The Top Five CIO Takeaways of 2021

2020 was the year of disruption, or so we thought. For IT departments, the COVID-19 pandemic made office places near obsolete, and it upended the way customers conducted business.

But just as companies thought they were getting a handle on the new normal, along came 2021 with brand new challenges and disruptions.

COVID, it seems, is here to stay. Remote work and online business are norms now. Those weren’t the only side effects of the virus, though. 2021 saw unprecedented supply chain disruptions, increased cyber threats, and an IT staffing shortage that continues to threaten the critical adoption of new technology.

For CIOs, the corporate first responders, there are several takeaways from 2021. Perhaps the key takeaway should be that CIOs should expect the unexpected. Agility and scalability are no longer buzzwords. They are essential. More specifically, there are five takeaways every CIO should be thinking about as we enter 2022.

Automated workflows can address staffing shortages and improve the bottom line

Nearly every type of enterprise is facing staffing shortages. In 2021, businesses lost significant revenue, sometimes as much as 50 percent, compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Increasingly, CIOs are turning to automated workflows and AI.

A Deloitte survey showed that the top reason employees quit their jobs is the feeling that their employer isn’t making the best use of their skills. Automating mundane job duties, such as data entry or parts of the sales funnel, increases employee job satisfaction, improves productivity, and lets companies accomplish more with fewer employees.

According to a McKinsey survey, last year saw more than a 50 percent jump in AI adoption from the year before. While nearly every department can benefit from partial automation, AI is most commonly used in service operations, product and service development, and sales and marketing. Impressively, respondents reported significant cost savings and increased corporate earnings.

Look for the government to crack down on diversity issues

Changing societal norms and staffing shortages shine a spotlight on one of the tech industry’s most pervasive problems: a lack of diversity. Women hold only about a quarter of tech positions. The statistics are even direr for People of Color, especially Women of Color.

There are several factors behind the lack of diversity in tech positions, including that women and minorities are underrepresented in STEM education. In addition, women are far more likely to leave a tech job than men, and 72 percent of women in tech say that “bro culture” is “pervasive” in their company.

On average, women earn about $.86 for every dollar earned by a man in tech. Also, compared to white men, women, and People of Color are less likely to be asked for an interview, partly because AI recruiting systems can reinforce existing biases.

The Federal Government is beginning to crack down on AI bias in hiring, which only adds to the urgent need to fix the problem. Even after hiring women and minorities, it’s ultimately up to CIOs to ensure equitable pay and inclusive work culture.

Sustainable IT is a priority

2021 was the sixth or seventh hottest year on record. Last year, the U.S. economy lost over $170 billion to natural disasters. In 2022, businesses could lose 3.1 million days of operation because of flooding. Tech is one of the keys to solving our current climate crisis, but there’s a good chance your company, specifically, your IT department, is accelerating climate change.

You aren’t alone if you’ve never thought of your IT department as having a carbon footprint. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in a Capgemini Research Institute study were unaware of their IT carbon footprint. In addition, only 34 percent said that IT sustainability was a priority among board members, but it should be.

Enterprises with a comprehensive sustainability roadmap report increased customer satisfaction, improved ESG ratings, and significant tax savings. Yet just 6 percent of firms have a high level of sustainable IT maturity.

Its time to reorganize the supply chain

The supply chain crisis is nowhere near its end. On average, supply chain disruptions cost businesses $184 million per year. The current supply chain disruption reportedly affects 94 percent of Fortune 1000 companies, and 55 percent of companies say they have had to downgrade their fiscal outlook.

While it’s easy to blame external forces, digitizing a company’s supply chain offers significant benefits to help mitigate the challenges we saw in 2021 and even in 2020. End to end digital supply chains:

  • Lets companies make automated data-driven decisions
  • Increases quality, diversity, and international compliance
  • Accelerates speed
  • Improves supplier relations

Rethinking cybersecurity

2020 and 2021 were banner years for cybercriminals. According to a Deloitte report, nearly half of employees fall for phishing scams while working from home. Globally, more than half a million people experienced stolen personal data through video conferencing services.

A data breach, on average, costs about $4.24 million per incident and almost $1 million more when the breach happens through a remote worker’s computer.

While human error is the most significant cause of data breaches and cyber attacks, during the early months of COVID, many small and medium-sized organizations sent their employees home to work with no procedures in place to secure the network. Logging into a network from a personal device exposes the network to attacks, as do poorly secured home Wi-Fi networks.

The first priority should be to secure employees’ home offices with antivirus protection, home network security, and phishing and cybersecurity training. There are also more advanced measures to take, such as attack simulations, risk management, cyberintelligence techniques, host checking tools, and a Zero Trust model.

Other measures, such as security analytics, AI adoption, and encryption, save companies $1.25 million to $1.49 million. In addition, for companies concerned about cloud attacks, hybrid cloud strategies had a lower data breach cost than companies with public or private cloud approaches.

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