In the face of continued economic headwinds, only 12% of infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders rate their function’s performance as exceeding CIO expectations, according to a new Gartner survey.

“I&O leaders must support senior leadership by proactively contributing to their organisation’s ability to navigate economic uncertainty,” says Cameron Haight, vice-president analyst at Gartner. “Their destinies are interlinked, as a failure by the business to execute the proper strategy will have repercussions across the organisation.”

The survey was conducted from April through July 2023 among 122 I&O leaders from enterprises in North America, EMEA, and Asia/Pacific whose growth was impacted by external threats in 2022 and 2023.

I&O leaders face cybersecurity, supply chain, and talent threats

I&O leaders cited cybersecurity risks as the most frequent threat impacting enterprise growth this year. Supply chain disruptions and talent and skills shortages are listed as the second- and third-most-important external threats deemed to impact growth, closely followed by inflationary pressures.

While seeking to combat many of these threats, I&O leaders are also being asked to meet organisational expectations with funding that only keeps pace with inflation at best. In 2023, 41% of I&O leaders’ budgets increased, but stayed steady relative to inflation, while 37% of budgets were either cut or stayed steady, but declined in real terms due to inflation. Just 27% of I&O leaders’ budgets increased and grew relative to inflation.

“While it remains to be seen what 2024 budgets will look like, the lack of real funding growth observed to date could cause projects to be deferred into next year, causing a cascading appropriations challenge,” says Haight. “Given this scenario, I&O leaders must work smarter to achieve business outcomes with fewer resources.”

Top actions for I&O leaders to navigate economic headwinds

Based on the survey findings, Gartner identified three key actions that successful I&O organisations were adopting to counteract the forces of economic uncertainty. I&O leaders that leveraged these practices were three times more likely to help their enterprises better navigate a turbulent economy.

These actions include:

* Developing a workplace environment that improves well-being and inclusiveness – I&O leaders often face challenges recruiting and retaining the necessary talent to achieve their objectives. Within I&O teams that were rated as the most effective, 84% of leaders reported building a welcoming and inclusive workplace. Furthermore, 79% of I&O leaders at highly effective organisations ensured the holistic wellness of employees by holding them accountable for personalising their well-being progress.

* Undertaking actions that improve I&O efficiency through enhanced analysis capabilities – Maximising the impact of technology and other investments remains a critical focus for I&O leaders amidst continued economic uncertainty. According to the survey, 89% of leaders in highly effective I&O organisations formulate strategies for process transformation and optimisation – and 82% identify opportunities to reduce technology costs through economies of scale or cross-enterprise synergies.

* Enhancing I&O’s ability to become a full-fledged partner in digital business activities – I&O leaders may struggle to be viewed as a key partner with business leaders due to an inability to easily link IT investments to business outcomes. To enhance their contribution to the organisation’s digital business strategy, the survey found that 92% of effective I&O leaders foster better coordination of I&O digital investments across lines of business or product lines. Additionally, 84% apply objective analysis to translate enterprise priorities into investments that advance digital business potential – and 79% provide a common language for business and I&O stakeholders to coordinate digital investment decisions.