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7 challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2020

EducationSummary: As technology evolves at an ever-increasing pace, it brings major challenges to the IT department. Modern CIOs and IT leaders must recognize and prepare for these challenges if they hope to remain competitive in the coming years. What challenges can we expect in 2020? In this article, we examine 7 challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders.

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What is the biggest enterprise technology trend right now? Is it artificial intelligence? Is it digital transformation? Cybersecurity? Internet of things?

The fact is, I’ve heard arguments made that each of those is the biggest trend. I’m sure there are other trends not mentioned that could lay claim to that title as well.

Now, I’m not trying to start an argument about trends. I bring this up to highlight an important point: We’re going through a fundamental shift in technology. Can you remember a time when we had so many disruptive technologies converging on the business world at the same time?

For the modern CIO and IT leader, these tech changes present both opportunities and challenges. As technology plays an increasingly important role in the business, CIOs and IT leaders have the opportunity to deliver more business value than ever. Successful CIOs are those that recognize and adapt to these evolving challenges.

What are these challenges? What areas must the CIO be prepared to address in the coming year? Today, let’s explore that topic. While the list could certainly be longer, we’ve compiled 7 of the most important challenges and outlined them below.

1. Finding (and retaining) talent with modern skills

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the massive growth of new technologies. Areas like machine learning, AI, data science, etc… are becoming 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.

“One major challenge for CIOs is attracting and retaining new talent,” says Vijay Kurkal, Chief Operating Officer at Resolve Systems. “According to Gartner, 63% of senior executives indicated that an IT talent shortage was a key concern for their organization, and this lack of skilled technical workers comes at a time when IT complexity is increasing exponentially and data volumes are exploding – all driven by digital transformation initiatives underpinned by understaffed IT departments.

Companies who want to survive and thrive are looking to new technologies like AI and automation to bridge the gap and gain a competitive edge. As we look to 2020, IT teams should expect to see increasing focus on intelligent automation and AIOps to help them address challenges introduced by digital transformation and to move closer to achieving self-healing IT.”

How can you address this challenge?
The most obvious answer is pay a premium for the best talent, or hire consultants with modern skills. Of course, not many companies can afford this option. How can you address the skills gap if you can’t afford to hire a bunch of new employees? Here’s an article that explores 6 ways to bridge the skills gap.

2. Protecting against the growing ransomware threat

photo credit: JavadR via pixabay cc

In case you’re unfamiliar, ransomware is exactly what it sounds like: Malware that holds your files ransom. In short, it encrypts files on the infected computer(s) or network, making them inaccessible. You’re forced to pay a ransom payment to restore file access.

The bad news: Ransomware attacks against businesses are on the rise.

Why? It’s lucrative. A recent survey found that 70% of enterprise ransomware victims paid the ransom. Attackers have realized that most businesses would rather pay the ransom than risk losing their files.

CIOs and IT leaders must approach ransomware with a proactive mindset. They can’t wait until it happens to make a plan. A ransomware strategy must be a top priority in 2020.

“The recent news cycle has been flooded with organizations from airlines to banks and hospitals, even entire local governments, falling victim to ransomware attacks,” says Alan Conboy, office of the CTO at Scale Computing. “Threats such as these are evolving at a horrific pace, and they will continue to become smarter, more lucrative and increasingly devious in 2020. So, to the organizations that think they can’t afford to modernize their infrastructure defenses, well, the truth is that they can’t afford to not do so.

As this malicious momentum snowballs into next year, businesses must realize that traditional legacy tools are not only slowing their digital journey down, but leaving them vulnerable to tactical and well-organized criminals. We will see organizations taking advantage of highly-available solutions, such as hyperconvergence and edge computing, that allow them to not only keep up with changing consumer demands, but deploy the most effective cyber defences, disaster recovery, and backup.

The way organizations approach the aftermath of data being corrupted will likely change too, as insurance companies will begin to take an active role, not just in the recovery of data, but in the decision making when it comes to whether or not to pay the ransom demand. The overall cost of doing business will rise in conjunction with the growing threat of cyber-attacks, and every business should be bracing themselves for the impact.”

How can you address this challenge?
First things first, you must eliminate a few common myths about cybersecurity that are outlined in this article. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business leaders dismiss cybersecurity threats because “they’re too small to be a target.”

Next, take the three-step plan to protect against ransomware that is outlined in this article: Cybersecurity measures, backups, and education. Each step is critically important. Don’t assume you’re safe because you have the best cybersecurity software.

3. Fostering innovation (while keeping the lights on)

Keeping the lights on

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.

The problem: That’s easy to say but hard to do.

We were at a CIO conference a few weeks back. We spoke with many CIOs about their goals and challenges. While I’m sure that most of them would love to innovate, it was rarely brought up.

What were they talking about?

They were talking about addressing urgent challenges with limited resources. They talked about meeting business needs quickly. They talked about specific solutions that they needed to deliver but lacked the resources to handle.

Innovation is great to talk about, but real life too often gets in the way.

From speaking with CIOs and IT leaders, I’ve learned that many are just trying to keep their heads above water. They’re bombarded with business requests. They’re tasked with keeping the business technology running. And now they’re asked to drive innovation.

The problem: Many don’t even have the resources to keep up with demand.

How can they drive consistent innovation while keeping up with business demand…all while using their existing resources? It’s one of the biggest challenges facing the modern CIO.

How can you address this challenge?
So, what can you do from a practical standpoint? Here are a couple of tips:

First things first, you need to implement technologies and processes that let you meet existing demand. You can’t drive innovation if you’re dealing with a massive backlog of business requests.

Give your team the tools they need to rapidly deliver business solutions. That’s one reason the low-code market is taking off. It helps CIOs and IT leaders meet business demands with their existing resources.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you can find more ideas for enabling the business in this article: CIO Strategies: 5 tips for enabling the business.

Secondly, create an innovation lab. Lots of businesses talk about innovation, but few actually make it a business function. What is an innovation lab? According to Gartner, “The creation of an innovation lab is a popular tactic among technology leaders to foster growth and promote new ideas. Whether a physical or virtual space, these centers are dedicated to helping a company stay on the cutting edge of its industry.”

Now, this doesn’t mean you need a physical structure or need to hire a bunch of new people. It can be a select group of people who regularly meet to discuss ideas that would help the business. Or, you could take Google’s approach and give employees a set amount of time to focus on new ideas. The main point is, you’re making innovation a business function rather than a nice buzzword.

4. Managing data security and consumer privacy

photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc

By now, you’re all familiar with GDPR. Back in 2018, the EU created a law to enforce European data protection & regulation rules, and the right to personal data protection. Not only does it apply to EU businesses, but any company that does business with EU citizens.

While GDPR was the first of its kind, many predicted that other countries would follow suit. Looks like they were right. Starting in 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect.

What is the CCPA? Often referred to as “GDPR-lite”, it’s a set of privacy regulations that applies to all California residents. I won’t get into all of the details, but here’s a link to the website if you’d like more info. In short, if your company does business with anyone who lives in California, it’s something you’ll need to prepare for.

But, more importantly, CIOs and IT leaders must treat this as the future. As data privacy becomes a bigger issue, other states will create their own legislation. In other words, strict data privacy regulations will soon become the norm.

This makes issues like Shadow IT and data security even more important. IT departments can’t afford to have data floating around that they can’t monitor. Businesses can’t afford to have sloppy data security habits in 2020 and beyond.

“More and more clients ask us how we ensure data security or approach us for advice regarding this critical issue,” says John Pennington, Chief Executive Officer of TEAM International. “The relatively recent introduction of GDPR, and the California Consumer Privacy Act soon to take effect, has made data security and customer privacy one of businesses’ top challenges and priorities worldwide. Organizations can face large fines and negative publicity if they are found in breach of the new regulations. It falls on the technology leaders to develop a framework for data that keeps companies compliant.”

How can you deal with this challenge?
Hopefully, your business already did most of the hard work when GDPR rolled around. If not, you must set up frameworks that provide complete data visibility throughout its entire lifecycle. You must know what data you’re storing, where it’s stored, how you obtained it, how it’s secured, etc… Going forward, the most important thing you can do is stay informed. We’ll see more and more privacy legislation crop up in the coming years. CIOs and IT leaders must understand what it is and how it impacts the business.

5. Connecting decentralized software

photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc

Cloud computing is a funny trend. I remember back when it first emerged. Experts and industry analysts crowned it as the next big thing. It was going to revolutionize business.

The problem: Adoption was slow. Concerned about security, many businesses avoided the cloud. It just didn’t grow as fast as the experts predicted.

Fast forward to the present, and it feels like the sentiment has completely changed. Cloud computing has largely shed its vulnerable image. These days, businesses are rushing to the cloud and SaaS offerings.

The rise of the cloud has fundamentally changed how businesses use software. They are moving away from monolithic software applications and towards a la carte offerings. Rather than purchasing a single solution for everything, they’re opting for SaaS offerings that serve specific functions.

As a result, the CIO’s focus is shifting towards integration. They must integrate disparate software applications across the business into one cohesive system.

“CIOs and IT leaders are struggling with aspects of the new, more decentralized world,” says Karl Mosgofian, CIO at Gainsight. “SaaS enables business units to operate independently of one another, but stitching it all together to make sure cross functional/cross application business processes flow smoothly, ensuring security governance and vendor management are all challenges we’re facing.”

How can you deal with this challenge?
How can the modern CIO tie everything together? The solution depends largely on the company and the software they already have in place. That being said, this really applies more towards future software purchases. Approach any new software from an integration standpoint. How well does it work with other software? Does it have an open API? These days, integration is a critical component of any enterprise software package.

6. Merging old and new

photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc

I didn’t include digital transformation in this article, as most companies are already working on it. According to Gartner, 82% of CEOs have a digital transformation or initiative, and 77% plan to increase investment in digital capabilities.

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

The fact is, many businesses still rely on legacy systems. Not all of these systems can be easily replaced. The challenge facing CIOs and IT leaders: How can you merge legacy and modern systems, without sacrificing function or security?

“Heading into a new decade, the gap between internal systems which may have worked well for the last decade, or even longer, aren’t relevant anymore,” says Patsy Nearkhou, Marketing Manager at Talkative. “For example, let’s take a contact centre environment. The IT Manager may have systems in place which are slick for their telephony or email workflows, but the modern customer demands more digital communications touchpoints between the company and themselves. So, IT departments are increasingly looking for new systems which fit the needs of the modern customer, but at the same time, don’t alienate customers who are used to the old processes. This is happening more often, across businesses of all size and industry.”

How can you address this challenge?
While modernization best practices vary largely by your needs, the “extend-and-surround” approach provides a great solution for merging old and new. It lets you build new features around your existing systems, giving you the option to keep what works and replace what doesn’t.

“To solve the problem, IT leaders need to find solutions which complement and work with their current systems,” explains Nearkhou. “Moving into 2020, the strategy will therefore focus more on integration or collaboration pieces, rather than ripping out full systems and migrating to a brand new setup. The challenge will be to weigh up exactly what to keep, and to be sure to not throw away the baby with the bathwater when replacing systems. Otherwise, customer satisfaction and CX will diminish and the company will ultimately suffer for it.”

7. Balancing governance with self-service

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In the past, the IT department governed technology and data access. They controlled which software made its way into the business, and who had access to that software. They were in charge of delivering new solutions to the business.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Self-service tools have exploded in the business world. More and more, business units purchase and use software on their own–behind the IT department’s back.

The problem is, this creates security risks. If employees (or entire departments) purchase and use third-party solutions, IT has no way of managing and securing that data.

Both the IT departments and the business leaders are realizing that neither option is good. The business can’t go back to waiting on IT for all technology needs, yet they can’t bypass IT altogether. How can CIOs balance security and governance with self-service?

How can you address this challenge?
What’s the answer? In the near future, we’ll see these two options merge into a controlled self-service approach. The job of the CIO and IT leader: Give users the self-service options they need while controlling data and user access. I won’t get into all of the details here, but you can read about it more in this article: How to deal with Shadow IT.


These are just a few challenges to address in the coming year, but the list could be much longer. Would you add anything to this list? Feel free to comment below!

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5 thoughts on “7 challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2020”

  1. Great article! Never has technology advanced at such a rapid pace. CTOs worldwide face incredible challenges in which systems to choose, and how to do that with less disruption as possible. How far they are able to achieve that will depend on close associations, both with talented employees as well as viable vendor partners.

  2. Your amazing blog article makes me want to personally meet and understand how you draw such valuable insights. Thank you for sharing this article.

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  4. Technology has been improving day by day at a rapid pace and the business and marketing strategies have been also changing accordingly across the world. There is a vast number of reasons why the business strategies should be done according to the new challengess! All the things should be performed under a lot of investigation and research about the marketplace on a specific business niche. However, what is the business niche, IT leaders and CIOs could take these challenges to give a new level through solving all the possible challenges in the respective marketplace. Every business owner should be careful of their IT-related issues for providing a great environment where their employees could perform all the responsibilities for the attainment of the companies goals and target. With the changes, every IT and CIO leader should be kept in updated with the latest trends in the current marketplace so that they could provide their best level of services for their clients. These 7 challenges are the most common scope where an IT leader could focus on improving their skills and knowledge at the first time, but its not the end! They should always keep up to date with the latest trends in the competitive marketplace. Thanks for sharing this post.

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