New Year, New Strategy

2020 has arrived, and the new decade is already bringing renewed conversations about change. All around us, we’re hearing talk of innovation, emerging technology trends, and digital transformation. Gartner predicts we’ll see more hyper-automation and human augmentation, increased use of artificial intelligence (AI), and more processing moving to the empowered edge and the distributed cloud.   

For many mid-market CIOs, however, the primary challenges aren’t all that different from what they were facing a few years ago. And the fundamental best practices that these organizations need to follow when modernizing legacy infrastructures haven’t changed, even if the technologies themselves have advanced by light years. Nor have mid-market companies’ struggles to reap the benefits of deploying cutting-edge technologies—while staying within budget. 

A new decade’s inception naturally brings new energy and invites leaders to develop new strategies. It’s relatively easy for the CIOs of youthful, digital-first companies like Fiverr and HubSpot to take advantage of emerging technologies, but those in more mature industries and companies—particularly in the mid-market—confront deeper challenges and have more constraints to overcome.  

“IoT, AI, quantum computing, and 5G will define the next decade,” says Charles Badoian, Head of Research at MIDMRKT, a firm that brings together mid-market technology leaders to foster connections between them and peers, partners, and the information their organizations need to thrive. “When you combine these technologies, what they make possible will truly transform our lives. Quantum computing enables AI, 5G allows the data to travel at the speed it needs to be for processing, and IoT makes it so that everything is Internet-connected and conversant.”  

In order for mid-sized businesses to draw benefits, profit, and growth from these innovations, though, they must learn to excel at integrating new technologies into established infrastructures and become proficient at change management—especially when it’s both technical and cultural. This is no easy task, as most CIOs know.  

What we’re seeing among our clients mirrors what Badoian has witnessed in mid-market organizations across the board. Here are the top five challenges these companies face in the new year and coming decade. 

1. Resources are constrained. 

Nearly all mid-sized organizations simply don’t have enough resources to accomplish major tech transformation projects without a struggle. With unemployment rates at historic lows, it’s a challenge to find and hire tech talent. At the same time, IT budgets remain relatively flat, with overall spending increasing more slowly than the complexity of the technology landscape.   

2. IT’s objectives aren’t always aligned (or understood) with the rest of the C-suite.

Many CIOs are the sole member of the executive team with a background in technology and a deep understanding of how it applies to the business. Yet in today’s environment, tech can make or break companies. If they don’t understand what the rest of the C-suite is trying to accomplish and how they can support those objectives, they risk failing to deliver on the IT department’s potential to become a core driver of the business.

3. Security, privacy, and regulatory compliance challenges and risks are top-of-mind.

Cybercriminals are increasingly focusing their efforts on mid-market organizations, posing a growing threat to the health of every business. Many organizations don’t have access to the breadth of cybersecurity resources needed to address these risks. At the same time, consumers and customers are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their personal data and demanding more control over how it is used and stored. And governments are requiring businesses to adhere to ever-more-complex regulations. 

4. Tech is being applied to business processes in every part of the organization. CIOs must understand these processes in depth.

Automation, including the use of chatbots and robotic process automation (RPA), has tremendous power to increase efficiency, decrease costs, and improve human resource utilization. But these technologies can only be implemented inside organizations that have a thorough and complete understanding of the business processes they seek to automate, along with knowledge of how to structure their data and environment so that automation can be maximally effective. 

5. It’s tough to find and retain the right talent.

As the older generation of technologists ages out of the workforce, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to retain top talent if you don’t have a data- and technology-driven organizational culture. 

Millennials, Gen-Z, and in fact, many of today’s workers expect this of their employers. But at the same time, companies must continue to maintain the legacy hardware and infrastructures that they rely on, even as it becomes harder to find the skills to support this. 

In the face of tremendous change, best practices for managing it stay the same 

Although the pace of technological transformation continues to accelerate, the foundational best practices that organizations need to follow in order to lay out winning strategies remain unchanged.  

  • It’s critical to take a people-centric approach. What’s most important about any technology is not how well it works, but how it impacts your employees, customers, business partners, and community overall. Tech investments will realize their full potential only if they’re actually solving these people’s problems. This is what really determines whether or not the digital innovations you’re incorporating into your operations will succeed or fail. 
  • Cross-organizational alignment is key. The business’s leadership team must outline a clear vision, mission, and objectives for the transformation projects you’re considering, and the CIO needs to be a full participant in this process. If they’re not built upon this foundation of transparency and open communication, your transformation efforts will be hobbled from the outset.
  • Each leadership team needs to decide what success looks like for their unique individual organization. Benchmarking yourself against your peers is important, but so too is assessing the infrastructure and resources that you have in place, as well as your employees’ readiness for change. A robust change management plan includes attention to all of these factors. 
  • Finding the right partners is a game-changer. Digital transformation is so complex that no organization can go it alone unless it’s able to devote significant resources to the process, including hard-to-find IT technical expertise. For major enterprises, this may be possible, but for most mid-sized companies, it makes more sense to draw upon the strengths of partnerships and communities. 

There’s never been a better time to be a CIO 

No other group touches every part of the organization in quite the same way that IT does, and no leader has the same opportunity to influence the entire business in such a profound way as the CIO.  

“No one has more power to elicit smart, effective, far-reaching change than the CIO of a mid-market organization,” says Badoian. “Mid-market companies have larger budgets than small businesses, but lack the constraints and bureaucracy that can paralyze leaders in larger companies. This means that the technology leaders within them face particularly rich opportunities to set their organizations on the path to growth and success.” 

We work with CIOs in many organizations across multiple industries who face a diverse set of challenges. If you want to learn more about how you can keep pace with your peers or speed the progress of your digital transformation efforts, we hope you’ll reach out to us. 

Need a quick way to get started? Many clients begin with NeuStart – check it out.