Gartner Survey of Nearly 2,000 CIOs Reveals Top Performing Organisations Are Prioritising Digital Innovation During the Pandemic

November 10, 2020

Top performing organisations are accelerating digital innovation and leveraging emerging technologies to come out stronger on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Gartner, Inc.’s annual global survey of CIOs. 2021 will be a race to digital, with the spoils going to those organisations that can maintain the momentum built up during their response to the pandemic.

“Nothing, yet everything, has changed for the CIO,” said Tomas Nielsen, research vice president at Gartner. “The support for remote work that the COVID-19 pandemic brought on might be the biggest win for CIOs since Y2K. They now have the attention of the CEO, they have convinced senior business leaders of the need to modernise technology, and they have prompted boards of directors to accelerate enterprise digital business initiatives. In fact, sixty-nine per cent of boards of directors accelerated their digital business initiatives in the wake of COVID-19 disruption.

Delivering digital is, of course, paramount in today’s environment. However, there was already a new normal necessitating CIOs to accelerate digital business efforts across many industries,” said Mr Nielsen. “To do it well, CIOs should define what is meant by digital business acceleration and be clear on how to get it done.CIOs must seize this moment, because they may never get another opportunity like it.”

Gartner analysts presented the 2021 global and EMEA Gartner CIO Agenda survey findings during Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo EMEA, which is taking place virtually through Thursday.

The 2021 Gartner CIO Agenda survey gathered data from 1,877 CIO respondents in 74 countries and all major industries, representing approximately $4.7 trillion in revenue/public-sector budgets and $85 billion in IT spending. In EMEA, 687 CIOs participated in the survey.

Survey Reveals Four Ways CIOs Can Seize the Moment

The survey revealed four ways in which CIOs can make a difference both in digital business acceleration and in long-term agility: win differently, unleash force multipliers, banish drags and redirect resources.

Win Differently

CIOs can help the enterprise anticipate the increasingly digital interactions expected by customers. Seventy-six per cent of survey respondents said that demand for new digital products and services increased in 2020, with even more respondents (83%) reporting that it will increase in 2021.

“This is a watershed moment for CIOs across the world,” said Mr Nielsen. “There is no going back to the way business used to be.”

The survey uncovered two areas of customer digitalisation where top performers* are significantly more aggressive than typical performers: the use of digital channels to reach customers and achieve citizen engagement, along with the rate of introduction of new digital products and services. Nine out of ten of the top performers are pursuing digital channels, and almost three-quarters are introducing digital products faster.

Organisations that have increased their use of digital channels to reach customers are 3.5 times more likely to be a top performer than a trailing performer. “Those at the top have gone all-in on digital business, and they have developed the capabilities to allow them to do it,” said Mr Nielsen.

Unleash Force Multipliers

Respondents were asked to characterise certain changes related to enterprise IT leadership trends as a result of the pandemic. Roughly 70% of CIOs deepened their knowledge of specific business processes to advise the business, and the same proportion did more to measure and articulate the value of IT.

“Although the COVID-19 response appeared to be a simple exercise of deploying PCs, it created profound opportunities for CIOs,” said Mr Nielsen. “CIOs were able to refocus IT leadership around digital business acceleration and remodel the enterprise’s core technology. At one point or another, every CIO got a chance to shine during COVID-19.”

Banish Drags

The survey found that CIOs can help accelerate digital by systemically seeking out and eliminating drags (e.g., detrimental supplier performance during COVID-19). While most respondents reported they were behind in sales volumes during the pandemic, only 29% of top performers reported a decrease in sales volume versus 45% of typicals and 62% of trailings.

However, there were still a few areas that stood strong: Some respondents reported increased performance for new business initiatives, acquisitions, cost competitiveness, and employee productivity (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Shift in Enterprise Performance (% of Respondents) Source: Gartner (November 2020)

“Although revenue took a big hit, leading CIOs decided to fight back rather than go into a defensive crouch,” said Mr Nielsen.

When asked about shifts in demand, 58% of top performers reported an increase in demand from new post-COVID customers versus 49% for the typical group and 37% for those trailing.

Redirect Resources and Get Closer to Consumers

EMEA CIO respondents projected a 2.7% IT budget increase for 2021, on average, which is the largest among the four regions. “We have observed a shift in organisational spending towards IT despite a reduction in the overall budget. The pandemic crisis has accelerated it,” said Jan-Martin Lowendahl, distinguished research vice president at Gartner. “It’s both about ‘out with the old and in with the new’, such as moving from on-premise to the cloud, and an internal redirection of spending from HR and finance to IT.”

For example, 32% of EMEA respondents said they will reduce spending on infrastructure and data centres and 49% will increase spending on cloud. Seventy-seven per cent of EMEA CIOs said they have witnessed increased demand for new digital products and services to get closer to the customer and 39% of EMEA CIO respondents plan to increase spending on customer engagement in 2021.

COVID-19 Prompts Changes in the EMEA CIO’s IT Leadership

As a consequence of the pandemic, EMEA CIOs reported increased standing of IT within the organisation. Seventy-one per cent of EMEA CIOs said that they now have more attention from the business and use that to increase their efforts to measure and articulate IT’s value. Furthermore, 69% are deepening their business knowledge to provide even better advice about the most-needed new digital products and services.

“In 2021, CIOs must continue to be involved in higher-value, more strategic initiatives. The better CIOs perform for the business, the more the business will ask of them next year,” said Mr Lowendahl.

Robbert Hoeffnagel

Robbert Hoeffnagel

Editor and consultant @ Belgium Cloud, DatacenterWorks,, Green IT Amsterdam and Mepax

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