Top performing enterprises are accelerating digital innovation and leveraging emerging technologies to come out stronger on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has arguably been the most significant “turn” in 2020, according to Gartner, Inc.’s annual global survey of CIOs. 2021 will be a race to digital, with the spoils going to those organizations that can maintain the momentum built up during their response to the pandemic.
“Nothing, yet everything, has changed for the CIO,” said Andy Rowsell-Jones, distinguished research vice president at Gartner. “The support for remote work that the COVID-19 pandemic brought on might be the biggest win for CIOs since Y2K. They now have the attention of the CEO, they have convinced senior business leaders of the need to modernize technology, and they have prompted boards of directors to accelerate enterprise digital business initiatives. CIOs must seize this moment, because they may never get another opportunity like it.”
Gartner analysts presented the survey findings during Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo Americas, which is taking place virtually through Thursday.
The 2021 Gartner CIO Agenda survey gathered data from 1,877 CIO respondents in 74 countries and all major industries, representing approximately $4.7 trillion in revenue/public-sector budgets and $85 billion in IT spending.
Survey Reveals Four Ways CIOs Can Seize the Moment
The 2021 Gartner CIO Agenda survey revealed four ways in which CIOs can make a difference both in digital business acceleration and in long-term agility: win differently, unleash force multipliers, banish drags and redirect resources.
CIOs can help the enterprise anticipate the increasingly digital interactions expected by customers. Seventy-six percent of survey respondents said that demand for new digital products and services increased in 2020, with even more respondents (83%) reporting that it will increase in 2021.
“This is a watershed moment for CIOs,” said Mr. Rowsell-Jones. “There is no going back to the way business used to be.”
The survey uncovered two areas of customer digitalization where top performers* are significantly more aggressive than typical performers: the use of digital channels to reach customers and achieve citizen engagement, along with the rate of introduction of new digital products and services. Nine out of ten of the top performers are pursuing digital channels, and almost three-quarters are introducing digital products faster.
Organizations that have increased their use of digital channels to reach customers are 3.5 times more likely to be a top performer than a trailing performer. “Those at the top have gone all-in on digital business, and they have developed the capabilities to allow them to do it,” said Mr. Rowsell-Jones.
Unleash Force Multipliers
Respondents were asked to characterize certain changes related to enterprise IT leadership trends as a result of the pandemic. Roughly 70% of CIOs deepened their knowledge of specific business processes to advise the business, and the same proportion did more to measure and articulate the value of IT.
“Although the COVID-19 response appeared to be a simple exercise of deploying PCs, it created profound opportunities for CIOs,” said Mr. Rowsell-Jones. “CIOs were able to refocus IT leadership around digital business acceleration and remodel the enterprise’s core technology. At one point or another, every CIO got a chance to shine during COVID-19.”
The survey found that CIOs can help accelerate digital by systemically seeking out and eliminating drags (e.g., detrimental supplier performance during COVID-19). While most respondents reported they were behind in sales volumes during the pandemic, only 29% of top performers reported a decrease in sales volume versus 45% of typicals and 62% of trailings.
However, there were still a few areas that stood strong: Respondents reported increased performance for new business initiatives, acquisitions, cost competitiveness, and employee productivity (see Figure 1).