CIOs’ Top Priorities For 2021 Include Digital Defense, Data Mining And Distributed Work
Last year was an annus horribilis for most business executives, but for CIOs the dark cloud of economic chaos had a distinctly silver lining. The response to the pandemic highlighted just how central technology—and the teams that shape and manage it—have become to companies’ fortunes. By tapping cloud computing, mobile platforms and other capabilities, CIOs helped millions of people shift to remote work almost overnight and quickly built a plethora of new digital commerce channels to keep companies connected to their customers.
Their efforts enhanced tech leaders’ role as key strategic players in the C-suite and now they’re aiming to build on this success. Several top CIOs shared their 2021 priorities with Forbes and they include ambitious plans for everything from software-driven automation to mining deeper insights from data.
On the defensive
The priority cited most often, though, was cybersecurity. The SolarWinds Orion hack, which has seen attackers compromise network-management software at multiple U.S. government departments and access code at businesses such as Microsoft, is a stark reminder of the risks associated with relying heavily on technology.
“Given the heightened awareness of cyber crimes, continuing to protect and strengthen [our] information security posture and procedures are of utmost importance,” said Kathy Alexion, CIO and vice president of information technology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Like Alexion, Kim Hales, senior vice president, IT at Texas-based NRG Energy, also highlighted digital security as a top priority. Last year, the company paid $3.6 billion to acquire another business, Direct Energy, and Hales and his team are now having to protect an expanded range of systems. “With more threats than ever, this will continue to be a large focus…as we integrate Direct Energy as quickly as possible to reduce our risks,” he said.
Hales highlighted data mining as another key priority. NRG Energy, which has a $9 billion market cap, recently hired its first dedicated senior head of data analytics to create a more integrated approach to managing its information assets. Even companies with a long history of data mining plan to step up their game in 2021. “One of the things we’re focused on is automating underwriting,” said Neal Sample, CIO of insurer Northwestern Mutual, The company aims to use AI and other technologies to capture and integrate an even wider set of data as part of its decision-making processes.
Like other CIOs, Sample also intends to drive even better digital experiences for customers, whose expectations are now shaped by digital-native companies such as Apple and Amazon. “They have absolutely raised the bar on what good looks like,” he said. Northwestern Mutual recently rolled out a new digital questionnaire to make it easier for people to share medical data with it as part of a broader user-experience strategy.
Pretty much all of the CIOs Forbes spoke with noted that supporting remote workers would still be a top priority this year. As vaccines become more widely available, a growing number of them will also be involved in plans to bring lots of employees back to company sites safely.
Sandeep Davé, chief digital and technology officer of $20 billion market cap CBRE Group, which manages close to 7 billion square feet of space, has already been thinking hard about how to do this. Davé said one of his priorities in 2021 is to further develop services such as Host, a platform that lets workers use a single digital hub to check on things such as office cleaning schedules and the availability of socially-distanced hot desks.
Another of his priorities is to automate more processes using software. CBRE has already seen efficiency and productivity gains from its early efforts here, but Davé said it has “only scratched the surface” of what’s possible. Hales said he also intends to use robotic process automation and other methods to drive greater efficiencies across the newly enlarged NRG Energy.
While code can pick up some workloads, plenty of smart humans will still be needed to develop and deploy it. Attracting and retaining top talent will therefore remain a key goal for tech leaders this year, as will seeking a more diverse set of backgrounds in teams. Like many other CIOs, Fred Hutchinson’s Alexion said she intends to grow diversity, equity and inclusion awareness and programs as a key pillar of her 2021 plans.
This article originally appeared on forbes.com To read the full article and see the images, click here.
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