is the responsibility of the CIO to find ways to help their team find ways to disconnect from work.

If this was a perfect world, then CIOs would make plans at the beginning of the year and then have the rest of the year to work them out. However, as this year has shown us that does not always happen. What we need to realize is that there will always be changes that we need to deal with. CIOs have to have the skills needed to adjust to new circumstances and to create updated plans that reflect the situations that we find ourselves in.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job, it is your responsibility to make sure that the company is staffed with the IT experts that will be able to understand the importance of information technology and guide the company into the future. In the past this has been fairly easy to do, you just went out and hired Java developers, Cisco network engineers, and a few people who knew SAP and VMWare. Job done. However, things are starting to change. The IT workers that you are going to want to be hiring in the future are going to be different. They will have a set of skills that today’s IT workers don’t have. Are you ready to go looking for IT workers with hybrid skills?