Tech challenges CEOs see as opportunity and threat in post-Covid world

Technology executives face a number of big challenges as they head into 2023, and they will likely need to work closely with CEOs at their organizations to address these hurdles. Much of the pressure CIOs feel is coming from the need to excel at digital transformation.

“With digital transformation now at the top of the C-suite agenda, there is added pressure within organizations to adopt digital capabilities faster, develop them with scale in mind, and deliver sustained performance benefits by embedding digital ways of working across the business,” said Carl Carande, vice chairman, advisory at consulting firm KPMG.

“The pandemic accelerated the acceptability of digital interactions and entrenched hybrid ways of working,” Carande said. But a survey of more than 1,300 global CEOs the firm conducted in July and August indicates organizations face several operational barriers that require creative solutions to build off that momentum and realize new angles of competitive advantage through digital initiatives.

One challenge CEOs see is that emerging and disruptive technology is both an opportunity and a threat. “There has been no shortage of exciting advances that offer promise, but ultimately prove too costly or too complex to operationalize at scale,” Carande said. “Far too often, going after these advances consumes key resources at the expense of other investment priorities.”

If companies want to deliver growth rather than great proofs of concept, they must have management and transformation teams that can quickly assess and prioritize the suitability and fit of emerging technologies, Carande said.

CEOs said their organizations need to be quicker to shift investments to digital opportunities and divest in those areas where their organizations face digital obsolescence.

Getting buy-in from the CEO and board

“The challenge is that there is not always conviction at the [C-suite] or board level that ‘going digital’ is necessary for survival,” said Tony Clark, former senior vice president of technology and innovation at professional services and investment management company Colliers International. “It’s the job of the digital leader to bring forward the risks as well as the rewards, to paint a compelling picture that adopting technology and embedding [it] deeply into the business operating model is a competitive necessity.”

Most successful digital transformations “don’t happen overnight or in one shot,” said Harsha Bellur, CIO at jewelry manufacturer James Avery Jewelry. “You follow a data-driven approach of ‘learn and iterate’ to what’s best for the particular organization and its customers. When decisions are based on customer response [and] insights, then the pace of adoption or obsolescence should be dictated by those findings,” Bellur said.

Addressing employee burnout

Another issue CEOs said their organizations need to address is pandemic-related employee burnout from accelerated digital transformation over the past two years.

“I think that there is some truth to the state of fatigue brought on by the need to quickly adopt remote work-related technology,” Clark said. “However, for many companies it is an acceleration of a trend that was already in motion,” Clark said.

The organizations facing the most significant burnout tend to be those that are trying to balance three significant initiatives at once: implementing emerging technology, modernizing legacy core systems, and developing the skills and talent to adopt and deploy new capabilities, Carande said.

The demand on technology services “almost always outpaces the capacity of IT teams,” Bellur said. “It is important then to have a process to prioritize the work [based] on expected business outcomes and value generation. This requires strong leadership to influence and drive consensus across the swath of the organizations demanding IT services.”

Maintaining customers and competitive edge

Many CEOs said deciding on the right technology to deploy is holding back progress on business transformation, according to the KMPG survey.

“I can see why this can be challenging,” Bellur said. “There are a myriad of solutions that often overlap in their capabilities. Often there is never a ‘perfect’ solution, and it can take weeks or months to evaluate the right solution fit to a given problem. Good due diligence in finding the right solution can make the implementation relatively smoother.”

Rather than focus on the “right technology,” organizations should aim to deploy the right mix of technology, Carande said.

The diversity and scale of the current technology landscape can present businesses with a daunting set of options. “Competition for technical talent and complexity leads many businesses to feel they don’t have the right mix of internal talent and strategic partners to bring the proper technology to bear,” Clark said.

To address the coming challenges, it’s important that CIOs collaborate with chief executives on a regular basis.

“In today’s digital age, technology is not only an enabler of business functions but also a critical driver of competitive advantage in many organizations,” Bellur said. “This means the CIO and CEO — and honestly the entire C-suite—need to work closely to embed technology into the business strategy and operating model.”

The CIO-CEO partnership “is vital to align the vision and priorities and ultimately deliver business value,” Bellur said. “When the C-suite is not aligned on the tech strategy, it undermines the ability of the CIO to deliver business value,” and can result in failed projects or cost overruns. “Ultimately, it’s a potential loss of customers and competitive edge for the business,” he said.

CIOs must establish themselves as trusted business advisors, armed with knowledge of their industry and the competitive landscape, Clark said. “It is imperative that this relationship becomes as trusted and important as it is between the CEO and the CFO, COO and CMO,” he said. “It will require care and feeding from both parties.”

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