How CIOs are preparing for the post-pandemic world

CIOs stabilised their businesses in the pandemic, but they’re now focused on the post-Covid business world. We look at their in-tray for the coming year.u0026nbsp;u0026nbsp;

CIOs have been in the driving seat during Covid-19, not least navigating the challenges of working from home. But as the new year approaches, they’re hoping to put the pandemic to one side and focus on new priorities. 

There’s plenty to keep them busy in 2022, from tackling skills and talent gaps to firming up cybersecurity protections and working more closely with CFOs on budgeting. Conor Whelan, CIO at multinational consumer credit reporting company Experian, thinks operational resilience should be near the top of the agenda. Both regulators and customers are focused on the concept of “never down”, according to Whelan. 

“It is easy to say, but hard to deliver, especially in any organisation that has a blend of heritage systems and new digital cloud native systems. Easy to do in the latter but harder to do in the former.” 

A changing role

Whelan believes operational resilience isn’t just about the technology you have in place; it’s about having the right people and processes to deal with problems when they occur. Companies must consider how they’re stress-testing their own on-premise or cloud solutions, while ensuring that the organisations supporting their own product development and maintenance activities are doing the same. This should include asking how these businesses are testing their end-to-end supply chain, he says, to be ready if something goes wrong. 

“As you migrate more to the cloud, are you really looking at your third-party components that you are using in that cloud ecosystem? What operational resilience and capabilities have those companies deployed?”

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, Whelan warns. 

“That’s so true in technology. I see more pressure from customers who are actually prioritising operational resilience over new features and new functions, and I think that trend will continue through 2022.”

Winning and retaining talent is the current battleground that CIOs are engaged in

Another growing focus for CIOs hits very close to home: the nature of the job itself. They must find the right balance between their roles as tech leaders and business leaders. 

“CIOs profiles have been elevated in the last 12 to 24 months,” Whelan says. Even smaller, tactical activities like overseeing remote working have given them a good seat at the table, he says. They must now look to the future of their new, elevated positions. 

“For me, it’s about deepening your understanding of the business you work in, getting that deep business process knowledge and expertise.”

Going forward, the job is to ask how CIOs add more value, he notes.

“You’re going to have to be better at that balancing act between ‘run and maintain’ versus ‘grow’ versus ‘transform’,” says Whelan. “These are the tough decisions businesses have to take on a regular basis and you need to do your homework to bring data to the table to fight your corner and engage in growing your organisation.”

Talent gap

Of course, many of the challenges CIOs have experienced over the past 12-18 months will still be high on the to-do list in 2022; they include hybrid working, the ongoing implications of Brexit, a rise in AI adoption and moves towards net zero. 

But the one that appears to occupy most minds right now is finding talent. 

Stephen O’Donnell, CIO at workplace pension provider The People’s Pension, says that as “the relentless pursuit of digital continues”, demand for high-quality software engineers and testers, cloud engineers and dev-ops specialists is at an all-time high across the world, challenging the norms for CIOs. 

“Wages are continuing to rise at unprecedented speed as London pay rates become available for engineers based in the regions who can telecommute,” he explains. “Brexit has not helped at all as many highly talented developers have gone home, shrinking the available UK workforce.” 

O’Donnell describes the expansion of HMRC’s IR35 regime - designed to assign many full-time contractors as employees - as “the straw that is breaking the camel’s back”, as it dramatically reduces the availability of the flexible workforce that CIOs need. 

We’ve all depended on digital during the pandemic, so it’s essential to make system interfaces intuitive for all users from Gen Z to Boomers

“Winning and retaining talent is the current battleground that CIOs are engaged in.”

The experiences of current workforces, however, are also key to 2022’s challenges. Covid-19 has changed the nature of the office, with employees accustomed to working on their own technology deployed in their own environments. 

Heather Bunyard, CIO at global media insight company Cision, believes CIOs face an ongoing mobile device management challenge. She says a comment from her own son gave her a glimpse into what next year could hold; he preferred to play online games on his own PC at home, rather than sharing a single device at his friends’ houses. 

“His response was: ‘It is no fun because we cannot play when we are together’. He then explained he needs to be on his own PC. I am seeing this same blend of the virtual and physical world at work.”

Bunyard cites the example of a colleague who recently requested to take a meeting from his own desk, rather than in a conference room, as he felt it would be easier to collaborate from his own computer. She says Covid-19 has changed many things, forcing us all to maximise our efficiency. “We have learned new online strategies and techniques, which will require us to adapt and evolve how we work together in a highly blended work environment,” she adds.

Balancing act

Helena Nimmo, CIO at software development company Endava, believes data, automation and user experience are key for 2022, internally and externally. Data-driven information must reach those who need it, when they need it, and in whatever form they need.

“User experience has never been more critical,” she says. “We’ve all depended on digital during the pandemic, so it’s essential to make system interfaces intuitive for all users from Gen Z to Boomers.”

But as we look ahead to 2022, Nimmo sees a danger on the horizon. As technology infiltrates every area of businesses, CIOs have become responsible for the wider landscape, everything from operations to innovation and – most importantly – customer experience. 

“The weight of these often-competing pressures and responsibilities can be intense, and ultimately a major contributing factor to the fact that the CIOs, on average, have the shortest tenure of the whole C-suite,” she warns. “Ensuring there’s a strong network of systems and people in place to help CIOs grow into the leaders they’ve become, while being able to delegate outward, will be crucial in the coming year.”