2020 begins a new decade of CIO navigation

Just as ancient mariners sailed dangerous waters, so too does the uncertainty of modern business pose challenges to the CIO, but it is also a new decade of opportunity

"Nobody knows - we are told - what is in this sea, nor can it be explored, for there are many obstacles that confront the sailor: the profound darkness, the high waves, the frequent storms, the countless monsters that inhabit it and the strong winds," wrote Muslim Geographer Al Edrisi in the 10th Century. Back in the medieval days Al Edrisi was describing the new age of exploration, but his observations can be easily equated to the role of business technology leader in this the beginning of a new decade in the twenty-first century.

Whilst Al Edrisi's Tabula Rogeriana map is unrecognisable to us today, the same is true of the economy from just three years ago. Just as for the geographer, nobody knows what 2020 will mean for CIOs.  The pace of change as a result of technology shows no signs of decreasing. In addition, strong winds of economic change, driven by rising nationalism will reshape markets. The legislative structure of nations has hampered CIOs by its lack of pace and ability to react to technology led change, but now nationalist governments are seizing control of the legal processes and drastically reducing the opportunities for scrutiny. This too poses a risk to CIOs as legislation could be formed based on partisan lobbying. That lobbying may not be beneficial to your vertical market, technology supplier ecosystem and business strategy. 

The great geographer, born in Morocco and who spent most of his life in Sicily, Italy said explorers had no way of knowing what is in the sea. Just as with the tenth century sailors, today's CIO has no way - despite best efforts - to know where a technology led rival will spring from and begin draining revenue from your business. In the last weeks of 2019 I met marketing and car hire challenger businesses that will impact major enterprises. 

Technology has democratised every corner of the economy and a defining characteristic of 2020 and the decade ahead will be getting comfortable with a high degree of uncertainty. 

Where there is certainty for the CIO, CTO and their IT team, is the obstacles. 2020s business technology leaders will be sailing unfamiliar waters with the knowledge that their ability to react to uncertainty is rigged against them  by outdated procurement methods and teams; legacy technologies, vendors that are unable to respond to the changing marketplace; sales teams and targets that are not customer centric and the ever present and vital need to keep a weather eye on a healthy bottom line. 

Combined, the known obstacles and the unknown world of technology, startups and nationalism throw darkness, towering waves and storms in front of the CIO. They of course throw the same challenges at the CFO, COO and CEO.  I would argue the CIO is in one of the most challenging positions in this journey. Effectively the helmsman, the CIO has to be charting a technology strategy that navigates the obstacles, discovers the same opportunities as the startup challengers and wins the treasure and all the time sailing into a headwind. 

The challenge of navigating this difficult path though is what inspires and motivates CIOs.  In late December a studio in trendy south London hosted the largest gathering of CIOs and CTOs of 2019, attracting business technology leaders from global organisations in financial services, media, manufacturing, hospitality, travel and scientific services, to name a few.  The enthusiasm for the role, the challenges, the opportunities was undinted. There were CIOs present that I have worked with for 12 years now, their curiosity and passion for business, technology and leadership was no different to those first meetings back in 2008.

To continue reading this article register now