5 CIO priorities for 2024 and beyond
CIOs face competing priorities, heightened business demands and a need, once done, to do more with less in the year ahead. At the HotTopics online meetup in November, over 40 technology executives converged to discuss their priorities for 2024. What followed was an in-depth, hour-long examination of business priorities, technology roadmaps, how to decipher what’s truly important - and a gaze towards a turbulent future of fine-tuning stakeholder engagement through economic instability, and wrangling data to make sense of AI. Here’s this writer’s assessment of a conversation, which was held online under Chatham House Rule.
5 CIO priorities
In this Meetup, attendees debated what the priorities for CIOs and CTOs would be in 2024. Read below to understand the key points covered in our debate.
- It’s time to prioritise the priorities
- Do more with less – and do it quickly
- Get on top of customer experience
- Temper AI expectations by having the right data
- Finetune stakeholder engagement for better engagement
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It’s time to prioritise the priorities
Prioritisation has become the keyword for leading technology executives. With the CIO increasingly on the critical path to most business change programmes, deciding what to focus on has become essential. The question then arises as to what is essential; is it employee and customer experience, cost management, operational efficiency or business growth? For many leaders, it’s increasingly ‘‘all of the above".
“Revenue growth, customer experience, cybersecurity, talent development and retention. They're all in there,” said one CIO working in higher education. “So it's virtually impossible for me to separate them and prioritise one over the other.” The CIO would later add that, per the institution’s strategy, the primary focus was on the customer experience of students, alumni and faculty members, followed by financial sustainability.
“I looked down the list of [nine priorities] and yes, we’re trying to do all of them,” added a CIO at a property development firm. “Actually, that's not good enough; what are the real priorities because that's what leadership is all about.”
The IT director at a global food distributor had an altogether different take, suggesting that organisations must think outcome-first, and consider the implications of their actions.
“We have over 140,000 team members and 150 different facilities. So every time that we come up with a great idea that we work at a proof of concept on and we prove the value, then the question is: how do we prioritise resources? How do we prioritise our funding? How do we prioritise to truly scale at a speed to market that allows us to gain the greatest return on that investment? And how do we drive the momentum and ensure the culture of the organisation is ready to adopt the change?”
A former data transformation officer and interim COO believes it comes back to how technology leaders assess these priorities and align them to the organisation’s direction.
“I believe the key is to establish what criteria you're prioritising against, is it collaboratively agreed ... and do the items that you want to execute, deliver, or reflect the outcome the organisation is after.”
Do more with less – and do it quickly
A combination of inflation, higher material costs and the cost-of-living crisis have squeezed finances across the board. CIOs have been forced to work off stagnant or reduced IT budgets, and work through job cuts or hiring freezes.
These issues have been compounded by the popular opinion that CEOs and boardrooms expect CIOs to deliver the same value IT and digital teams have done since the Covid-19 pandemic. As one technology leader remarked, the “stupidly” busy days of CV-19 have become “normal” in 2023.
“We were exceptionally busy and then the Covid hit, and then we were stupidly busy. And now we're coming out of Covid, we're maniacally busy,” said the CIO.
“Our Dean has been very clear – we’ve got a very ambitious growth agenda. But he doesn't see organisational growth necessarily being reflected in headcount growth.” “You've got to find smarter, more effective ways of doing the same thing. faster and better, to release capacity.”
“There's always a finite set of people, a finite set of budgets, and there's always too much to do,” added another technology leader.
Get on top of customer experience
Customer and employee experience ranked close to the top of priorities for the year ahead.
“If I asked the C-suite, what do they expect to be doing it really comes down to, for at least the next six months, customer and colleague interaction,” said the CIO of a property development firm.
A European technology leader, working as a director of programmes for an international travel company, said that the firm’s desire to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for travellers had them focused on ‘customer centricity’ and developing new products.
Others remarked a focus on revenue growth, while understanding that better customer experiences - and thus retention, which is inherently cheaper than attracting new customers - would play a critical part in achieving that objective.
Temper AI expectations by having the right data
The explosion of Generative AI services like ChatGPT and MidJourney have captured the public’s attention, and the point in business where CFOs and line-of-business peers are taking a keen interest in the adoption of these technologies.
Yet a degree of caution is required, not least given ongoing copyright cases and uncertainty over the governance of OpenAI, but also on the basis that AI’s potential can only truly be unleashed through effective data governance – or as one leader put it, ‘getting the plumbing right’.
One technology leader remarked about the industry’s obsession with the “latest toys”, another - an independent adviser working primarily with SMEs - that the allure of AI loses sight of the “fundamentals” — that being the importance of the quality of the data.
“They have to do some quite dull grinding through stuff to get there…to use some of this new shiny stuff,” he said.
“Without data, there's no digital or AI. We have to then harness that within an experience and try to keep those experiences as consistent as possible,” added an IT director in the retail sector.
Finetune stakeholder engagement for better engagement
Communication and storytelling were two key trends from October’s Studio event at Abbey Road Studios, and so they proved here once more - with CIOs aware of their need to grab the attention of the board, the influence of their peers and to motivate their own teams (and others) through change.
A programme delivery director spoke of the need to ‘create curiosity’ on how technology can support employees, while the CIO of a property development firm encouraged peers to ‘double’ the amount of communication, alongside finding ‘IT’ champions who would advocate for IT when they are not in the room.
There was the suggestion that business stakeholders must be “brought into the equation earlier”, plus evergreen points of discussion that IT must stop talking about ‘the business’ and start to make peace with former foes in HR and finance.
With IT representing a ‘business in itself’, CIOs need the collective energy of the executive team to drive transformation, and to keep their messaging consistent both internally and externally when crisis strikes - whether that’s geopolitical tensions in the Middle East or uncertainty over the future of vendors like OpenAI. A consistent technology roadmap, balanced portfolio and effective governance will also help CIOs and CTOs deal with conflict quickly, as and when it arises.
Despite this, and the numerous priorities ahead, a director of digital in the non-profit sector believes that technology leaders have seen this pressure before, and are well prepared to navigate it once more.
“There’s always pressure, I don’t think it’s changed. The zeros and ones are easier, but people change is the hardest part.
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