How CIOs Can Hold on to their New Pandemic Power


When the entire world switched overnight to remote work in March 2020, the one role in the organization that truly made it happen was the CIO.

Sure, we had to get past the initial issues with VPN access and Team/Zoom setups, but once we did, we looked at our work and realized in a new way how critical technology is to our overall operations. Over the first nine months of the pandemic, organizations made three years’ worth of progress in the areas of e-commerce and supply chains. Curb-side pickups had to be coded with the backend fulfillment. All this progress was related to technology.

And, in organizations where it all happened without negative impact on daily operations, the CIO was the hero of the story.

Embracing Continuous Transformation

The pandemic taught enterprises three things:

  1. We don’t need detailed, large-scale plans to make things happen – this is what it means to be “agile.”
  2. We can carry out large-scale transformations in a continuous manner.
  3. We need to implement and execute by learning from vendors and partners – who themselves are learning from their leading-edge clients – and not pretend like we have all the answers and meet all the requirements.

As the U.S. economy recovers from COVID-19, transformation programs are roaring back. Manufacturing companies, for example, are reasserting their digital thread and digital twin agendas. Some are moving to manufacturing cloud programs that stalled during 2020.

There is one key difference. Pre-COVID, these programs would be large-scale transformations with detailed requirements. Post-COVID, these programs have shifted into continuous transformation with agile budgeting; no one is pretending to have all the answers. And partners and technology platforms are part of the co-creation. Done right, this means companies can learn from the best as a byproduct of their partnerships.

The reality is, the world has gotten more complex, and the single system integrator model no longer works. A retail enterprise we supported through IT transformation chose three niche vendors and a technology platform and changed its requirements throughout the process. Still, it was able to achieve its goals six months ahead of schedule.

There is no question continuous transformation introduces a new degree of complexity – and CIOs are suddenly finding themselves in the driver seat with the ability to execute and the partner relationships with which to execute. This is a golden opportunity. CIOs who take advantage of the moment will find themselves back at the table.

How to Make the CIO’s New-found Power Last

For a CIO to secure and maintain their new-found power, they should ensure two key dynamics:

  1. Rethink how you finance projects: On the whole, project financing – capital allocation, amortization, budget earmarking, budget spending, annual cycles – has not yet caught up with the new enterprise agility. We have helped three clients build bridges between the world of agile transformation and the world of capital allocation. Industry nuances also make a difference. The role of OpEx in a telecom, for example, is different than that of a bank. The CIO understands both the business and the technology should work to build these bridges. This will elevate the CIO and IT above being just another line in the budget.
  2. Manage the change: Organizational change management (OCM) has been hyped over the last few years – spawning multiple OCM consulting firms with change management frameworks. Change without context almost always fails. Changing an IT organization is different than changing a supply chain organization; running a change program without understanding the technology implications is dangerous. The CIO brings all three ingredients – an understanding of the stakeholders, the context of the business and the role technology can play. The chance to join the table and invite stakeholders to it might not come again for years. Those who seize this opportunity will catapult their own careers and their organizations, too.

ISG works with CIOs across industries to embrace continuous transformation and seize the opportunity for growth. Contact us to find out how we can support you.


About the authors

Prashant Kelker

Prashant Kelker

Prashant Kelker leads ISG’s Digital Advisory Services and is the Chief Strategy Officer of ISG. He offers ISG’s clients 21 years of experience in Technology Strategy & Management. He works with enterprises to shape their operating models for a digital journey and brings 25 years of expertise in all aspects of applications and platforms, from designing transformations through the whole sourcing lifecycle. Prashant’s experience spans a range of industries, including Financial Services, Telecom and Media, Automotive and Utilities, and a range of geographies, including Europe, the Americas and India. Recently, he helped a Fortune 50 industrial manufacturing giant define its enterprise wide Digital Thread strategy. He has helped firms consolidate next-generation sourcing for applications, and execute digital transformations. His experience spans from leading core software product development to delivering IT services for application portfolios both onsite as well as offshore – which he combines this with digital trends to bring thought leadership to his engagements.

Ola Chowning

Ola Chowning

What she does at ISG

Ola Chowning is thrilled to solve her clients’ complex business problems with technology—truly. Whether it’s time to dramatically change your entire business model or respond to rising competitive pressures, she takes what could be a daunting process and molds it into an exciting journey, ultimately helping you transform your business and better connect you with your customers.

Past achievements for clients

In her positions as digital lead for North Europe as well as a firm partner, Ola expands the reach of ISG’s enterprise and digital solutions. But these roles also allow her to impart to her clients tried-and-true advice based on years of experience as both a technologist and service provider. At times, Ola may point you in a faster, more rigorous direction than you were anticipating—simply one of the many ways she relentlessly champions her clients’ technological evolutions across every industry.

Having never told a client to deploy something she wouldn’t do (or hasn’t already done) herself, Ola’s goal-oriented gusto has resulted in many successes for her clients:

  • She advised a partially transformed logistics company (that had a pervasive, costly architectural sprawl issue) to create standards, guardrails and integrated roadmaps to promote efficiency and velocity using what was currently working well. Ola helped spark synergies among the teams impacted, and in only eight weeks, teams saw as much as a 200% increase in their throughput.

  • On a tight deadline and limited budget, she applied Agile and modern delivery model principles to convert a brick-and-mortar's business model (with legacy systems and cumbersome practices that were seemingly incompatible with a more collaborative way of working) into a modern digital setting.