Kathy Gibson is at the IDC CIO Summit 2022 – Many companies have brought forward their digital transformation projects by two years or more in response to the global pandemic – and they are reaping the benefit – but CIOs need to prepare now for the post-pandemic environment.

Jyoti Lalchandani, group vice-president and regional MD: Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) at IDC, points out that 59% of organisations have seen increased cost-efficiency through digitalisation.

Meanwhile, 47% have introduced new products and services; 46% have increased the value received from data, improved insights and decision-making; 44% have improved customer satisfaction, advocacy and retention; 42% have increased employee satisfaction and talent retention; 40% have seen increased value from digital integration with industry ecosystems and new revenue streams; 35% have improved time to market in product or service launches; and 33% have reported increased revenue from existing digital products and services.

Lalchandani says IDC believes digital integration, product and services will become more important going forward. “We are seeing an increasing emphasis and investment in driving value across the enterprise,” he adds. “And this means the KPIs (key performance indicators) of CIOs have been changing.”

Indeed, the traditional IT operation metrics have shifted, and today 52% of South African CIOs are measured on digital transformation metrics.

In this digital-first world, digital resiliency is more important, with l34% of local CIOs now investing in digital capabilities to capitalise on the changed conditions while preparing for future digital disruption; while 22% are expanding ther Covid-era resilience initiatives to prepare for future business operations and 22% have expanded their resiliency plans to support the unique requirements of Covid.

“We believe hybridity is going to underpin organisation resilience strategies,” Lalchandani says. “Hybridity now encompasses various areas of our lives.”

Hybrid models are now uppermost in the areas of customer engagement, which will shift to digital enablement combined with the physical environment; work, which will be from anywhere; and business models, which will embrace both organic and inorganic revenue streams.

Meanwhile, innovation – traditionally an internal function – will also encompass co-innovation with outside partners; and corporate responsibility will move past its traditional goals to include social and environmental issues.

In this environment, technology platforms will be on-premise, private cloud and public cloud; and IT operations will need to include advanced technical skills as well as soft skills, through automated and hybrid sourcing and delivery platforms.

Lalchandani explains that, by taking a digital-first approach, organisations commit to choosing digitlisation options over non-digital options as a rule, while implementing or enhancing new products, services, channels, customer experiences or operational processes.

In South Africa, half of all CIOs have a digital-first strategy in place. Just 3% are not adopting a digital-first strategy; and 43% already had a digital first strategy before the pandemic.

“This means that the goal of most organisations is about creating experiences for a digital-first customer,” Lalchandani points out. “Remember, the needs of the customer have changed as well: they are now looking online for learning, entertainment, shopping, investments and more.

“You need to have a 360-degree view of the customer expectations.”

This digital-first customer focus means companies have to drive the omnichannel customer journey.

To do this, 59% of CIOs are scaling up or enhancing customer experience on mobile and online platforms; 54% are developing the customer journey by leveraging digital capability; 50% are improving customer segmentation and analytics with artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML); and 45% are further developing organisation-wide customer experience strategies.

With the focus on a continuous digital innovation model, there is a change is how innovation is done: whereas there was a big focus on internal innovation, two-thirds of innovation is now through a combination of of internal and external collaboration. For instance, a lot of innovation is now a result on companies partnering with spin-offs or start-ups.

In South Africa, 62% of organisations are collaborating more with partners outside the industry on digital products and services; 51% are jointly developing application, products and services; 49% are expanding the number of industry ecosystem participants; and 38% are sharing data and insights with partners.

On the business side, there is a focus on risk, security and compliance as well as a digital training and development. When it comes to soft skills, the ability to connect business requirements to technology is now one of the core challenges.

The skills challenge is a massive issue, and 43% of South African CIOs believe it will inhibit business growth for the next 12 to 18 months.

Among the IT job roles that are in short supply are IT/cybersecurity, AI/ML, IT infrastructure; mobile and Web application development; project management and graphic design. Cloud, collaboration and connectivity skills are also in high demand.

Lalchandani points out that the impact of these skills shortages results in a delay of 35 weeks in delivering projects around the world, and 30 weeks in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) front.

“So there is a direct as well as indirect impact on technology as well as business metrics across the enterprise,” he says.

Technology is not the only challenge that CIOs are facing post-pandemic: there has also be a big shift in stakeholder expectations.

By 2025 organisations will replace net promotor score-like metrics with trust indices. “Expect to see a lot more investment in organisations building trust indices in areas like risk, security and more,” Lalchandani says.

Security is now a focal point for the c-suite, together with privacy coming out on top in terms of where support is required.

Digital sovereignty is also emerging as a big issue for the business, with 55% of companies naming it a top concern, and 44% concerned about the trust tech supply chain.

While organisations have been focused on the many changes brought about by the pandemic, Lalchandani urges CIOs to look beyond to the post-pandemic issues.

These include issues around data sharing and compliance; changing environmental targets and regulations; and a changing global tax structure.

Lalchandani concludes that in a digital-first world, CIOs should embrace digital innovation, developing the partner ecosystems to rapidly and continuously create customer-facing digital experiences. They should invest in a multi-pronged approach to attracting technical and business/soft skills sets for digital innovation. And they need to be aware of changing stakeholder expectations, planning for the upcoming crosswinds while navigating the current pandemic-driven headwinds.