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How COVID-19 transformed the role of the CIO

By Joe McKenna, Global CIO, Syntax

Right now, companies are making major decisions that will impact the future of work. For example, Google announced they won't be back until next summer and REI is selling its corporate headquarters outright. As more companies follow suit and test innovative workforce solutions, chief information officers (CIOs) will have a greater influence in decision-making processes.

Prior to the global pandemic, just 24% of CIOs were heavily involved in business strategy preparation. A third considered themselves pure technology implementers. With an increasingly dispersed global workforce, CIOs have quickly taken leadership roles to address decisions about how employees work virtually, how to manage office space, and other issues that arose from COVID-19. As some businesses look to transition back to the workplace soon, it remains to be seen whether changes to the CIO's role will stick.

Part of the problem is that employers are used to having employees on-site at their offices and often make decisions based on a legacy, physical, and "brick-and-mortar" mindset. CIOs must help company leaders shift their view on how to empower employees to work from home as company's make a longer-term transition away from physical offices.

The key question: How can companies rethink traditional workplace spend and become more innovative?

To make the business case, company leaders need to demonstrate that employees are as productive working from home as they were when they went into the office. And that means employers must look at employee access to technologies and work experience in a whole new way - a way that enables collaboration and access to the necessary IT systems to enhance their work experience, via cloud access and tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

CIOs will continue to play an important role in strategy

Due to COVID-19, 57% of respondents to a recent survey report they plan to use the cloud more than in the past, requiring a leader to drive and monitor these changes. Knowing companies can reap big rewards by sowing the seeds of innovation, CIOs must do more to establish themselves as pioneers in the next decade of company leadership.

In other words, to retain a seat at the decision-making table, CIOs need to recognize that we can't go backward when we begin the return to the office. Instead, CIOs must ensure leadership drives company progress forward.

4 great ways to position yourself as an IT leader

As CIO, there are many ways to position yourself as an effective leader so you can continue to exercise your voice in company decision-making:

1.  Set goals. Set goals related to your company's bottom line rather than setting goals for your own advancement. For example, instead of making your goal a promotion, set a goal for digital transformation initiatives. Goal-setting prevents competition between members of the C-suite and helps keep you focused on common goals. Does it improve user experience (UX) or efficiency? Will it cut costs? Remember, it's about the company's goals, not the title.

2.  Help your company plan for change. Change is the only constant in a CIO's role, especially while working through COVID-19. Planning for change means you should be flexible when a project doesn't go as planned, and quickly pivot to a new solution. It also requires close collaboration with other team members to establish concrete next steps, gain buy-in from key people, and the ability to remain agile in today's environment. 

3.  Reconsider capital spending. Companies must look at areas in which they spend money where it's no longer necessary. For example, does your company still have 250 office phones plugged in and ready to use? Finding ways to reduce brick-and-mortar spending frees up money for spending on innovation and digital capabilities. Organizations with large real estate holdings should look at how they can reallocate their dollars toward hiring or other initiatives. Of course, be careful when cutting budgets - you don't want to reduce the budget for something that's critical to productivity or that you'll quickly need to purchase back.

4.  Collect data on employee experience. Employee experience is, in my opinion, a CIO's bottom line. While some workers have transitioned smoothly to working from home, others are experiencing high levels of stress that CIOs must work to alleviate. Maybe that means investing in equipment that makes a work-from-home environment better, or a new piece of collaboration software. Collect data through surveys and interviews to determine what's working, what's not, and how you can help. The data will then show you what's providing value and what still needs work.

Enable positive customer and employee experiences

Though my job falls in the realm of IT, the focus is on finding new ways to innovate the customer and employees experiences. By making this your key areas of focus, smart decisions around technology will follow. Likewise, by making employees happy, you can create better experiences for your customers - and that makes enabling employees with powerful innovative solutions the best way to achieve your business goals.

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About the Author

Joe Mckenna, Global CIO, Syntax

Joe McKenna 

Joe McKenna is the global CIO of Syntax, a managed IT services provider with more than 400 customers in over 20 industries around the world. McKenna has more than 30 years of experience in infrastructure, design, implementation and deployment. He took on the role of global CIO earlier this year, having previously been senior director of engineering, and now manages several cross-functional teams at Syntax.
Published Wednesday, November 11, 2020 7:39 AM by David Marshall
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