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 is Chief Strategy Officer of ISG, Partner of ISG Americas Consulting and a member of the ISG Executive Board (IEB). He was named to the IEB in January 2023. Prashant was appointed Chief Strategy Officer in 2018, responsible for developing the firm’s three-year strategic blueprint, and he was instrumental in the development of our highly successful ISG NEXT operating model in 2020.

In January 2023, he was named to the expanded role of Partner, Americas Consulting, bringing together all our advisory capabilities in the region to support our commercial and public sector clients in response to the growing convergence of digital technology and enterprise operating models, business processes and revenue-generating connected products and services.

Prashant joined ISG in 2012 from Accenture, initially working for our DACH business and based in Germany. He moved with his family to the United States in 2018. Prashant earned his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and a BE in electronics from Bangalore University in India.

Ola Chowning

Ola Chowning

What she does at ISG

Ola is a passionate thought leader in emerging delivery models that contemplate the rapidly changing technology landscape. She advises organizations in the opportunities related to emerging technologies, digital transformation, provider ecosystems, new ways of working, and the culture of product-oriented delivery. Ola is fluent in Adaptive Organizations, Digital Strategy, Sourcing, Enterprise Agility, DevOps, Cloud and modern architectures, helping clients evolve their technology landscape, operating models and cultures. Ola is ISG's Digital Lead for North Europe and a member of the European Leadership Team.

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.