Why CIOs should invest in digital through economic headwinds

During the opening keynote at the recent Gartner IT Symposium in Barcelona, Gartner analysts said that CIOs should look to its latest moniker, IT for sustainable growth, to drive business transformation by focusing on three key strategies: ‘revolutionary work’ to empower the workforce, ‘responsible investment’ to balance financial and sustainability objectives, and ‘resilient cybersecurity’ to support business outcomes “without constraining them”.

Gartner’s managing VP Mary Mesaglio said she remained optimistic for tech investments, with the latest crisis offering CIOs yet another opportunity to “make the difference”. But released the next day, the 2023 Gartner CIO and Technology Executive Survey revealed that EMEA-based CIOs expect IT budgets to increase 4.4% on average over the next year, somewhat lower than the projected 6.5% global inflation rate.

The report, which surveyed over 2,000 respondents across 81 countries, says that EMEA CIO business priorities for the remainder of 2022 and next year are growth and digital transformation, with the top areas of increased spending in 2023 including cyber and information security (70%), business intelligence and data analytics (53%), and cloud platforms (48%). Approximately 34% are increasing investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and 24% in hyper-automation as well.

Revolutionise work

Gartner has identified three ‘force multipliers’ that CIOs should focus on to help make their organisation an employer of choice, and to create sustainable performance in the workplace:

Take the friction out of work: Friction is when work is unnecessarily hard and degrades employee performance and staff retention. By removing it and investing in digital skills, analysts believe organisations can create a more engaged workforce that’s better equipped to sustain future performance.Invest in AI augmentation: Employees require tools and technologies that empower them and increase the impact of their work. Analysts say AI can increase the impact of employees by extending their reach, range and capabilities.Experiment with the “highly visible and highly hyped”: Gartner repeatedly pointed out that organisations that innovate during tough economic times “stay ahead of the pack”, with Mesaglio in particular calling for such experimentation to be public and visible. Gartner believes one such area for innovation is in the fusion between remote and office working, with the ‘intraverse’ representing a virtual office incorporating emerging metaverse technologies to bring employees together in immersive meetings. Highlighting perhaps the nascency of such technologies, Gartner predicts that immersive meeting technologies will not plateau on its renowned Hype Cycle chart for up to 10 years.

Citing its own research, which found that only 31% of employees have the technology they need to do their jobs properly, Gartner analysts also believe that a greater collaboration between IT and HR, and better technology in the workplace, could lead to an improved employee experience that would, in-turn, benefit staff retention.

“This provides a tremendous opportunity for CIOs to make the difference,” said Mesaglio. “Employers who revolutionise the work and empower their workers with technology will become the employers of choice.”

Responsible investment

Gartner’s latest data from its board of directors survey shows that its top focus area is the economy, but IT for sustainable growth does at least hint at CEOs, boardrooms and CIOs being in unison about marrying financial performance with environmental impact.

“Sustainable growth in traditional financial terms means growth that is repeatable without taking on financial debt,” said Daniel Sanchez-Reina, VP analyst at Gartner. “But sustainable growth is more than just financial results. It also includes ethical and environmentally sustainable growth. Now, let’s add IT into the mix. IT for sustainable growth is a set of digital investments that delivers repeatable financial results in an efficient and responsible way.”

Gartner identified three more force multipliers that will create both financial and sustainability returns:

Intelligent connected infrastructure (ICI): Equating intelligent connected infrastructure to an air traffic control system for smart city infrastructure, Gartner says ICI combines mesh fabric, AI, IoT, cloud, analytics and edge computing to share data among otherwise ‘silent’ infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and ports. Investing in ICI would supposedly increase growth for cities and businesses, and improve the lives of citizens.Leverage autonomous sourcing: In a bid to drive more value from the vendor ecosystem, and seemingly move away from laborious RFPs, Gartner says that autonomous sourcing would use AI, machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to give organisations access to a much wider range of suppliers – and purchase in a “more sustainable, profitable way.” Sanchez-Reina suggested this was putting procurement in a shaker to find the best supplier and service.Digitally reduce energy usage: Gartner believes that CIOs should use cloud, data and analytics to establish a “base load” – an overview of how much energy the organisation has consumed. The company also calls on IT leaders to implement an energy and optimisation system (EMOS) to reduce energy usage by making proactive, data-led decisions in near real-time, with EMOS able to reduce energy use by up to 15%, and for IT leaders to sell energy back to the grid when combining microgrids with advances in ML and AI.

Sanchez-Reina also described such investment as a two-for-one strategy, bringing together financial performance with an organisation’s environmental and social values, thereby appeasing customers, employees and investors. But a timeline for when this concept will become an everyday reality for most organisations remains to be seen when today most CIOs are struggling to get on top of sustainability.

Resilient cybersecurity

Despite the clamour for new digital investments, Gartner’s analysts did recognise that this would represent a new cybersecurity risk, with some attributing the increased spending in security over the next year down to ongoing uncertainty regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A 2022 Gartner survey of board directors found that 88% of boards now view security as a business risk, not just a technical one, meaning that “organisations need to start treating resilient, sustainable cybersecurity as a business risk that needs new types of investment,” said Ed Gabrys, VP analyst at Gartner.

Three more force multipliers identify competitive advantages for organisations in the long term:

Manage the attack surface: Gartner says external attack surface management (EASM) can discover vulnerable external-facing assets. The firm also calls on CIOs to implement software composition analysis to get visibility into software supply chain vulnerabilities, and leverage maturing threat intelligence platforms to prioritise and fix them.Protect business outcomes and customers: Organisations should prioritise their most important business outcomes by identifying technology dependencies that have a direct line of sight to their most important business or mission outcomes.Use outcome-driven metrics and protection-level agreements: Outcome-driven metrics attempt to align security concerns with business impact, so the organisation can decide its risk appetite and how much it wants to invest to solve the problem, like patch management, for instance. Gartner is benchmarking 16 ODMs that organisations can use to compare their protection levels to their peers. This creates an outcome-based priorities and investments roadmap. “Organisations should invest in achieving protection-level outcomes, not the implementation of tools,” says Gartner.Artificial Intelligence, Digital Transformation, Innovation, Machine Learning