My 2024 CIO Playbook
If I were a CIO in 2024, here are the investments and bets I'd be making — and why I'd be making them.
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I hate my email feed at the end of the year because it’s filled with the two types of content I find the most meaningless: annual recaps and prediction pieces. Thankfully, I think we're mostly through that phase!
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Still, the wrapping up of one year and the fresh start of a new one invites reflection. And reflection is something I do believe is worthwhile.
This year, in particular, I found myself contemplating how I'd be looking at my 2024 plans if I were a CIO. It is an unquestionable period of change and disruption in the world of enterprise tech — a combination that always creates both risk and opportunity. So, I found myself contemplating all of this change from the perspective of what I would be doing if I were still running an IT organization.
As an industry analyst focused on digital transformation, let me share my perspectives on the bets and investments I’d be making in 2024 if I were once again in your shoes. These aren’t predictions, but they are based on my beliefs about what is happening, the pace of change you can expect, and the implications they may have on your current state and future ability to execute.
Shifting to a Capabilities-First Posture
My first course of action in 2024 would be a mental mindset shift. As I've spoken with executives over the last year, there's been plenty of talk (and debate) over things like whether or not you should be "cloud-first" or "SaaS-first" or other similar postures. While there's value in these sorts of positions, they remain technology-focused.
As a leader, you have only a few anchor positions that you can take that will resonate with your team. You can only rally them around one or two organizing principles that will guide day-to-day decisions. Therefore, I think it's critical that you focus on those that will create the greatest lasting impact and guide the greatest number of decisions.
Because of this, my focus in 2024 would be to become a capabilities-first organization.
I believe that the one thing we can be certain of over the next several years is that we will be living through a period of incredible — and unpredictable — change. But the key word there is unpredictable. Frankly, you can ignore most of those prediction pieces you read over the last few weeks. Things are changing so fast, it's very hard to understand which technologies (or even management practices) will have an appreciable impact and which will fade away.
As a result, the most important thing you can do is to focus on building sustainable capabilities that give your organization the ability to adapt, shift, and change as the unpredictability sweeps over your organization.
This capabilities-first posture would result in me focusing on three specific capabilities:
Building a Data-driven Culture
Embedding the employee experience and an adoption mindset into the operating management model
These three capabilities are very involved (in fact, I feel another article on these three capabilities coming in the near future!), but let me briefly explain them.
I've written about the power of a business architecture capability previously in the context of the architecture stack of the Digital Transformation Platform. When you build a business architecture capability you are creating the ability to understand your entire organization through a common, value-oriented lens and then rationalize activities and investments in the context of their overall impact to the organization's mission. This capability is the anchor that allows the organization to pivot and adapt without destroying itself — and it's virtually impossible to do effectively without a solid connection between the overarching business architecture and the technologies that support it.
If the rise of Generative AI has taught us anything, it is the supremacy of data in creating organizational value in the digital era. It was true long before the latest hype cycle, and it includes much more than just AI use cases. An organization's ability to leverage data, holistically and dynamically across the organization, will be inextricably linked to its ability to generate differentiated value. Everything from creating unique customer experiences, to improving automation-powered efficiency, to deploying AI will all require a disciplined ability to leverage data at scale and velocity. And, because the most powerful data in any organization is that which crosses functional domains, it will be IT's ability to marshal and foster this data-driven culture that will make all the difference.
An Employee Experience and Adoption Mindset
It may not feel it with the rash of layoffs last year and continuing in the first weeks of 2024, but the ability to attract and retain the right talent will remain a chief competitive driver as organizations become evermore reliant on data and the customer experience to compete. As a result, the ability to deliver and manage an employee experience that creates a positive relationship between the organization and the employee is essential. Moreover, there is ample data that now clearly shows the relationship between a positive employee experience and a better customer experience, improved efficiency, and increased productivity. Almost universally, a better employee experience is one that is streamlined and efficient, creating the proverbial win-win for IT leaders.
At the same time, the continually increasing rate of change means that those same employees are consistently struggling with adapting to new technologies. Creating an adoption mindset, ensuring that employees are learning, leveraging, and benefiting from new technologies, will become a critical capability that ensures your ability to continually adapt to market shifts. It also has the added benefit of protecting your massive investments in new technology.
Embrace a Hybrid IT Footprint Rooted in Two Estates: Effieciency & Innovation
Mindset. Check. That's the most critical place to start and will go a long way to moving the organization forward. But it's still a bit abstract. I'd be looking for a next layer of guidance to help my team understand how we should be operating on a day-to-day basis. I call this my organizational footing.
Here, I'd be rooting my organization — culturally and strategically — around two modalities: a hybrid model and a two-estate model.
Hybrid IT for the Foreseeable Future
The first, rooting to the concept of a hybrid IT operating model, is fairly straightforward. Amid all the talk about cloud-first, SaaS-first, and so on, one fact gets skipped: the vast majority of workloads are still running on legacy architectures, at least in part. Any organization that has been around for more than a decade almost certainly has significant parts of its technical operating model running on older technologies.
And while there is plenty of cause for IT leaders to be embarking on modernization efforts, for many of these workloads, the appropriate adage is, "If it aint broke, don't fix it."
The natural (and correct) result is that the vast majority of enterprise IT organizations will be operating in a we-run-it-all hybrid model for the foreseeable future. I don't expect this will change for at least the next decade — if not longer. Enterprises will run workloads on-prem, in co-lo facilities, in private clouds, in public clouds, on SaaS, and everywhere in between. You should considered it the de facto state and establish a footing that these various environments are neither good, nor bad.
But you and your team should also not consider them to be sacrosanct.
Just because a workload has always run in a certain environment doesn't mean you shouldn't move it — nor does it mean you should. In this semi-permanent hybrid IT world, every workload must be consistently evaluated for best fit and evaluated solely based on its characteristics.
Your Two Tech Estates
While a Hybrid IT footing is really about accepting the de facto state and embracing a workload-to-environment alignment perspective, the second footing will require a bigger shift.
Most IT organizations look at their tech stack through a single lens — it's all part of one big organizational mission. While that's true, it also belies the fact that an organization's mission is almost always complex and often at odds with itself. On the one hand, every organization is constantly looking to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Technology is, and has always been, a huge part of that process. In fact, I'd argue that technology-fueled efficiency has been IT's raison d'être.
But organizations are also fighting to create market differentiation in an ever-changing world — and looking to IT to deliver innovation that can shift the balance of power.
The challenge is that how you structure and operate a tech stack for efficiency — removing variability, focus on reliability — is vastly different from how you do so when you're focused on innovation, where it's all about speed and agility.
The result is that IT must operate two tech estates: one focused on efficiency and the other focused on innovation. They obviously need to exist cohesively as part of the larger whole, but it will be essential that your organization evaluate how you design, build, deploy, and manage the various components of these two estates from their respective perspectives.
Go All-In on Tech to Drive Competitive Advantage (and yes, this includes GenAI)
Beyond mindsets and posture, the business of IT remains technology. So what technology bets would I be making in 2024?
It would be a three-part bet:
I've been somewhat dismayed that many of the enterprise IT execs I've spoken with are putting little focus on in-house development capabilities. While I'm firmly in the camp of not wasting internal effort on commodity functionality (e.g., customizing a CRM, ERP, etc.), the fact remains that technology now drives competitive advantage — and you can't create it from out-of-the-box software.
The ability to deliver bespoke technology that moves the competitive needle for your organization should be a top priority — and that will mean that you invest in an in-house development capability. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to have an army of developers on-staff. You can achieve much of this capability using the ever-improving breed of no-code and low-code development platforms that allow you to both democratize development and get more bang for your development buck.
Likewise, the recent advent of development co-pilots using various forms of generative AI will allow you to extend your development productivity even further, making it easier to invest in this capability without breaking the bank. But whatever approach you take, the smart enhancement of your in-house development capability should be a foundational investment.
It will be hard to escape AI in 2024. However, the trick will be to not be an also-ran when it comes to how you apply it.
The starting point to leveraging AI to create an advantage will be to recognize that AI is not synonymous with Generative AI. While GenAI will unquestionably see exponential growth and improvement, its use cases in the enterprise will remain nascent and speculative. Its blackbox nature, security risks, and unpredictable penchant for hallucinations will demand a slow and cautious approach for most use cases.
But it will be the potential to mix GenAI with more established forms of AI that will likely present the greatest and most potent opportunities. I would be actively and aggressively looking for opportunities to harness the fascination with GenAI and mix it with more stable and mature forms of predictive and conversational AI to create breakthrough opportunities directly aligned with the organization's go-to-market value propositions.
There will also be ample opportunities to leverage AI and various forms of co-pilots to goose productivity gains. Those use cases will be well and good, but will also be insufficient (in most cases) to move the competitive needle and will likely result in hand-waving and disillusionment. Harvest productivity gains, but remain steadfastly focused on how you can leverage a mix of AI technologies to move the ball forward for your organization.
The last area of technology focus will be on those technologies that support specific organizational capabilities you are developing. For instance, if you do not already have technologies that support the development of a business architecture capability, that would be a place for targeted investment. Likewise for technologies that support the development of a data culture or the employee experience.
However, the capabilities that will move your organization forward are, by definition, unique to your organization. Understand those capabilities and then create a technology strategy that will enable them. The overarching focus should always remain on those capabilities that will drive competitive, differentiating value for the organization. Any investment in technologies that support those capabilities will always be a winning bet.
2024: A Tumultuous Year of Opportunity
I don't know that we've ever had a quiet, steady-as-you-go, year in the world of IT. Still, even by our chaotic standards, 2024 will likely be a tumultuous year for CIOs.
The volatility of the broader market, geopolitical instability, the rise of GenAI, and the continued disruption of traditional enterprises along multiple fronts will continue to put pressure on IT leaders to strike the ever challenging balance between leveraging technology to drive organizational efficiency and enable innovation that delivers competitive advantage.
As has been the case for some time, it will be no simple task.
Still, this year may represent one of the greatest opportunities for those IT leaders who can harness the power of technology to drive meaningful, value-driven change in the enterprise. Doing so will require some calculated risks and placing the right bets, but this may be the year that it all finally pays off.
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