5 big challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2018

EducationSummary: As business technology goes through a fundamental shift, the role of the CIO is changing. In the coming years, CIOs will face new challenges and take on new roles. The most successful CIOs are those that recognize and adapt to these changes. In this article, we explore 5 such challenges that CIOs must face in the near future.

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Driven largely by digitization, new technologies, and rapidly increasing data volumes, modern CIOs face a growing set of challenges. Gone are the days of simply “keeping the lights on.” The modern CIO must deliver business value. They must drive innovation.

In short, the responsibilities placed on the modern CIO and IT Leader are rapidly changing. Some view these changes as a problem. They disrupt the status quo. They present an added degree of difficulty for the IT department.

But, others view them as an opportunity. With the increased role of technology in the business, CIOs and IT leaders have the opportunity to deliver more value than ever before. The most successful CIOs are those that recognize and adapt to these evolving challenges.

So, what are these challenges? What areas and priorities must CIOs focus on in the coming year? As this is such a broad topic, we’re breaking it up into two parts. We’ll cover the first 5 challenges today, and the rest in a future article. Sound good? Okay, here are 5 of the biggest challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in the near future:

1. Turning data into a competitive advantage

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Over the last few years, data has been the name of the game. The modern business now has access to more data than ever before.

The problem is, many companies don’t know what to do with their data. This article over on Forbes sums up the problem nicely: “But in the rush to avoid being left behind, I also see that many companies risk becoming data rich but insight poor. They accumulate vast stores of data they have no idea what to do with, and no hope of learning anything useful from.”

The focus going forward isn’t about gathering data (though that’s certainly important). It’s about turning that data you’re gathered into something useful. It’s about transforming that data into meaningful management information. Those who can capitalize on their data in this way will have a significant advantage.

“A lot of companies are focused on big data and how to gather it and analyze it,” says Erick Harlow, Principal of Forensic IT. “The real key for companies moving forward is not only compiling it and segmenting the data for marketing purposes, but accurately using it for operations to help grow their corporation. Data does not lie. But there is a forensic way to apply it to maximize operations and efficiencies. By locating inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the manufacturing and/or delivery process, a company can eliminate problem areas, speed up production and get more product to market in a shorter time span. The result is an increase in productivity, overall efficiency, and an increase in profitability. As we talk about technology needs moving forward, this is a key area of focus for 2018.”

2. Enabling consistent innovation

You’ve probably read quite a bit recently on the growing need for innovation. I’ve seen many people saying that the modern CIO must become the “Chief Innovation Officer.” That’s all well and good. No one will argue that innovation is important.

But, I think it goes beyond innovation.

Forrester shared a shocking statistic a few years back: “Seventy percent of the companies that were on the Fortune 1000 list a mere ten years ago have now vanished–unable to adapt to change.”

Think about that. Strong, successful companies fell because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) alter their course. They didn’t adapt.

In other words, only the agile survive.

So, the modern CIO must not only drive innovation. They must drive consistent innovation. It’s not good enough to innovate once, and sit back.

The modern CIO must set up processes to constantly adapt to new changes. They must deploy platforms that allow for rapid solution development. They must deliver the ability to pivot quickly as needed. More than ever, it’s the agile businesses that will succeed.

“At a tactical level – keeping pace with changing technology, building future proof solutions to the extent possible will be the key challenge,” says Jigyasa Chaturvedi, Founder of 82ism. Why do I say this – the cost of building technology is significantly lower and the next new solution is right around the bend. In that landscape, thinking 10 steps ahead of the competition is key and being able to imagine solutions that will enable outcomes is key to winning that race. Hence the challenge is to move quickly, be nimble and agile, obtain proof quickly and pivot.”

3. Balancing security with accessibility

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“The biggest challenge for CIOs and IT leaders in 2018 is the strategic protection of PII and data for their enterprises,” says Ray McKenzie, Founder and Principal of Red Beach Advisors. “The well-publicized increase in security breaches and vulnerabilities within companies is extremely damaging to companies, executives, and their customers. The decrease in trust by customers in these companies and the loss in value of companies is something that must specifically be up front for CIOs and IT leaders to address. IT leaders must place a strategic focus and budget money to address protecting their company information. Data protection specifically around security events and vulnerability awareness will be at the forefront of technology and cybersecurity strategies in 2018.”

You can’t write about CIO challenges in 2018 and ignore security. With massive data breaches occurring on a regular basis, I don’t think any CIO will ignore security in the coming year. This hopefully doesn’t catch any CIO or IT Leader by surprise.

However, I want to take this one step further. The challenge facing CIOs in 2018 isn’t just security, it’s how you handle security. The real challenge is delivering strong security while maintaining agility and data access. It’s about securing data in a way that doesn’t hinder the business or harm accessibility.

“As an IT leader, I think the biggest challenge going into 2018 is how to successfully prepare for and defend against cybersecurity attacks while at the same time ensuring systems are fast and responsive to users’ needs,” says Bob Herman, Co-Founder & President of IT Tropolis. “We need to protect businesses in the cloud, at the network gateway and within the internal network. Many different approaches and services exist for protection. I think the trick is to design the appropriate defense based on the needs of each business, so while one design might be appropriate for Business A, that same design may handcuff users in Business B.”

4. Finding the appropriate talent

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the massive growth of new technologies. Areas like machine learning, AI, data science, etc… have now become important skills in the business world.

As a result, more businesses face an IT skills gap–a shortfall between the supply of qualified IT professionals and the necessary IT skills.

How bad is it? The research firm, Forrester, found that while 75% of businesses have a digital strategy, only 16% claim to have the skills to deliver it. Another study finds that a whopping 93% of businesses indicate they’re facing a skills shortage.

The big challenge facing CIOs: Address this skills gap while staying current with the ever-changing tech trends. After all, your business won’t stop and wait while you fix the skills gap. The competition won’t take a timeout while you search for modern skills. You must bridge the IT skills gap while operating at full speed.

“Finding enough qualified people to handle the new technological challenges of data science, machine learning/AI presents an increasingly important issue,” says PK Agarwal, CEO and regional dean of Northeastern. “First, data must be handled ethically and in a socially meaningful context in respect to our global humanity. However, to accomplish this you must need be a change agent. Therefore, hiring data scientists and experts in machine learning/AI presents a special challenge in that you must unearth individuals that not only possess a hard STEM background but also have the soft relational skills necessary to navigate ethical issues. In a recent Northeastern University-Silicon Valley survey we found surprising insights about the skills gap challenge. According to 38% of those surveyed, data aggregation and analysis ranked as the biggest challenges. However, the career strength chosen as most relevant for success was the need for communications skills, including an ability to explain ideas or concepts clearly and effectively. In essence, the key enabler of an environment for data to thrive rests upon people connecting, conversing and relating to data in a very human way, this is where the focus will be for 2018 and beyond.”

5. Merging old and new

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I didn’t include “digital transformation” on this list, because I feel like it’s a project that’s underway in most businesses.

A recent survey from Gartner finds that nearly half of all businesses have begun a digital transformation project. Another study finds that 55% of companies without an existing digital transformation program say the timeframe to adopt one is a year or less.

However, CIOs and IT leaders will face a growing challenge in their digital transformation journeys: Merging legacy technologies with modern technologies.

“I believe one of the biggest challenges that CIOs and IT leaders face going into 2018 is to strike a balance between choosing the dependability of mature technologies vs the sexy advantages that the newer technologies provide,” says Jay Akin, CEO of Mushroom Networks, Inc. “Especially when it relates to security, the balance becomes critical.”

What can you do? In some cases, it will make sense to replace them. In other cases, it will make sense to keep your system, and “extend and surround” it with modern applications. In still other cases, you might come to the conclusion to keep things as-is. It all depends on your business.


These are just a few big challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in the coming year, but the list could certainly be longer. Would you add anything to this list? If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “5 big challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2018

  1. Where AI lands on a CIO’s priority list depends on the company’s industry, financial resources, technical skills, and strategy. But CIOs delay investing in AI at their peril. All other competitive factors being equal, if you don’t at least get acquainted with AI-based business technologies, he says, you’re “going to be the guy at the gun fight with a knife

  2. That’s true. It’s tough to maintain stability in IT industry. Leaders are facing strong competition specially those business who are depended on online customers. Every time they have to be alert from crappers & have to be refreshed with services & market demand.

  3. I value articles like this one as they do paint the challenges CTO and CIO leaders face. The choices and rationale leans more to the tech side, which is what got tech firms in big problems as the real key to transformation is enabling and engaging our business humanity. I spent 24 years evolving in HP, then Agilent and Keysight while being very familiar with the workings of Dell, IBM, Microsoft and Tektronix to name a few. My core job was marketing and brand, but I left my design comfort zone to get beyond the discipline as defined by others, to move around HP’s internal and external ecosystem to round out my understanding of business usual and then apply a higher level conscious design to earn credibility, trust, inclusion and uncanny relevance. IT NEVER FAILED to rally global employees, channels, markets and their influencers. Contrast that with Gallup revealing only 15% of global employees today are emotionally connected. When I studied, advanced and applied systems thinking, the revenues and transformed teams remain unprecedented today.

    I spent two years defining a human-centric yet tech enabled transformation solution that we are weeks away from helping companies over $50M in revenues to align to the value tenets driving change today. We may even go back to HP and others to apply this and win back their coveted leadership position. All businesses are only touching the surface today, while markets were ready as far back as 1990 when I started this.

    This is not about me; it’s about a more enabled us and how technology – when connected to a greater purpose, culture, system accountability and enablement can indeed live up to its promise. But having done it repeatedly and across an infinite array of applications, it is my hope to find a large serious player that gets it, but not in the depth that I do from firsthand and future now experience. Imagine younger gens wanting to work at large companies. Today most want to avoid them and be in an entrepreneurial environ. Our solution greatly increases innovation, culture, new skills, ideation, revenue growth, and internal and external regard across the ecosystem.

    Happy to chat if someone seriously interested in what has eluded most or all till now.

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