Did CIOs’ digital innovations boost business agility?

CIOs plan to increase investment in digital platforms, integration, risk management

CIO’s believe their digital innovation initiatives boosted business agility, but peers do not agree.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most C-level executives agreed with the statement that their business was not especially agile. Only 10% of all business leaders considered their organization to be “considerably or very agile” across a range of functions and processes. That’s according to a global survey of 200 C-level leaders conducted by ESI ThoughtLab.

To mitigate the shock of the pandemic, C-level execs invested in tech designed to increase overall business agility. While most chief information officers consider their digital innovation initiatives successful, many of their peers do not agree.

CIOs invest in agility

When the pandemic began, CIO perceptions of business agility were aligned with those of their peers. In the months after the initial shock, business leaders agreed they needed to make fundamental changes in people, processes, and technology to withstand the pandemic and other crises to come.

Those changes have paid off. A year into the COVID-19 crisis, 28% of C-suite leaders surveyed now consider their organization to be agile.

For many businesses, the pandemic demanded a sudden digital shift that made many CIOs rethink their tech stack.

Most CIOs in our survey believe their recent investments in IT support, data management and security, digitization strategies, and risk management helped bolster overall business agility. More than 40% of all CIOs give high agility rankings to today’s IT platforms and financial systems. More than a third also reported high returns on investments in remote working and improved communication with employees and customers.

However, there is a marked discrepancy in how CIOs perceive these areas versus their peers’ perceptions.

Perception gap

Compared to most of their peers, CIOs believe their organizations have made more progress developing a digital enterprise platform that integrates multiple functions to drive agility.

Does this perception gap mean CIOs are not doing as well as they think? Or are they not effectively communicating their achievements internally?

CIOs identify a variety of obstacles to improving business agility. For one, fewer than 40% of CIOs say they have seen a clear business case or leadership vision for agility at the executive level. Without a strong executive push for agility, CIOs believe the organization will continue to be held back.

CIOs are also more likely to see poor data quality and access as an impediment to agility than their counterparts, but less likely to see high implementation costs and insufficient budgets as hurdles.

Disagreement on the path forward

The gap between CIOs and the rest of the C-suite is not simply about perception. They also diverge on how best to advance business agility in the years to come.

In the post-pandemic world, CIOs plan to invest heavily in platforms that improve efficiency and streamline workflows. Nearly half say they will invest in digital enterprise platforms. While that is about the same as the share of CEOs who plan to do so, only 28% of CCOs, 20% of CHROs, and 23% of COOs are prioritizing digital enterprise platforms.

In the post-pandemic world, CIOs plan to invest heavily in platforms that improve efficiency and streamline workflows.

A similar story emerges elsewhere in the tech stack. To accelerate digital transformation, a majority of CIOs surveyed say they will invest in mobile technology and apps, along with risk management solutions. Less than 40% of CCOs, CHROs, and COOs, and less than 50% of CHROs, plan to do the same.

The starkest divide is over process and collaboration. While a whopping 73% of CIOs believe it is critical to invest in process changes to improve coordination across functions, only 35% of CCOs, 43% of CHROs, 43% of COOs, and 53% of CEOs agree with that assessment. In fact, within the next two years, CIOs are more likely than their peers to implement a digital enterprise platform that integrates multiple functions.

One thing is clear: There’s work to be done in terms of aligning CIOs with the rest of the C-suite on digital strategy. If executives cannot agree on where to invest their time and money, their path toward business agility will be fraught with obstacles.