4 Major Trends on the Minds of CIOs in 2021

Written By: David Immerman
  • 6/22/2021
  • Read Time : 5 min

The MIT CIO Symposium is an annual conference where top industry and academic thought leaders come together to share knowledge and discuss emerging topics and trends. Given the tumultuous year we've all lived in 2020 and beyond, the symposium had a lot to cover.

One thing was crystal clear and reverberated in many ways: Companies are facing an increasing rate of change from market forces that impacts them on a daily basis.

Thematically, there were a few ways companies are overcoming this:

  • Gain competitive advantages by addressing business challenges at an unprecedented pace
  • Form a workforce-centric culture
  • Adapt business processes for agility
  • Capitalize on emerging technologies through well-planned and executed digital transformation strategies

There were also dozens of derivative sub-themes at multiple levels from the comprehensive Symposium content that we have distilled into four key findings.

1. The Workforce of the Future: The Most Critical Resource

Work unquestionably changed in dramatic fashion over the last 18 months for most of the workforce. Companies shifted to remote operating models out of necessity from the pandemic dictating accommodations to work tools and the workspace. The daily reliance on cloud-based platforms shifted organizations mindsets on these innovations and introduced the era of a hybrid model inclusive of a mobile workforce.

Companies are rapidly orchestrating plans for this shift to this hybrid work architecture, but the changing nature of work doesn’t end with this remote epiphany. Other trends including fostering a company culture, talent, shifts in jobs, automation and addressing societal happenings are placing the workforce as a prominent topic on CxO’s list of strategic items.

In a survey mentioned in the Building an Enterprise for the World Ahead session, ‘Lack of resources, capacity or talent’ and ’risk averse culture’ were the top two biggest challenges cited to enterprise digital business transformation. Companies implementing digital transformation have traditionally overlooked the potential impact on the workforce, which is critical for its adoption and success.

Viewing the workforce as a pivotal resource for optimization can drive CxOs to establish a culture that embraces change, recruit for value-added roles that support the organization’s core competencies today and in the future, and encourage growth through learning opportunities are a few methods that were mentioned.

Forward-thinking companies will align with people-centric best practices and place their workforce as their centerpiece of a digital transformation strategy.

2. Digital Transformation: From Silos and Spaghetti to Centralized and Digestible

Digital transformation continues to have a makeup of leaders and laggards, but this mix shifted rapidly from the latter to the former in the past year or so.

In a survey conducted prior to the pandemic, over 50 percent of firms classified their DX as lagging or being in ‘Silos and Spaghetti’. While this may sound like delicious and exclusive Italian cuisine, the measurable negative impact on net profits is likely distasteful for many characterized in this group. It means the respondent’s company’s DX programs are largely decentralized, unstructured, deprioritized, or non-existent, attributing to associated poor financial performance.

This digital laissez-faire mindset changed seemingly overnight with COVID-19 severely challenging business continuity. Over 90% of companies are at some point in the digital transformation journey and most have had to shift projects to more mature stages out of necessity.

CxOs shifting DX from siloed to centralized came with learnings of success, including aligning projects to business goals, focusing on a few high-value use cases, partnering with digital-native software providers with robust technology ecosystems, and internally allocating resources for program governance to ensure its structure, longevity and success.

3. Emerging technology: From Disrupted to Disruptor

The view of emerging technologies by enterprises is that they were largely a disruptive threat, not a resource to leverage for innovation. This is clearly changing as organizations are turning to emerging technology to disrupt their own markets through product and service differentiation, reducing operational costs and benefitting other critical KPIs, and forming new business models.

Edge computing -- a decentralized architecture allocating compute resources closer to where the data is initially processed -- Is increasingly prominent for low-latency mission critical applications.

For example, National Grid is leveraging edge computing to detect anomalies from the massive volume of data from their transformers and better predict an assets lifecycle and health by understanding usage peaks and optimizing maintenance procedures.

CDM Smith – an engineering and construction company – is building CCTV cameras as an edge computing device equipped with artificial intelligence and computer vision, which can detect runaway drivers, erratic lane usage, and ensure safety in work zones.

Another emerging technology on display at the symposium was augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). CDM Smith is also leveraging this emerging technology for virtual design reviews and remote assistance with the Hololens. The benefits on AR/VR on education and training for hard skills today and potentially soft skills in the future was also mentioned to be 4x more efficient then current tactics.

Using emerging technology as a tool for disruption provides a promising path to compete in the digital era for industrial enterprises.

4. Cybersecurity: Forming Resilient Operations

Digital technologies unquestionably have benefitted organizations, and this was undeniably evident during the COVID-19 crisis. However, with the shift to remote work and the accompanying necessary adjustments to business process and policies, IT departments were scrambling to catch up and cybercriminals noticed; BT cited at the symposium that phishing attacks were up 600% and DDoS were up 500%.

Similarly, vulnerabilities in the supply chain are increasingly evident with minimal common systems between companies within it. The recent cyberattacks on US gas pipelines and meat processing facilities illustrated the weak points in legacy infrastructure and existing cybersecurity practices. These attacks also demonstrated their detrimental monetary impact on companies and the economic and societal impact on countries they can have.

While this may paint a bleak picture of the world there is hope; digital-native software providers are investing in the security of their products. Increasingly companies are opting to partner with these software companies for their modern cybersecurity technologies ranging from IoT to SaaS, versus attempting to build their own capabilities, which presents an array of risks.

Clearly investing in these partners with cybersecurity expertise will only increase as more companies see the impact in the news headlines and financial statements of those who did not.

Final Thoughts

These four major trends are undisputedly on the minds of every organization and each should resonate with current and future strategies. Whether you’re implementing edge computing or revamping your workforce training program, you’re changing at a rapid pace in parallel to the ever-changing business climate. Those who can quickly react and increasingly anticipate market conditions will be the next generation’s industry leaders.

  • Augmented Reality
  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • Digital Thread
  • Digital Transformation
  • SaaS

About the Author

David Immerman

David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.