CEOs’ top priorities for IT leaders today – CIO

Lawrence Bilker can easily articulate the business values that his IT initiatives should deliver: better experiences for both employees and customers, more insights from data to enable smarter decision-making, and more intelligence for improved operations.
Overall, IT projects are meant to create a leaner, more profitable company, says Bilker, CIO of manufacturer Lift Solutions Holding.
To do that, Bilker and his IT team are bringing its disparate data sets together in a data lakehouse. That move, in turn, boosts the company’s automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence goals by delivering the high-quality data that those technologies crave — thereby improving both decision-making capabilities and user experiences.
“We know what we’re trying to achieve, because we know the business goals and objectives,” We want to grow substantially, and we want to do that with speed,” says Bilker, whose clarity on IT’s business objectives mirror the top directives CEOs are giving their CIOs, according to the 2024 State of the CIO Study from Foundry, publisher of CIO.com.
The study identified the top CEO priorities as, among others, leading digital transformation, reducing security risk, strengthening collaboration with executive colleagues, and implementing AI.
Tech leaders and executive advisors say most CIOs would not be surprised by this list. In fact, they say CIOs have been focused on these objectives in recent years, noting that only their order changes from year to year.
Foundry / CIO.com
However, they do see in 2024 some new components: a deeper understanding from the CEO and other C-suite leaders about how integral technology has become for achieving organizational objectives; how each of these objectives is intertwined with the others; and — perhaps most important — how IT and the organization’s strategies should not just be aligned but one and the same.
“I believe we’re in a post-alignment world. Corporate and IT strategy are one, and technology is the tool to deliver strategic objectives. CEOs increasingly know and understand that,” says RJ Juliano, senior vice president, CIO, and chief marketing officer of Parkway Corp., a real estate and parking investment, development, and operations company.
The priorities at Juliano’s company mostly match those identified by the survey.
For example, his company has prioritized delivering superior customer experiences. That, he says, comes from the executive team’s recognition that there is an ever-accelerating rise in user expectations. In response, Juliano says his IT team — which includes a director of customer experience, a role added three years ago — is tasked with continually improving experiences by integrating with key partners and taking advantage of new technologies.
That work also ties into another CEO priority: growth as the company competes in both the B2B and B2C space.
“You now have an increasing number of products enabled by tech, and customers expect digital experiences, AI-driven experiences, and [employees who serve them] to be heavily augmented by digital tools,” Juliano explains. “And CEOs are looking to CIOs to create those products.”
The company, which started more than a century ago with a single parking lot in Philadelphia, now has its own platform supporting mobile reservations and payments and uses license plate–recognition technology to create a modern, user-friendly parking process.
Juliano says that CEO expectations have reshaped some of his CIO duties, noting that he now spends “more time working with app developers and customers and finding industry partners.”
“It creates more emphasis on 365-degree relationship management, particularly with external partners and vendors and with customers,” Juliano says. “Even my CIO peers without the CMO role are developing closer relationships with customer-focused executives and expecting their teams to do so, too, because customer experience is so important for companies today.”
Those duties are, not surprisingly, in addition to all the other fundamental ones expected of a CIO, such as ensuring that the company has a reliable, agile, and secure IT environment, as well as a robust, well-governed data program.
Although most CEO priorities for CIOs look familiar, CEOs added a new objective to the 2024 list: AI, which debuted at No. 3, according to the State of the CIO survey.
In contrast, CEOs didn’t even list AI in their top 10 priorities for CIOs in 2023.
Other reports also highlight the strong CEO interest in AI.
The Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2024, which surveyed 1,200-plus global executives, found that investing in AI is a top strategy for enabling long-term revenue growth, innovation, and digital transformation. (The other key strategies are investing in new lines of business; marketing and promotions; and upskilling and retaining existing talent.)
“Everybody is talking about AI and more specifically generative AI, how much of an investment they’re going to make in these, and whether they’re going to buy tools or get involved in their own development. But where the puck is moving to is really around business use cases and identifying use cases where they will see value from their AI investments,” says Dera Nevin, a data lawyer, information risk management expert, and managing director in the technology segment at FTI Consulting.
Nevins says many companies have struggled to articulate anticipated ROIs from their AI investments, even those investments that leverage AI tools built into existing enterprise software. And many aren’t seeing returns after adopting AI.
CEOs today are getting stricter around their AI initiatives in response, she says. They’re asking CIOs to work with project sponsors on the business side to calculate and prove out anticipated ROIs as they develop AI initiatives; it’s no longer about experimenting and testing for learning’s sake.
“I do see companies having more conversations about AI and adjusting expectations as they make investments to take advantage of the benefits that AI brings,” she says. “I see it as a maturation of understanding of the capabilities and the ongoing rate of investments required.”
Bilker’s approach to AI projects at Lift Solutions illustrates those points. He is working with his colleagues to incorporate AI into business processes, focusing on practical applications that will yield measurable returns — rather than chasing after ideas “that may turn into nothing.”
He adds: “We want to make sure we are clear about what we’re trying to achieve by identifying goals, objectives, and timelines.”
As is the case with the other priorities CEOs listed for their CIOs, the C-suite drive for AI use cases is really about staying competitive, says Jay Shan, an assistant professor of information systems and analytics at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business.
“For most CEOs it is about innovation and growth; that’s why CEOs are looking to get into this game as soon as possible,” he says.
AI and other top CEO priorities don’t displace the fundamentals CIOs are expected to deliver — flawlessly.
In fact, CEOs are asking even more from CIOs on that front, as enabling other CEO priorities — such as using AI for business gain — amp up the focus that CIOs must put on conventional IT responsibilities such as modernizing and securing IT infrastructure.
“CIOs still have to focus on modernizing, shifting more to the cloud, fixing platforms that are still going down. Those things can’t just take a back seat now that gen AI is in play,” says Danielle Phaneuf, cloud and digital strategy operational model leader at professional services firm PwC.
Such expectations fit squarely with the No. 1 priority that CEOs have for their CIOs: leading digital business transformation.
Similarly, Phaneuf says the CEO focus on AI has heightened longstanding expectations that the CIO is deploying the needed technologies to safeguard data, meet regulatory privacy requirements, and protect critical systems.
CIOs, too, say CEOs are delivering that message.
For example, Goya Foods CIO Suvajit Basu says his chief executive recently sent him a news article about US FBI Director Christopher Wray warning about the cybersecurity threat posed by China and then asking for updates on the company’s own security posture.
“It’s top of mind for the CEO, so it’s at the top of my mind — and it has been top of mind for me for years,” Basu adds.
That’s not the only message CEOs are sharing.
CEOs are facing their own concerns about the economy, inflation, and higher interest rates. In turn, CEOs are letting their CIOs know that they need to keep costs in check — a message seen in the CIO.com survey, where reducing/rationalizing IT spending ranked sixth among CEO priorities for CIOs.
As Phaneuf notes: “Most CIOs are now under pressure to deliver more value from their spend.”
That’s not all, though, says Yang Shim, technology consulting leader with professional services firm EY Americas.
He sees CEOs also asking CIOs to educate and train employees on AI, and prepare them for the changes AI and other technologies will bring. Addressing diversity and equity within the IT ranks is another chief executive directive Shim sees on the rise for CIOs today, as is advancing the organization’s sustainability efforts by enabling applications that track and support ESG data and by devising green IT strategies.
Shim also notes CIOs’ need to strengthen their organization’s data infrastructure so it can glean more value from data as something CEOs continue to seek from IT execs today.
And he  predicts these areas will only become higher priorities for CEOs in the coming years — and thus higher priorities for CIOs, too.
“These may be topics where a CIO can work to get ahead now rather than wait,” he adds.
CEOs’ priorities for their CIOs demonstrate that the C-suite now knows that IT is instrumental for organizational success, experts say.
“CEOs today have a sophistication around understanding tech, and they are more technology literate than before,” PwC’s Phaneuf says. “They’re getting informed, and they know enough to ask the right questions. And it’s not just CEOs. It’s boards and all of the C-suite. They’re all becoming more tech literate and more tech savvy, and that has elevated IT.”
Phaneuf says CEO priorities for IT also demonstrate a recognition of how work in one area of technology enables others.
It’s no surprise then, she says, that CEOs’ No. 1 mandate to for CIOs to lead digital transformation. More and more CEOs understand that they need a modern IT environment if they want to adopt AI, rationalize IT spend, and implement modern security protocols.
Likewise, CEOs realize they need AI to enable differentiating customer experiences, she adds.
At the same time, Phaneuf says CEOs want CIOs and their business colleagues to be strong collaborators (No. 3 on the State of the CIO list) so that together they can identify use cases where technologies will deliver demonstrative value and “to make sure that business-embedded technology is accreditive, that it adds to the business versus distracts from it.”
“CEOs are asking CIOs to modernize, to get rid of tech debt, to get data in shape, to work with others, because they know if they don’t do all that, they cannot innovate and adopt new technologies,” Phaneuf says. “It’s about the ability to be as nimble and agile as others in the market.”
Mary K. Pratt is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.


Leave feedback about this

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Service
Choose Image