CIO Survey: Moving the Needle on Digital Capability

Community Blog
Written by Drew Lazzara

AUGUST 17, 2021

2021 finds the chief information officer ideally positioned as the defining strategic business leader in the C-suite. A tumultuous year placed enormous pressure on technology leaders – and they responded in tremendous fashion. The rapid pivot to virtual work environments, coupled with changing customer behaviors and expectations, accelerated ongoing digital business initiatives. 

But more than halfway through the year, CIOs must still navigate a great deal of uncertainty. A return to the office may seem like a return to the familiar; but for most organizations, a hybrid work environment represents yet another change to orchestrate. Enterprise CIOs have made incredible progress along the digital journey, but competition from digital natives is fierce and amplifies the need to operate more as tech companies than traditional businesses. 

Each year, Evanta’s Leadership Perspective Survey takes the pulse of CIOs around the world and identifies their top challenges and opportunities. This year’s responses reflect the leap forward in technology accelerated by the pandemic, moving forward from broad digital strategy toward a focus on underlying capabilities that coalesce around better outcomes.


Top Challenges


  1. Data and Analytics

In a recent interview, one enterprise CIO summarized the enterprise data problem succinctly: “I can do data without digital, but I can’t do digital without data.” 

This sentiment is common among CIOs – insight-rich decisions are essential for making smart, rapid digital strides. Gartner research notes that 77% of CEOs are seeking to increase their digital investments, but it falls to technology executives to create a return on that investment. Data is essential for delivering at the speed both the business and customers demand. 

The hurdles to more data-driven organizations are complex, but a leading CIO from the retail industry described the nuance of the problem. “Top leadership has to be sophisticated about what data can do,” he explained, “because the people below them don’t even understand the art of the possible.” Like many of his peers, this CIO is working to bridge the disconnect by focusing on great data quality, establishing common definitions for metrics across the organization, and simplifying enterprise architecture to eliminate data errors. 


  1. Cybersecurity Strategies

The seemingly endless parade of high-profile security breaches may cast this as an obvious challenge. It’s certainly one shared by every business. But if CIOs can’t get cybersecurity right, it can place a hard ceiling on what is possible in the digital ecosystem – an excess of consumer data, a network without boundaries, and increasing appetite for speed demand that safety be embedded in all digital strategies. 

There are no hard-and-fast answers for perfect cybersecurity, but many top CIOs and their security partners are embracing a new approach to risk management. As individual business units assume greater agency over their individual technology needs, they also take on the risk. In an upcoming episode of the Next Big Question podcast, Siemens chief cybersecurity officer Kurt John talks about the new “migratory” nature of risk. John notes that while once risk was confined to business units like finance or security, the proliferation of customized technology means that risk is mobile and fluctuating.

In this context, CIOs must act as consultants and enablers to the business, educating their peers on risk, recommending the best technology to mitigate it, and maximizing value opportunities.


  1. Digital Business Priorities

Prioritization is an age-old business challenge, and the digital context only creates greater complexity of decision-making. Many organizations still struggle to clearly define their technology strategy.

The good news is that the majority of enterprise CIOs have a vision for their digital business strategy. A recent Gartner survey illuminates a clear hierarchy of desired digital outcomes. Successful digital businesses:

  • Significantly enhance customer engagement
  • Generate more revenue and customer value
  • Drive a greater proportion of business through digital channels
  • Significantly reduce costs

These outcomes help governance teams align digital capability with stakeholder priorities, but executing against those priorities can take many forms and requires consistency and discipline. 

Each of these top CIO challenges represents huge hurdles, but they also reflect real progress along the journey to better digital capabilities. Data, risk, and digital business are converging and interconnecting in ways that weren’t possible even two years ago. That’s a true testament to CIO leadership.


Drew Lazzara headshot

Drew Lazzara

Sr Content Manager at Evanta, a Gartner Company


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