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We need CIOs in business today!

A lot has changed since the first Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles emerged in the 1980s.

Personal computers became mainstream (I was so proud when I bought my first PC). Automation emerged to streamline menial tasks. And data storage shifted to the elusive, omnipresent cloud.

As technology changes, so do the responsibilities of CIOs. From mainframes to bring your own device to Internet-based applications, CIOs lead the enterprise through adapting to new technologies.

The latest change for CIOs has been toward omni-channel digital transformation continuing to change businesses, letting CIOs gain more strategic influence over business outcomes.

CIOs—and other tech-related positions such as CTOs and chief digital officers—really evolved over these past three to five years to be more outwardly focused.

The responsibilities of the CIO’s role differs depending on who you ask. If you ask a CIO, they’ll say communication, business and management are important to the job. But if you ask people outside of the function, they’ll typically bring up technical proficiencies.

In reality, however, it’s a combination of the technical and leadership skills making up members of IT leadership.

Becoming a CIO requires a multidisciplinary toolkit: a technical background and data acumen coupled with a strategic vision of the business is necessary to be a modern CIO.

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that the IT function itself is absolutely core to the execution of the business strategy. CIOs are under a new spotlight as they prove their value through business continuity in response to the pandemic.

The expectations of a CIO can vary depending on who they report to. For example, reporting to the CFO, the CIO may have specific duties around cost and operations. But when CIOs report to the CEO, we see that the revenues are actually even higher and their ability to grow and scale is higher because that CIO truly is a part of the decision-making and the discussions on the opportunity.

Some business leaders recommend CIOs have a seat at the C-suite or board-level table to partner on enterprise-wide decisions. When CIOs are relegated further down the organization, it becomes harder to take IT seriously and do transformational work. The CIO becomes an “order taker,” slowing down and prohibiting progress on technology.

As appreciation grows for what technology can do, companies have maintained CIOs as a decision-maker higher up in the company. Companies that fail to realize the importance of technology—and of their CIOs—will struggle to keep up with transformation.

CIOs encompass five major areas:

• The operator: keeps the lights on

• The technologist: evangelizes new tech capabilities

• The strategist: partners with the business

• The catalyst: leads disruptive change to how an organization works

• The mentor: convinces people in operations that they become part of transformation in business.

The phases shift to accommodate business needs, but generally a CIO needs to operate in all five spaces proportional to enterprise conditions. Businesses seek communication skills, entrepreneurial tendencies, systems thinking and other core leadership competencies in CIOs today.

That brings me to the top 5 data and analytics (D&A) technology trends for 2021 that can help organizations respond to change, uncertainty and the opportunities coming up at the horizon.

D&A leaders should use the following 5 trends as mission-critical investments that accelerate their capabilities to anticipate, shift and respond. It is understood that CIOs are part of these trends!

Trend 1: Smarter, responsible, scalable AI

The greater impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (MI) requires businesses to apply new techniques for smarter, less data-hungry, ethically responsible and more resilient AI solutions.

Trend 2: Data fabric is the foundation

With increased digitization and more emancipated consumers, D&A leaders are increasingly using data fabric to help address higher levels of diversity, distribution, scale and complexity in their organizations’ data assets. The data fabric uses analytics to constantly monitor data pipelines.

Trend 3: From big to small and wide data

The extreme business changes from the Covid-19 pandemic caused ML and AI models based on large amounts of historical data to become less relevant. At the same time, decision making by humans and AI are more complex and demanding, requiring D&A leaders to have a greater variety of data for better situational awareness.

Trend 4: Data and analytics as a core business function

Instead of being a secondary activity, D&A is shifting to a core business function. In this situation, D&A becomes a shared business asset aligned to business results, and D&A silos break down because of better collaboration between central and federated D&A teams.

Trend 5: Graph relates everything

Graphs form the foundation of many modern data and analytics capabilities to find relationships between people, places, things, events and locations across diverse data assets. D&A leaders rely on graphs to quickly answer complex business questions which require contextual awareness and an understanding of the nature of connections and strengths across multiple entities.

D&A leaders can use these trends to enable greater data management flexibility, speed, governance, and resilience.

While experts like D&A leaders and CIOs are needed to drive companies forward, let’s understand that we have to train our people in operations to be able to convert new technologies into innovation. People come first!

I look forward to your feedback; contact me at [email protected]

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