The past year has impacted every professional — from the apprentice and all the way up to the CXOs. The uncertainties of COVID-19 forced businesses to accelerate their digital transformations at record pace. In just a year, we went from a world with digital capabilities to a digital-first economy, which placed immense pressure on many leaders, including CIOs — many of whom were also tasked with taking on a range of new responsibilities.
In order to better understand how the CIO’s role has evolved, a new Adobe partnered with Fortune to survey more than 500 CIOs across the U.S. (200), EMEA (150) and APAC (156) regions. Adobe’s research reveals that CIOs sit at the center of virtually every major business initiative in today’s digital-first economy, with 90 percent of U.S. CIOs (compared to 75 percent in EMEA and 85 percent in APAC) saying they feel pressure to digitally transform their business. With vaccine distribution now on track, businesses are tapping CIOs to help shape their return-to-work plans to ensure that employees can work productively and safely from any location.
“Despite the enormous weight on our shoulders, CIOs are stepping up to the challenge,” says Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and chief information officer at Adobe. “Along with other business leaders, we have embraced our enhanced responsibilities and influence as an opportunity to further collaborate and succeed in today’s new digital-first reality.”
Enablers of the digital-first economy
Companies have been steadily taking on digital transformation projects for years, but COVID-19 put their plans on the fast track, which also quickly expanded many CIO roles and opportunities to drive progressive digital-first programs. Today, IT leaders sit at the nexus of their company’s transformation and innovation efforts — providing a unique horizontal view and influence across the organization.
At least three-quarters of CIOs say their role has expanded, that their responsibilities have increased, and that they have greater influence on leadership decisions within their organization.
“Over the past year, CIOs have been able to further improve digital customer experiences, but these experiences have also become more complex,” says Stoddard. “Moving forward, CIOs need to think about the integrated tools and frameworks necessary to help their organizations effectively capture customer data, convert that data into valuable insights, and utilize those insights to shape a personalized and enhanced customer experience.”
In other words, CIOs are fueling their company’s customer experience journey, with 97 percent saying they are as focused on customer experience (CX) as before the COVID-19 pandemic, if not more so, despite all the new responsibilities on their shoulders.
Data and connectivity are the lifeblood of a modern business, and as the gatekeepers of today’s data-driven decision-making, CIOs are the beating heart behind many of the digital-first initiatives companies are quickly adopting.
Among the many priorities CIOs must now manage, data security and privacy rank highest. According to the survey, 71 percent of US-based CIOs singled out security and privacy as the most likely area for increased investment in 2021.
“Customers are more conscious than ever of their data value-exchange with brands and gravitate towards companies they can trust to manage their data responsibly,” adds Stoddard. “As hybrid working models are set to become the norm post-pandemic, CIOs need to ensure their organizations have the right infrastructure and processes in place to keep data secure and compliant no matter where they are based.”
CIOs and CMOs form power duos
With more teams directly involved in shaping the customer experience, CIOs regularly partner with their peers to take their digital experiences from concept to reality. Indeed, IT leaders regularly collaborate with two or more C-level colleagues on customer experience initiatives.
Of these relationships, there is arguably none stronger than the link between CIOs and CMOs. An overwhelming majority of global CIOs (95 percent) strongly agree that partnering with the CMO improves their organization’s customer experience. Similarly, 93 percent say that working closely with CMOs promotes innovation.
“It’s no secret that close collaboration between IT and marketing teams leads to more personalized customer experiences on digital channels, but the COVID-19 impact has made this level of partnership indispensable,” adds Stoddard.
Nearly 60 percent of CIOs now meet with their CMO counterpart on a daily or weekly basis, forming a true power duo.
Drivers of employee experience
While the customer experience is a top focus for CIOs, the new “work from anywhere” environment has evolved CIO’s priorities to be first and foremost, employees and then customers. Today CIOs are leveraging external customer journey management practices and applying those same principles internally to enhance their own employees’ experiences.
In fact, eighty-nine percent (89 percent) of CIOs see themselves as change agents who play a role in improving the culture of their organization.
“Given the proven correlation between happy employees, satisfied customers and overall business success — it’s more critical than ever that CIOs prioritize any systems or business processes that improve collaboration, productivity and overall employee experience,” Stoddard says.