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Visibility and awareness of the CIO increased dramatically in 2020. IDC research shows that 90% of the C-suite have a more positive view of IT since the beginning of 2020. IT has been at the forefront of enabling the business, helping to set up secure remote working, facilitating digital channels, staying open for business with customers, and ensuring supply chain operations are kept afloat.

However, more visibility and power at the board level bring more responsibility and more scrutiny. In 2020, transformation initiatives that would have taken years were carried out in a matter of weeks. CIOs are indeed facing more complexity and are under pressure to keep up with the breakneck pace of digital transformation. According to IDC's Digital Reignition Survey, 91% of organizations feel that the pressure to transform has increased. But as we move out from the response phase to the next, CIOs will face new challenges to drive their organizations toward a more resilient, digitally fit, and agile enterprise. 2021 will be a window of opportunity for CIOs to move from an "IT will fix" to an "IT will orchestrate" mentality, driving effective collaboration across the C-suite to press the foot down on the digital accelerator.

Five Tech Trends Shaping the CIO Agenda in 2021

  1. Accelerated time to business outcomes. 2021 will be about time to value. 58% of organizations agree that in 2021 they will focus on reducing the time it takes to recognize business value (time to value) from their technology investments. Delivering business outcomes is no longer enough — it’s all about time to deliver. As a CIO you need to step on the digital gas pedal, focusing on digital initiatives that deliver ROI in days and weeks as opposed to months and years.

  2. Accelerated path from data to value. Data and analytics are key investment areas for tech leaders to improve business visibility and optimize operations, while also making financial forecasting and planning more agile. However, many organizations see shortcomings in their existing data programs. A key action item for CIOs in 2021 is to unleash the power of data by developing a single companywide data strategy. This means breaking data silos and exploring the use of cloud-native data management platforms, DataOps strategies, and concepts such as data lakehouses.

  3. Connected end-to-end value chain. The imperative to achieve greater business agility in 2021 will push organizations to reassess the extent to which internal processes are really integrated, well defined, intelligent, and flexible. As a CIO, a key priority is to map out and define end-to-end workflows that are digitized, integrated, and automated. Infusing all business applications with AI and analytics will empower line-of-business employees to leverage these capabilities for truly real-time decision making at all levels. Work smarter, not harder.

  4. Integration for the hybrid architecture of the future. Navigating the hybrid IT stack will continue to be a challenge for CIOs. When looking at the main drivers of technology investments in 2021, full integration with other technologies is the second most important requirement, highlighting the need for organizations to have a compass that can help them to navigate an increasingly complex and hybrid technology stack. Reducing integration complexity and costs should be the mantra for 2021. Do the hard work now to ensure that digital initiatives scale for the future.

  5. The rise of the platform-enabled digital ecosystem. 90% of companies with an established strategic transformational partnership with technology vendors have already generated new revenue streams. A key priority for the CIO in 2021 is to develop an ecosystem-driven digital strategy, working in closer tandem with partners. Make sure your digital platform enables mutual sharing of data, applications, operations, expertise, and open APIs.

Tech leaders have been trying to push a digital agenda for years. While businesses responded to the crisis in 2020, this year, CIOs are integral to putting their organization on a growth path. As such, 2021 will be a key turning point for them to step up and drive their organization forward through targeted technology investments to sustain their seat at the strategic decision table in the long run.

To find out more, read the full IDC Market Spotlight, Ignite Your Agile Enterprise: Five Key Trends to Future-Proof the Business in 2021 and Beyond.