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CIO imperatives: Shaping the future

We are committed to keeping you current with rapidly evolving technologies and sharing the latest insights from our professionals.

Rising to the challenge

In a world where business and technology are inseparable, CIOs and other technology leaders play an outsized role in shaping the future. We’re here to help you see the possibilities — and turn them into realities.

Five imperatives for CIOs

Click the arrows to explore each of the five strategic imperatives for today’s technology leaders:

1. Focus on value

Historically, IT was largely an order taker. Its mission was fulfilling those orders by implementing or building technology to match supplied specifications. Its purview began and ended with those specifications. Whether what was requested was good for customers or whether it advanced a larger organizational strategy wasn’t a consideration.

It’s time to flip the script. Today, business and technology are inseparable. Technology opens doors to new business possibilities — and closes doors just as easily. The relationship with customers is profoundly influenced — if not entirely shaped — by technology.

So instead of asking yourself, “Am I delivering to spec?”, you need to ask, “Am I creating value for my customers or for the business?”. When the chief financial officer or the head of Human Resources asks you to implement a new software solution, for example, value must be at the top of your list, not “What will it take to deliver?”. Is the software appropriate for the business as a whole? Are some of the requested features needed to generate value? If not, you must step up — that’s where strong leaders come in.

It also means starting with the customer instead of ending with them. In the past, you’d take an “inside-out” approach. You’d imagine what you could deliver to your customers then implement the technology to make it happen. Now you must take an “outside-in” approach — start with the customer and work back to the technology.

2. Craft experiences

There may be no better feeling for a technology leader than flipping the switch and watching a new technology solution come to life. We derive tremendous satisfaction appreciating all the complexity that has come together to create a single, cohesive solution; all the diverse pieces that are working together in harmony; and all the customizations and refinements that were needed.

Yet to the users of the technology — your customers, employees or partners — all of that beauty is invisible, unappreciated, even assumed. All they appreciate is their experience of it, how it makes them feel when they use it and the value they feel it adds to their job or life.

While we technologists might appreciate the beauty and complexity behind a query pulling and assembling data from disparate sources to deliver highly-personalized information on the fly to each user, if those users have to wait what to them feels like an eternity — even if it’s five seconds — then they’ll label it a poor experience. If they struggle to find the option they need or to understand what a menu item might lead to, then they’ll conclude it’s poorly designed no matter how much magic is going on under the hood.

It’s essential, therefore, to shift from thinking of IT as implementing technologies to thinking of it as creating experiences. The experience must drive the technology — not the other way around — and a compelling experience is the hallmark of success.

3. Forge a cohesive strategy

Look around most enterprises today and you’ll likely see a variety of efforts around “digital transformation.” They may be implementing the leading-edge in cloud, enterprise resource planning, commerce, data and analytics, artificial intelligence and more. They may all be using modern development techniques such as Agile and DevSecOps. While each initiative may be poised to create value, that value can be quickly diminished or even eliminated if each is being developed in a silo, blissfully (or even deliberately) unaware of the others.

This has been fueled by the recent move to “consumer-based IT,” where each business function or internal organization is free or even encouraged to buy its own technologies optimized for its own needs. We see this trend taking hold nearly everywhere we look.

Yet this often means that the company lacks a digital strategy. One might argue that rolling up all of the individual initiatives into what amounts to a single collection constitutes a digital strategy. But unless they’re deliberately integrated — not so much technically but strategically — a vacuum is created that can suck the value out of even the most promising efforts.

As a technology leader, you must step up to help fill that vacuum. You must drive corporate alignment around the complete digital agenda — the right order of operations, the dependencies that must be addressed, the unwanted complexities that may be created, and the inefficiencies or duplication of efforts that could occur. You must help to define how it all should fit together.

While the move to consumer-based IT might mean you’re not the sole driver of such a cohesive digital strategy, you can still bring your extensive experience and unique perspective to the party. You can be the integrator to help ensure that these efforts create value and deliver well-crafted experiences.

4. Lead into the future

Blink once and you’ve likely just missed the introduction of some innovative technology or new methodology. There’s no one in the enterprise better suited than you to evaluate how this rapidly emerging tech will impact your business.

It’s all happening so fast that it’s clearly impossible to thoroughly evaluate every possibility by yourself let alone implement it all. Prioritization of your attention is essential. That prioritization must then extend to what innovations should be exploited and when — what comes now and what can come later — to ensure they’re aligned with your larger digital strategy.

You also need to whip out your crystal ball. It’s surely easier to evaluate tech that’s already in the field even if it’s relatively new. But having your ear to the ground for nascent or even speculative technologies such as Web3, the Metaverse, decentralized apps and data, and cryptography can help you shape your future rather than have it shape you.

Educating your fellow execs on the next greatest thing isn’t something to leave to the tech vendors, although they’ll happily take on that role if you fail to. Remember, too, that your competitors get access to the same tech at the same time as you, from the largest enterprise to two guys in a garage with a credit card. If you fail to pay attention, then they, too, might dictate your digital strategy for you.

Your thought leadership here is essential. You must step up to the plate to help guide other members of the C-suite in the direction that will create the most value.

5. Deliver at market speed

As fast as technology innovations are evolving, so, too, are the needs and expectations of your customers and internal business users. To keep pace with their growing demands, it’s important to invest in your ability to deliver at market speed.

Some technologies can be delivered faster than others. It’s important to understand the variability in speed and the effect it has on the business. But more often than not, the biggest challenge we see facing IT leaders is that their delivery chain has one or more weak links. In short, it’s your internal ability to deliver the technology that’s likely the biggest factor impacting speed of delivery and not some external factor that’s likely out of your control.

If there are five steps required to successfully deploy a technology, for example, one may not be tuned to market speed. It doesn’t matter how well the other four steps are optimized — just one is enough to slow the entire thing down. You might have finely-tuned and iterative software development capabilities, but if your ability to spool up a secure and scalable infrastructure to run it on is weak — whether it’s a financial issue, a hardware problem or a lack of available talent to secure and operate it — then the fully-developed app might be sitting on a shelf for months.

It’s essential to invest in understanding those choke points and, of course, resolving them.

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    Marcus Murph
    Principal, CIO Advisory, KPMG US

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