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Top 11 challenges facing CIOs in 2021 (and how to solve them)

12 minutes

It's a great time to be a CIO.


2020 has brought technology to the forefront as the pandemic forces organizations to take the plunge towards remote work, remote serving, accelerated cloud, and SaaS adoption. 


Now, more than ever, CIOs are focusing on revenue generation, improving customer acquisition and retention through technology, while at the same time streamlining backend operations with automation is becoming one of the primary focus areas of technology leaders. Digital transformation has been accelerated to an unprecedented pace.


This year has also been full of challenges and paradigm shifts. Canceled events and conferences, rapid transition to remote work, and a spike in BYOD use, growing cybersecurity risks make it so much harder to successfully implement new initiatives.


As we are approaching the end of the year, what does the foreseeable future hold for CIOs? Which paradigm shifts are coming, and which tools are worth it for CIOs to invest in today? Well, here are the top 11 challenges CIOs will face in 2021.


Management responsibilities and complications


1. Slashed budgets

Budgetary planning for 2021 is in full swing, as many organizations are seeing the impact of COVID-19 on their IT priorities and tech spends. 


According to a recent TechRepublic Premium poll, 62% of survey respondents will tighten their 2021 IT budgets due to COVID-19.


In terms of how COVID-19 will affect IT priorities, the focus is shifting towards enabling remote work, with 26% of respondents reporting that they will spend more on technologies that will allow employees to work from home. 19% said most of the IT staff would work from home permanently, making work from home a permanent fixture in 2021 and beyond.


Security is also on everyone's mind, with 22% of respondents planning to spend more on security. 


And, perhaps the most crucially, 17% of technology leaders will postpone any significant projects.


This last point is probably the most crucial one, especially in digital transformation financial services and insurance industries. Many organizations have been investing in digital transformation initiatives that have now ground to a halt due to shifting priorities, a lack of funding, and constrained resources.


2. Managing the digital workforce

Managing a distributed workforce has a multitude of challenges. For one, BYOD and unsecured home networks expose organizations to threats; simultaneously giving employees access to all relevant applications and resources brings more complexity to IAM.


In 2021 most CIOs are likely to have three overarching priorities:


  1. Keep employees working
  2. Keep them safe
  3. Not bury the IT staff under a mountain of tickets


Removing the burden from the IT teams is probably the most crucial part of the CIOs 2021 plan. When everything hinges on technology, ensuring that the support staff is not overwhelmed and that the constrained resources are used efficiently is paramount for long-term success.


3. Ensuring digital collaboration

Why does remote work thrive in some companies and fails in others?


According to Sean Graber, it all comes down to three components: 

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • And culture. 


And while back in 2015 (when Sean's article was written), company executives could simply decide to abandon remote work if it didn't pan out (as Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo, did back in 2013,) 2020 left organizations no choice but to take the plunge towards the rapid transition to remote work.


So what can companies that don't have the perfect combination of the three Cs (communication, collaboration, and culture) do?


CIOs are well-positioned to ensure their organization's transition to remote work goes smoothly. Strong leadership and a sharp focus on people and processes, and not the technology, is key. 


4. Managing compliance requirements and data protection

Compliance and the regulatory landscape keep getting more complex every year, while fines for failing to adhere to an ever-growing list of regulations keep getting steeper.


The world of regulatory compliance is complex and requires a systemic framework to identify and deal with risk.


Frustrating pain points


5. Integration headaches

Enterprises usually have a very complex set of requirements when it comes to integrations. A whole industry offers centralized integration platforms that allow organizations to connect SaaS enterprise applications and automate business processes quickly.


Integrating legacy applications and old-school ERP, CRM, and other legacy enterprise systems with modern customer-facing apps is an enormous challenge.


6. Lack of agility

Moving quickly is a requirement to drive competitive advantage in the digital world. CIOs can no longer afford to stick to projects for 6-12 months. New digital offerings must be deployed to production quicker than ever.


7. The slow pace of digital transformation

Enterprises are notorious for moving slowly. But 2020 has forced many organizations to reexamine the pace of their digital transformation initiatives.


Making the user experience the main priority


8. Prioritizing user experience (internal)

As employees are transitioning en-masse to remote work, employee experience with the tools they use to accomplish their daily tasks becomes strategically important.  


COVID-19 has forced many organizations to plunge into remote work virtually unprepared. Accelerated SaaS adoption, increased use of BYOD, and the relaxation of security control enable remote productivity to increase risks significantly.


But stringent security measures mean a bad user experience, and CIOs need to find the right balance between the two.


Besides, manual processes and workflows are no longer feasible for many organizations. 


Automation and digital transformation initiatives that used to be put on the back burner are now quickly spun up and finished in a hurry, often leaving much to be desired when it comes to employee experience with those tools.


9. Prioritizing customer experience (external)

Regardless of the time and resource constraints, and no matter the channel, your customers expect the best possible customer experience. As digital media become critical for organizations' bottom line from virtually any sector, a focus must be on personalization, testing, and quick iteration.


Accelerating release frequency, testing results, and improving user experience on an ongoing basis is something CIOs in any organization must think about.


10. Securing and training IT talent - the skill gap

New initiatives often take anywhere between 6 and 12 months to complete when it comes to traditional enterprise IT. One of the reasons for this is that everything hinges on the already overburdened IT teams. And hiring new talent is expensive, and IT experts are difficult to come by as competition for talent becomes ever more intense.


11. Reframing the role of the CIO

Business leaders are now asking CIOs to drive competitive advantage for the business. CIOs must shift their focus from a tunnel vision focus on tech to focus on revenue and growing the bottom line. 


By acknowledging that CIOs' role has changed, CIOs can create more digital customers for their organizations.


And innovative CIOs are rising to the challenge by focusing on generating revenue rather than just cutting costs. Revenue growth is supported by continuous improvement - seeking ways to continually improve rather than deploying and moving on to the next project. 


The focus on the external customer journey, rather than focusing narrowly on internal stakeholders, is essential to hit the revenue targets for 2021. 


This evolution of responsibilities requires both a 180-degree shift in mindset, and in 2021 we will see IT cultural transformation emphasizing speed, innovation, and revenue generation.


Solving CIO challenges with no-code development

There is no magic pill to solving all the challenges listed above. CIOs must be creative and innovative while juggling a large number of responsibilities and challenges. But I will argue that transitioning specific tasks to no-code tools can help technology leaders build better solutions faster, improve customer and employee experience and stretch internal resources.


Investing in no-code tools can help CIOs achieve their ambitious goals when it comes to digital transformation. By amplifying existing resources, no-code development tools help achieve more with less.

Here is why enterprise leaders should seriously consider adding no-code development tools to their tech stacks in 2021.


Agility and time to market

CIOs are tasked with driving the competitive advantage, speed, and time to market are becoming a significant component of the success of technology projects. Quick implementation, smooth integration, and simplified maintenance are becoming strategically important. 


Amplifying IT resources

No-code tools alleviate the pressure from already overburdened IT teams. CIOs can achieve much more than they previously considered possible by empowering other teams to create digital applications.


Empowering remote work

No-code tools are a great asset when it comes to setting up collaboration between teams. By allowing the stakeholders to build their applications, CIOs can unleash the productivity held up by usual development paradigms that firmly sit with IT teams.


One of the main challenges with remote work and remote servicing is the difficulty of ensuring that collaboration between teams, departments, and employees keeps working. Paradoxically, by removing the burden from the IT teams as the only provider of innovation and technology, collaboration can strive.


Managing risks

CIOs can remove the burden from their organizations by ensuring that some of the compliance and security overhead is offloaded to vendors and service providers. By employing no-code solutions that are already compliant with regulations instead of building homegrown tools is one way CIOs can reduce compliance risks.


Better customer experience, in a fraction of the time

In 2021 the focus is on the people, not the technology. Prioritizing the needs of your employees and your customers, ensuring state-of-the-art digital experiences, and rapid response to market changes are underscoring the growing popularity of no-code development in enterprise IT.


CIOs don't need to give up digital transformation due to budgetary concerns when it comes to transforming customer-facing processes that are still reliant on paper and PDFs.


A no-code platform empowers organizations to efficiently transform external customer journeys quickly and at a fraction of the cost.


CIOs are facing tremendous challenges ahead of 2021. No-code can solve many of them.

Dore Dadon

Dore Dadon is the Marketing and PR Manager at EasySend. She is the primary contact for all external communications and works hard to increase EasySend's brand awareness while also covering all the latest InsurTech and digital customer experience trends.