The role of the CIO has been a rather turbulent one in recent years

It’s fallen to CIOs to take the lead in directing businesses’ technology spend, giving them a far broader remit than they’d had previously. Before, CIOs had been tasked primarily with managing IT assets. Now, they play a leading role in determining how technology budgets are deployed, to maximize growth and return on investment.

What explains the sudden shift in the responsibilities of the CIO? The leading factor is the advent of the cloud, and the transformative impacts this has had. Firms have been forced to adapt rapidly to the new business environment created by the rise of cloud technology. It’s been CIOs who’ve had to step up. With artificial intelligence (AI) proving to be the next frontier in business technology, it seems that CIOs will continue to be similarly instrumental in the years ahead.

We’re not quite halfway through it, but already 2020 has proven to be a genuinely tempestuous year. The global economic outlook is clouded by uncertainty, as the Covid-19 pandemic brings economies around the world to a grinding halt. With a global recession all but inevitable, CIOs will have to take on much responsibility in helping businesses to stay stable and continue to meet their goals.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at what the remainder of 2020 has in store for CIOs, and how we can expect their role to change as a result of technological advance.

The rise of AI

We’ve heard a lot about AI over the last few years, and it’s not always been easy to separate the media hype from the reality. But there’s little doubt that it is already having a substantial impact on the way we do business. Increasingly, we are seeing AI-based apps transforming business models by reshaping the ways in which firms take crucial decisions. This is a trend which we can expect to accelerate throughout the rest of 2020, and beyond.


The key task for CIOs in this new environment, then, is to deepen their understanding of AI-based technologies. That’s what will aid them to determine the new opportunities these present to businesses. For example, we’re increasingly seeing the expanded use of AI in call centres, with far-reaching consequences. Natural language processing, for example, is helping to increase call centre efficiency and cut labor costs. CIOs, whichever field they’re working in, need to be similarly adept at embracing the opportunities offered by AI.

Staying on top of cloud strategy

Having an appropriate cloud strategy is essential for any business. A cloud strategy helps businesses to determine how to adopt and make the most effective use of cloud technology. This strategy should be integrated with your wider business goals. It should serve as an effective complement to meeting them. In developing a cloud strategy, CIOs must pay close attention to both the anticipated benefits of cloud technology and any changes that might need to be made elsewhere in order to accommodate it.

So, for example, if you’re planning to introduce a cloud phone system to your business, you need to be clear when weighing up the potential pros and cons. What sort of savings can you expect to make? How does it compare, in terms of cost, convenience, and overall reliability, to ordinary landline calls? Would a cloud contact centre be adequate for meeting the needs of your customers? These are just some of the questions CIOs will need to consider.

People-centered change

Over the last few years, new technologies have been introduced at a breakneck speed. Although change in the business world continues apace, there is a case to be made for a more measured introduction of new technologies. We’re all still adjusting to the plethora of new innovations which have reshaped business over the last decade or so. An important part of CIOs’ role is to help employees digest the changes that have taken place.

To this end, CIOs need to play a hands-on and proactive part in training and development schemes, equipping staff with the knowledge they need to adapt. In addition, a more measured and leisurely approach to introducing new technologies could provide CIOs and their businesses with valuable breathing space. It could give them a chance to assess how existing solutions and tools have performed. How have these technologies altered the way your business operates? How have they affected efficiency? And what have they done to boost the bottom line? An opportunity to step back and investigate could prove very useful.

Coping with Covid-19

As we’ve already noted, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have seismic long-term effects for businesses. It has to be said that many will not survive the oncoming recession – so now is the time to take proactive steps. CIOs will be vital to ensuring the survival of their businesses in circumstances of real adversity such as these. There’s a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’, but nobody is quite sure how this will look over the long term. Based on what we know so far, what can we expect from it?

Remote working was already becoming more and more commonplace before the pandemic. Now, it’s become an everyday reality for businesses around the world. While firms have been remarkably flexible in introducing remote working at a large scale and at short notice, there have been challenges. There is, first of all, the question of whether your IT systems are up to the job of coping with remote working. Secondly, there is the issue of whether employees have the tools they need to work from home for an extended period. As a CIO, it’s up to you to ensure that both of these challenges are resolved.

In addition, you need to ensure that network security remains robust. Measures must be taken so that confidential and sensitive information is kept private. This is part of your duty of care to both employees and clients. And of course, CIOs must make sure they have the requisite technology to meet customers’ needs.

If new technologies can help to enhance service standards, they could make a worthwhile and timely investment. A new live chat solution, for instance, might prove worthwhile if it eases pressure on your existing customer service staff. But with so much economic uncertainty around, CIOs must strike a balance between investing in useful new technologies and keeping costs firmly reined in.

About the Author

Sam O’Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a global UCaaS systems provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as ClicData and Time Doctor. Here is his LinkedIn.