Improving Business Performance

Industry View from

A strategic CIO/CEO partnership allows innovation to thrive in a turbulent global market

CEOs need their CIOs’ help more than ever as they navigate through today’s global market turbulence.


Shifting their focus from being overseers of data centre operations to being strategic partners with their CEOs will enable tech leaders to develop a business-driven innovation roadmap that allows the company to pivot quickly when market conditions change. But CIOs must get creative about finding resources to operationalise the strategy and roadmap, given limited IT budgets. Significant results can be achieved by leveraging a business-driven roadmap in this way – companies are freeing up 40 per cent or more of their IT budget for transformational innovation that builds resilience and enables growth – which is never more important than today.


A CEO/CIO strategic partnership is needed more than ever to enable quick pivots amid instability


Companies are experiencing unprecedented business dynamics in which global disruption and global competition are creating complex, rapidly changing technology investment priorities. It’s business as unusual for most companies, as they find themselves in constant response mode. There is no longer a status quo in the business world – companies must grow, or they will likely die.


For many CIOs, operating the data centre is now the least of their priorities. Their investment roadmaps have been side-railed by disruptive global events, and non-essential projects are being put on hold. To survive and thrive, companies must have a digital core. Almost overnight, CIOs have shifted focus to investing in solutions that serve customers primarily on digital platforms. For many companies, their digital infrastructure must be able to handle 100 per cent remote work. Those that are already digitally platformed will make this adjustment much more nimbly than those that haven’t invested or have underinvested in digital infrastructure.


What CEOs really need from their CIOs is adaptable strategic guidance that will help them pivot very quickly when disruption occurs. CEOs also need their CIOs to make wise IT investment decisions that optimise costs, save jobs, stabilise operations, and shift IT resources to these strategic initiatives. In order to do this, CIOs need to be at the table with the CFO, CEO, and CPO in setting the broader business strategy that drives the IT roadmap.


CIOs must innovate on limited budgets  


Today, nearly every company in the world has a financial problem. Either revenue streams have been disrupted on the front end or cash supplies are tighter on the back end. This happened in 2000 with the dot-com meltdown, and again with the mortgage crisis in 2008. However, those scenarios were not the same as the shock that has happened today in such a very short period of time. Every business and every market segment is being impacted by the current global disruption. Governments are spending more money to keep their economies going than they can ever hope to repay. When there is revenue disruption, everything changes. Unfortunately, it takes longer for a company to cut costs than it takes for revenue to fall.


The first order of business, then, is survival. In order to survive, companies must be focused on cash. Many companies are slow-paying or trying to renegotiate with every vendor they have. Scrutiny is being focused on “need to have”, let alone “like to have” or “nice to have” projects and services. Companies are competing for a smaller pool of cash, and prioritisation is top of mind for CIOs who must innovate while keeping current systems operational. Many IT projects are being cancelled. For example, ERP refreshes that don’t bring real value in terms of competitive advantage or growth are being pushed off a year or more until companies rebuild their cash supplies.


The CIO can be the most influential person right now when it comes to IT purchasing decisions. To survive, and ultimately thrive, CIOs need to look at their spending pool and immediately make changes that align revenue on the front end with costs on the back end. In the current market, this means shifting budgets to investments in digital technologies and services that support the company’s innovation strategy, even amid uncertainty. When as much as 90 per cent of the CIO’s budget is spent on ongoing operations and enhancements to back-end systems, this leaves as little as 10 per cent for investments in the company’s innovation strategy.  


The goal should be to change back-end systems as little as possible – their level of maturity makes them low-risk for breaking, so the support services needed are primarily tax and regulatory updates, and advice and counsel which can all be obtained from independent, third-party providers at a fraction of the cost paid to the enterprise software vendors.


CIOs instead should optimise the operating costs of back-end systems such as ERP and shift those funds to an IT innovation investment strategy that supports the CEO’s digital priorities. Investments in front-end systems of engagement (where important interactions with customers occur) will more likely address the CEO’s business strategies. These dynamic, customer-facing systems are where constant change is needed in order to remain competitive and where digitalisation will help attract and retain customers – the keys to surviving and thriving.

For more information, please visit

Related articles

What's next?

Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders