Top 3 Goals & Challenges for CIOs in 2023

2023 Survey Report

As CIOs continue to lead the business and drive growth, they have experienced no break from uncertainty and challenging circumstances. This year, high inflation, ongoing supply chain disruptions, and an unsettled economic forecast are among the factors impacting their ability to grow, scale and innovate at their organizations. 

Gartner research shows that “94% of CEOs want to maintain or accelerate pandemic-driven digital transformation.” Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends of 2023 also notes that CIOs have to consider “which technologies will be most relevant, while realizing that they don’t all need to be implemented at once.” 

In addition, cybersecurity threats remain a big factor in CIOs’ budgets and in their ability to prioritize their key initiatives. While they aim to accelerate growth, they also have to focus on risk management, operations and other business needs. In fact, balancing a set of competing priorities is a theme for CIOs this year – one that they cite as a challenge. 

In this report, we take a closer look at technology leaders’ goals and objectives, based on our annual survey of more than 1,000 CIOs from leading companies around the world.    

Top Priorities for CIOs

In 2023, CIOs cited cybersecurity strategies as their top functional priority, followed by data and analytics. These are their top two priorities for the third year in a row, and cybersecurity has been first or second on their list for the past three years. This year, applications moved up one spot, trading places with digital business priorities. Digital talent also dropped out of the top five, replaced by IT strategy, governance and operating models – perhaps reflecting the need to consider strategy and operations during a tight economic climate.

Strengthening Cybersecurity Strategies

In addition to asking CIOs about their top focus areas, we also survey them on the goals and challenges to making progress on their core initiatives -- which are cybersecurity strategies, data and analytics, and applications, including integration strategies and architecture. In general, CIOs cited improving business outcomes as what they hope to achieve in these areas, while competing priorities is a challenge that is cited repeatedly by IT leaders. 

Protecting the organization from cyber attacks is a part of the CIO role that has become increasingly complex – with new threats and ransomware attacks becoming almost prolific. These are CIOs’ specific goals and challenges in executing on their cybersecurity strategies.

Goals for Cybersecurity Strategies

81% Mitigating risks

61% Improving resiliency

38% Complying with regulatory requirements

Challenges around Cybersecurity Strategies

43% Quickly changing landscape

39% Lack of resources

37% Competing priorities

Here is a sample of what CIOs told us in follow-up conversations to the survey about managing cybersecurity issues: 

It's not a question of ‘if’ it's ‘when,’ and then it's a question of how big and how damaging it is. We need to be constantly evolving in this space to try and stay ahead of the cyber criminals – or at least try to be as protected as we can.”

Last year, there was a cyber issue…. that was very real for the business. The bigger context is that cybersecurity risks have never been higher and are increasing in severity, and in consequence, that means that our attention on it has to continue to increase.”

The questions [for me] are – what are the measures we can take to improve security levels, and if there is an incident, how can we act on that fast, and how can we improve our backup strategy?”

CIOs primarily want to learn more about this topic from a strategic perspective (73%), followed closely by an execution point of view (68%).

The topic of cybersecurity was part of a recent discussion in the Melbourne CIO community on “Mitigating the Impact of Inflation Amid Tighter Budgets, Security Concerns, and Rising Expectations.” You can find some takeaways from the discussion here

Improving Data & Analytics

In the area of data and analytics, CIOs’ second highest priority, executives report that supporting data-driven decisions (82%) is their primary goal, while the quality and availability of the data (53%) is their main obstacle to achieving that goal. The persistence of data and analytics as a top functional priority for CIOs perhaps reflects the incredible growth in the amount of data and the need for insights to empower decision making around their organizations. 

Goals for Data & Analytics

82% Making data-driven decisions

66% Improving business outcomes

44% Delivering and defining value

Challenges around Data & Analytics

53% Data quality and availability

49% Lack of skills

36% Competing priorities

Here is a sample of the responses when we asked CIOs to elaborate on the objectives and challenges to becoming a more data-driven organization. 

Our focus is on getting the balance right. We want to ensure that people in the organisation trust our data analytics and understand that it's meant to help them make better decisions, not to criticize their work.”

We're focused on maturing our data management and governance, so we can eventually enable self-service for our data consumers. We need to strike a balance between controlling information security and enabling more access to data.”

Data is IT’s business value. How do we capture data? How do we make it secure? How to build on the opportunities data gives you? A mindset change is needed to become more data-driven.”

CIOs want to learn about becoming more data-driven from a strategic perspective (77%), but also how to execute on those strategies (66%).

Data and analytics was the topic of a recent discussion in the St. Louis CIO community on “Inspiring Data Curiosity and Confidence.” CIOs shared how they were working to drive a more data-driven culture; their key takeaways are here

Accelerating Strategies for Applications

For CIOs, focusing on applications – from strategies and architecture to integration platforms – is their third highest priority in 2023. This is the first time applications have moved into the top three in five years, bumping digital business priorities down one spot to number four. CIOs cited improving processes and efficiencies (67%) as their main objective, while technical debt (49%) is the biggest obstacle to achieving their goal.

Goals for Applications

67% Improving processes and efficiencies

62% Improving business outcomes

45% Increasing velocity and speed delivery

Challenges around Applications

49% Technical debt

46% Legacy technology

45% Competing priorities

These are some of the opportunities and concerns we have heard from CIOs around their goal of improving their organizations’ applications. 

How do you get out of your legacy technology faster? The pace of technology isn't moving with the pace of customer expectations. This is a rapidly changing landscape.”

Everyone has legacy applications to deal with. It’s important to have the architecture and the business insight into that legacy and how you evolve out of it.”

Siloed applications are a problem. For us, it's about breaking down the walls and getting to the data – and having it in one space and not living in individual applications.”

CIOs want to hear more about applications from a strategic perspective (77%), with how to execute on applications coming in second (67%).

CIOs’ Priorities Across the Enterprise

In addition to asking CIOs about focus areas for their function, we also survey them about their priorities across the enterprise. CIOs cite increasing operational efficiencies and productivity as their number one priority this year, with all of their peers selecting that goal among the top three. They are also aligned with their peers on driving growth and accelerating digital business in 2023. 

Here’s a look at CIOs’ top initiatives for the year and how they compare to their peers across the C-suite. 

Perhaps not surprisingly given the economic climate, optimizing or reducing costs made an appearance in the top five, as it did for most C-level leaders. Driving growth dropped down one spot for CIOs this year, while still critically important. Finally, improving customer experience moved up the list of priorities, coming in at number three. Generally speaking, the top four enterprise priorities have remained consistent areas of focus for CIOs.

What’s Next for CIOs

CIOs have had an evolving role for the past several years – with increased investments in digital and rising expectations for outcome-based technology, CIOs are core to enterprise success. In addition to serving as technology leaders, CIOs are business leaders, agents of organizational change, drivers of growth and operations, and recruiters of talent. They are close to business operations and positioned to find ways to improve productivity and create efficiencies.

As they navigate economic headwinds, CIOs have to keep an eye on costs and prioritize high value technology adoption that will deliver growth and immediate results. At the same time, they are balancing competing priorities, while continuing to push forward with digital business initiatives.

As one CIO said, “We are prioritizing the continuation of our digital transformation efforts even if we have to find savings in other areas. The pandemic kickstarted things for us. It's a no brainer; we have to keep going with it. We can't stop or slow down.”

To learn more about what’s next for CIOs and their mission critical priorities, Evanta offers regional communities of CIOs that meet throughout the year. Join them to discuss the goals and challenges addressed in this survey report, or explore an opportunity to connect with your CIO peers in person.

This article is an update to our previous report, which you can find here: Top 3 Goals & Challenges for CIOs in 2022

Based on more than 1,080 CIOs’ responses to Evanta’s 2023 Leadership Perspective Survey.


by CIOs, for CIOs

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