As technology consultants, we continually witness how our clients adapt to new tools and solutions. We also observe how they (mainly CIOs and CTOs) have seen their actual roles evolve. These leaders aren’t only making traditional technology decisions about what to purchase and implement. They’re now change agents, collaborating with other executives to ensure cohesive execution of major business initiatives.
Without question, today’s technology leaders have a full plate of responsibilities. And this year has magnified the depth and breadth of their accountability even more.
In 2023 there are ongoing digital transformation efforts and programs. There are ongoing projects to help sales, marketing, and nearly every other department in the company launch specific technology programs. Now, with the seemingly overnight explosion of artificial intelligence (AI), technology leaders must determine how to best infuse this technology into organization-wide processes and procedures.
This is why CIOs and CTOs have realized that they must do more than be part of the changes. Instead, they are now catalysts of change, understanding that survival in the digital economy all comes down to creating a highly technical literate workforce.
To this end, they are starting to form a team of IT leaders who teach digital skills to others in key roles throughout the company. For example, they are coaching people on how to apply virtual reality to solve specific business challenges. They are holding workshops to educate both management and frontline workers on how technology affects the success of sales, marketing, operations, human resources, accounting, and other business functions.
Those in charge of tech are also focusing more on cybersecurity than they did in prior years. Sure, network and data security has been essential since the dawn of the internet, but the rise in cybercrime and ransomeware attacks now make network protection even more of a priority. These enhanced security measures include strategies such as continuous penetration testing combined with penetration testing as a service. Overall, leaders are patching the holes in all the vulnerabilities they were aware of in the past but did not consider as legitimate threats. Now, they’re leaving nothing to chance.
Beyond the use of specific security technology, many CIOs and CTOs have changed their assumptions about security by implementing a zero trust strategy. In the eyes of the organization, this officially means that all users and devices are potentially malicious. Everyone and every device requires authentication and authorization, be it a VP’s smartphone or a partner’s iPad. While some may see zero trust as potentially inefficient (do you really have to be so strict with every employee?), this policy is perhaps the best way to protect data and ensure close to 100% network safety.
In a related development, technology leaders are stepping up security efforts for email and email systems. In an age where instant messaging and texting seem to be the preferred communication methods, email is still by far the most popular business communication tool, making it target #1 for cyber thieves. In fact, over 90% of all cyber attacks start with a phishing email going to an unsuspecting employee.
For many years, the IT department relied heavily on user education to prevent phishing and other email attacks. The premise was to help users recognize suspicious email based on awkward subject lines, strange hyperlink call-to-actions, and unprofessional content. But tech leaders have rightly recognized that users can only do so much in light of increasingly savvy and clever cyber thieves. Accordingly, many have adopted a zero trust approach to email security as well. And to take matters in their own hands even more, IT departments have installed proprietary email protection rather than relying on the standard protection offered by large, often global email service providers.
CIOs and CTOs are going to great lengths to protect users, and ensure that their organization’s networks and valuable information are protected. As mentioned earlier, they are implementing stricter authentication methods, including phish-proof multi-factor authentication. In some cases, they’re even eliminating the need for passwords by using password-less authentication. No strategy is perfect, but these approaches tighten security and reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive company, user, and partner data. To add yet another layer of protection, many are implementing remote browser isolation.
All of these security developments are central for the viability of remote and hybrid work. That’s because with more and more employees working from home, cafes, and other unofficial locations, there are a host of potential holes in security. Tech leaders may have been the first category of executives to fully embrace hybrid and remote work, and they continue to plead the case to others less convinced of its benefits. To make the most of this new work model, tech leaders are ensuring that systems and processes are optimized for collaboration. Specifically, they’re focusing on the user experience for remote workers to foster efficient communications and maximum productivity.
The combination of remote and hybrid work, by definition, requires an increased amount of managing a multi-cloud environment. CIOs and CTOs have adjusted to these multi-cloud systems by implementing a seamless strategy across all major clouds to simplify management and reduce complexity. They’re optimizing performance while also paying attention to constantly changing regulations. As such, many are choosing cloud services with built-in compliance features, which frees staff to focus more on development and less on busywork.
Despite these positive developments, honest tech leaders will tell you that they’re still facing uncertainty. With the pace of change in business, technology, and society at large, it’s impossible to relax. This is why it’s crucial to always have specific technology plans in place – as specific as possible at the time. Update the plan regularly based on new business initiatives and emerging technologies. Most importantly, remain open to the possibilities, and always be willing to adapt based on the evidence.