2020 was something of a wake-up call for small- and medium-sized businesses all over the world.
While digitization was a hot topic in any event, the pandemic and the lockdown measures that have taken place since have made it a top priority for SMBs, if not a necessity.
Gartner recently released their 14th edition of the CIO Agenda, a survey of nearly 2,000 CIOs across 74 countries.
We’re going to take a look at some of the key findings from the report, what they mean for SMBs, and what CIOs are doing to adjust to new challenges as we head into 2021.
CIOs Assume More Control of Key Projects
69% of boards report accelerating digital business initiatives in response to COVID-19.
The onset of the pandemic placed enormous responsibility on the shoulders of CIOs, many of whom rose to the challenge of equipping their businesses adequately to weather uncertain times.
As a result, CIOs have been able to see projects they’ve been asking for for years come to fruition in order to respond to difficulties brought by the pandemic.
Take the work-from-home situation, for example. Many forward-thinking companies had long established remote work practices and protocols before 2020 rolled around.
These same companies were able to transition to a fully remote workforce with relative ease, while digital transformation stragglers found themselves having to put together ad hoc tech stacks in limited time in order to keep operating.
In recognition of this, CIOs are now occupying a more pivotal role in the acceleration of digital transformation projects that can further necessary business initiatives as well as prepare for any future uncertainties.
Distinct Shifts In Funding
63% of enterprise businesses are shifting more of their budget towards IT projects in response to the pandemic.
2020 was a year that highlighted the importance of increasing funding for technology initiatives which are necessary for a company to be competitive and succeed in any business environment.
Nearly two-thirds of enterprise organizations are upping IT funding in 2021, correctly recognizing how crucial it is to get ahead of uncertainties and have the technology in place to deal them.
Interestingly, only 41% of what Gartner describes as “Trailing” businesses are shifting more investment into IT as a direct result of COVID, but almost all categories of businesses are increasing IT spend overall.
The indications are that while SMBs were (and continue to be) hit hard by the pandemic, it’s not the only factor determining IT investment; the consensus so far suggesting that rising tech investment is inevitable for all companies purely from a competitive and operational standpoint, regardless of the pandemic.
Emphasis On Improving Supply Chains
51% of CIOs reported a decline in the speed and efficiency of their supply chains as a result of the pandemic.
Supply chains have of course played a massive role for businesses during the course of 2020, and experiences SMBs had with their supply chains will inform their approaches in 2021.
While half of CIOs reported that their supply chains slowed, just 7% believe there will be a further decrease in 2021.
There is of course a recognition from many businesses that some things are out of their hands, but improving processes where they can through technology is a key priority.
Supply chains are no exception, and it’s one of the reasons 30% of CFOs say changing their supply chain strategies is now a top priority.
Technologies that incorporate end-to-end visibility and automation like a quality ERP system are helping businesses address these concerns, and that’s why many are using 2021 as the year to replace their legacy systems.
Responding to New Customer Demands
76% of CIOs report increased demand for new digital products or services during the pandemic.
It should come to the surprise of no one that 2020 didn’t just bring wholesale changes to business, but to customers, too.
As organizations continue to rely heavily on their existing customer base in order to succeed, what the customers themselves have come to expect from businesses has changed.
The mass shift to online business has put more emphasis on the quality of digital services and products provided by companies online, as well as additional scrutiny of things previously taken for granted.
The quality of a business’ website, for example, has become a focal point to consider.
Then you have the customer service aspect, where it’s now more important than ever to provide clients with a relationship that is personal and meaningful.
2020 has provoked acute anxieties in the minds of many customers, and this is reflected in their changing attitudes regarding organizations they do business with, as well as the increased attention from those businesses in providing great experiences.
81% of consumers say that they need to be able to trust the brand they are buying from.
To this end, we can expect to see more investment in technologies like CRMs as businesses look to leverage the valuable customer data they have to give themselves a competitive advantage through offering a superior customer experience.
CRMs can improve customer retention by up to 27% with the right strategy.
Changing How IT Operates Within the Business
70% of CIOs deepened their knowledge of specific business processes to advise their business.
One of the more intriguing (but not all that unexpected) changes we will see in 2021 is a shift in how IT operates within an organization.
While in previous years it has been the case that IT spent much of their focus on network and infrastructure management, more often we’re seeing that IT is being exclusively involved in digital transformation projects that have direct operational business outcomes.
79% of CIOs in businesses described as “Typical” (in their digitization efforts) by Gartner say that they are increasingly being asked by business leaders for higher-value, more-strategic solutions.
In other words, the rate of change of technology has dictated the growing importance of IT departments.
A common example of this are legacy applications which are no longer fit for purpose. In order to be competitive today, it’s vital that an organization has a competitive technology stack, and in this regard, IT is more important than ever in building a stack that can improve business operations for every department.
The Role of MSPs
As the pressure mounts on IT teams and CIOs to meet these modern challenges, managed service providers are playing an important role for many in ensuring it’s possible.
Businesses are more frequently seeing MSPs as a useful asset, primarily because they are able to handle the many different aspects of IT that SMBs are unable to accommodate with their existing teams.
Because of this, companies often outsource all of their IT to an MSP, or adopt a hybrid model, where network and infrastructure is outsourced while business operations—as it relates to IT—is kept in-house.
Outlook for 2021
It’s clear that 2020 has had a profound impact on CIOs and their agendas for 2021.
Whether it’s responding to customers, increasing funding, or taking a more direct role in their organization’s digital transformation efforts, we can expect to see them widen their responsibilities and remit as regards technology implementation in 2021.
Information for this article was from Gartner’s 2021 “CIO Agenda”. If you would like to download it, follow this link.
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