4 ways CIOs can create resilient organizations

Successful CIOs seek to harden their enterprises against disruptions. But what does it really mean to be resilient?
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CIOs desire – and increasingly have achieved – a seat at the executive decision-making table. They expect to apply their technical expertise and operational experience to make their enterprises successful.

One way they can achieve that goal is by making their organizations resilient. The right technologies and processes can make sure data remains safe, business interruptions are minimized, and any disasters are recovered quickly and fully.

Another way CIOs can help their enterprises prosper is by focusing on outcomes. The right technologies and strategies can support the lines of business (LoBs) in their efforts to bring products to market, attract new customers, and win market share.

[ Also read What defines a high-performing team? CIOs speak out. ]

But real resilience involves more than cybersecurity, data backups, and business continuity.

Truly resilient, outcome-driven organizations bake resilience and outcomes into their DNA. It’s what makes them value-adding and successful over the long haul.

Yet as a CIO, you deal largely with technology. How can you fundamentally affect organizational culture? Here are four ways you can embrace technology to help your organization become a highly resilient, outcome-driven enterprise:

1. Understand digital transformation and the effort required to achieve it

Digital transformation has different implications for different organizations. But you can’t just “pave the cow path” and call it transformation – simply upgrading your systems or applying new software to an old process won’t transform outcomes.

When companies talk about transformation, they often refer to emerging capabilities: machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), and legacy modernization. But to realize their full potential, you need to invest not just in the technology but also in how the technology drives outcomes. Those outcomes might include cost savings or process efficiencies. But if you’re only achieving organizational benefits, you’re not truly transforming.

Instead, you need to shift the ROI to achieving customer-centric results. It’s when your customers start benefiting from the technology investments that you achieve actual transformation.

2. Build for change, not scale

A global pandemic, a sudden reprioritization of the workforce, a ground war in Europe: If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that change is constant and unpredictable.

As CIO, you need to make sure your technology investments enable change. After all, you might need to support an entirely remote employee population. You might need to offer new capabilities that attract top talent or quickly shut down business in a region wracked by geopolitical conflict.

Organizations invest large sums in migrating to the cloud. One reason is the ability to grow with needs. But technology scale is no longer the primary benefit of the cloud. And scale is no longer a guarantee of resilience.

Rather, focus your cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) investments on supporting rapid change. Multi-cloud strategy, containerization, agile DevSecOps development methodologies: All should be designed around elasticity that equips you to make quick wins or pivot to new business models.

3. Use data analytics to achieve insights that enable change

The true value of data analytics lies in its ability to deliver insights that enable continual change.

Organizations spend large sums on analytics. Too often, the payoffs are tracked in budgets met, system performance reached, user volumes achieved, and so on. But the true value of data analytics lies in its ability to deliver insights that enable continual change. Also, focus on the qualitative indicators, not just the quantitative ones. Often, the qualitative ones are the leading indicators of the things that CFOs care about the most.

Data analytics can provide holistic views and predictive models that help CIOs and others understand emerging trends. Those insights support data-driven decision-making and ultimately, resilience. That’s because you no longer have to rely on gut feel to prepare for an otherwise unpredictable future. Instead, you can correlate and act on actual data inputs to make the smart choices that drive the outcomes you want.

The Commonwealth of Virginia offers a great example of the value of this approach. The state implemented a framework for sharing data among multiple departments and agencies, as well as the underlying technology to analyze and visualize data from previously unconnected data streams.

Virginia’s first use case for this approach was the Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT), an effort to combat opioid addiction. The state then leveraged the same platform to track and respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. It’s now extending the investment with Virginia Analysis System for Trafficking (VAST), an initiative to fight human trafficking. In all these cases, data analytics are enabling new responses that make the state more resilient in the face of complex forces.

4. As CIO, place customers first

Understanding customer demands will point to the technology that makes your organization resilient and outcome-driven.

You’re understandably focused on technology. Increasingly, you’re also thinking about how you can enable LoBs to become more efficient or improve sales. But in an era of constant, unexpected change, it’s wise to broaden your scope. In nearly everything you do, you need to think first about customers.

That begins with employees. Right now, many organizations want to return to in-person work. But workers are balking, and many enterprises will be forced to embrace, at the very least, a hybrid model. Understanding these demands and how technology can meet them will guide your technology strategy.

Similarly, customers want digitized, automated processes. If one car brand doesn’t offer a remote experience, customers will switch to one that does. If one mortgage lender doesn’t offer remote closing, the customer will move to a fintech that can. We’ll see these customer migrations across industries. Again, understanding these demands will point to the technology that makes your organization resilient and outcome-driven.

The time when CIOs could merely provide “better, cheaper, faster” hardware and software has passed. To be a true technology leader, you need to identify and embrace the technologies, strategies, and mindset that truly make your organization resilient and outcome-driven.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

Kamal Bherwani is CEO of GCOM, a company focused on partnering with government organizations to enable healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities through technology.