CIO role: 3 predictions for 2021

The CIO role changed in response to the pandemic-fueled challenges of 2020. Consider these CIO lessons learned – and areas of focus moving forward
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March 2020 marked the beginning of a new era for the workplace. And as companies around the world sent their employees home and scrambled to find digital solutions for the new normal, perhaps no one was more affected from an organizational standpoint than the CIO.

I can attest to this personally – my role as CIO at SERVPRO has certainly evolved. The way that we do business changed, and I’m no longer just the tech guy. Having the mantra of “One Team,” we work very closely across functions and teams on business and technology decisions, working with our human resources department and trying to keep all teams and employees happy.

As we embark on a new year, I’ve taken a hard look at the challenges we faced last year – and at how what we’ve learned can help us in 2021.

[ How tired is your team? Read also: Remote work exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

3 ways the CIO role changed in 2020

The nature of technology (and the CIO’s role within a business) is that it’s always evolving. But how specifically has the role changed over the past ten months?

1. CIOs are more involved with human resources

CIOs are working more closely than ever with HR partners to help mitigate turnover.

For many companies throughout the United States and the world, having a mostly remote workforce is a significant change and has required technology to play a much bigger role in the employee experience. With our current mostly remote environment, CIOs are working more closely than ever with HR partners to help mitigate turnover.

[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]

Keeping employees happy has certainly become a more significant part of my job as a CIO. I find myself having more conversations and meetings with our human resources partners than I previously did. I want to know what’s frustrating our newly remote employees, what is working well, and what changes we might consider. I want to make sure they have the tools – and the overall support – they need to get their jobs done now and I’m creating tech solutions that help drive the business forward.

2. CIOs are more involved with the business side

According to Gartner’s 2021 CIO Agenda, 66 percent of CIOs reported increasing the strength of their relationship with their CEOs during the pandemic, and 80 percent say that they are now educating senior leaders about the value of IT.

This holistic approach to IT is a change for the better. Because our senior leadership understands how IT works, they can integrate it into the overall business plan and structure. This works both ways – now that we’re talking even more, I can anticipate other departments’ needs and work to create solutions for potential problems. It’s a holistic way to work that I’ve found has really improved our business.

Because our senior leadership understands how IT works, they can integrate it into the overall business plan and structure.

3. CIOs have adapted to the remote workforce

For many CIOs, this means making the business’ files available for remote employees through cloud software and keeping those files safe through additional online security. It’s important to integrate cloud strategy with wider business goals, which means that a bolstered relationship with senior leadership will certainly be a plus.

Moving SERVPRO’s files and systems to cloud-based technology was one of our biggest tasks of 2020. Increased security has meant a closer relationship with HR as employees navigate the new hoops we’ve set up for them.

The CIO role in 2021: 3 priorities

My colleagues and I will look to refine and develop the skills we learned in 2020 while keeping our eyes, ears, and minds open to the future, and I doubt we are alone. Here are some of the key areas of focus for my team:

1. Managing cybersecurity threats

At every turn, we need to consider security and ensure that working remotely does not diminish its importance.

Remote technology has opened a lot of doors – it’s fantastic for usability but makes us vulnerable to many potential risks. At every turn, we need to consider security and ensure that working remotely does not diminish its importance. We must ensure the scanning and patching is up to date with all of the equipment now being operated remotely and ensure there aren’t opportunities to access company information or hack into systems. This has always been at the forefront of my mind as a technology leader, but it is especially so today.

2. Innovating with new technologies

Innovation is a priority for so many – my colleagues and I at SERVPRO included. For example, when our country essentially shut down last March at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, our team developed and launched a new line of business to combat the virus, utilizing the processes and supplies we have known for years.

Despite all the confusion and concern surrounding all of us as humans, we knew it was our duty as a restoration company to do what we do best – restore lives when disaster strikes. We pivoted and innovated when others needed us most, and I remain humbled and proud of that important and innovative work. In 2021 and beyond, innovation will continue to be important.

3. Supporting remote work

This is certainly been something that’s been at the top of my mind since March. We already had some people working from home, and we were able to expand existing capabilities when the pandemic hit in the spring. Still, it does change the way we have to think about work and productivity moving forward.

IT leaders everywhere must think about what kinds of equipment and machines we need for employees now, with mobile being a necessity. This requires budgeting differently. We’ve also had to adjust our expectations – the outputs of in-office and remote employees are different and should be treated that way.

2020 was the year that no one expected, and it challenged us in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. However, I have been so impressed with how my team and teams around the world have adapted and evolved in the face of adversity.

CIOs, stay adaptable and stay focused – the future is bright.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Jeff Fields has served as the Chief Information Officer for SERVPRO since 2012. In 2019, he was appointed Vice President.

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