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CIO Survey: Confidence in CIOs growing, along with IT budgets

Adrian Hinchcliffe
By Adrian Hinchcliffe
Johannesburg, 29 Oct 2021
Adrian Hinchcliffe, Brainstorm editor.
Adrian Hinchcliffe, Brainstorm editor.

Confidence is growing in corporate South Africa about the power of technology and the competence of the CIO – more have a seat on the board or direct access to the exco, and more have successfully lobbied for an increase in budgets.

So said Adrian Hinchcliffe, editor-in-chief of Brainstorm magazine, while unpacking the preliminary results of the 2021 CIO Survey at the ITWeb Brainstorm CIO Banquet, held as a hybrid event last night.

Now in its eighth year, the survey of South Africa’s top technology strategists and decision-makers is run in association with MTN Business. So far, it has captured input from about 70 verified private- and public-sector CIOs.

“Last year, CIOs were scrambling to keep businesses running and were persuading their excos to increase digital business models. This year, CIOs are charged with making it happen,” said Hinchcliffe.

This was reflected in the budgets. “There’s a marked growth of respondents who are experiencing or have successfully lobbied for an increase in budgets. This year, 35% said budgets were up, in line with CPI, versus 23% last year, and only 12% said budgets were down, compared to 2020’s figure of 21%.”

Hinchcliffe said this begs the question as to whether tech has proven itself and been one of the few departments to get increases in a time of pandemic and austerity, or is there general business confidence that budgets across the board have grown? “I’m guessing the former,” he said.

Nomonde White-Ndlovu, head of Governance and Reporting: Digital Solutions, Innovation and Technology, ABSA, led the panel discussion about the key survey findings.
Nomonde White-Ndlovu, head of Governance and Reporting: Digital Solutions, Innovation and Technology, ABSA, led the panel discussion about the key survey findings.

What makes a successful CIO

Last year, technology took the spotlight as the world battled through the pandemic, he added, and the top attribute of a CIO was revealed as being a business influencer and strategist.

While the top three responses remained the same, the order switched this year – now it’s about leading people and building high-performance teams, being a visionary, a good communicator, an organiser and delivering results, said Hinchcliffe.

“Last year, it was about persuading people that tech was the answer and identifying how it would solve the challenges faced. This year, it’s about proving all those requests for more budget were justified.”

When it came to gender and racial diversity within the IT organisation, more than half (54%) said there’s room for improvement in this area, although nearly 40% said it was excellent. “Last year, only 15% said diversity within their IT organisation was excellent, so it seems there is some improvement. In theory, the pipeline of diverse candidates is now growing so it should be improving.”

When asked about tech investments implemented during the pandemic, last year, it was all about enabling remote working, meetings and connectivity. The picture is different this time around.

“The big growth investment this year is cyber security. It’s a topic that has featured a lot over the years in previous CIO survey results, but it’s certainly a trend we’re seeing more of this year. Data analytics also grew substantially.”

Governance, security, skills top of mind

Speaking about the activities that take up most of the CIO’s time, Hinchcliffe said last year was about digitising business processes and building new revenue streams, as well as discussing business and tech strategy with the CEO, CFO, and suchlike. “This makes sense given the situation we were in during the early stages of the pandemic.”

This year, however, governance and compliance have spiked massively, alongside security and risk management. “I’m going to hazard a guess that this relates to PoPI, the increase attack surface with a larger work from home workforce, and perhaps rushing out digital products and solutions.”

There’s also been a rise this year in spending time discussing budgets and costs with the CFO, CEO or board. It appears, said Hinchcliffe, that last year, it was ‘get us online ASAP whatever the cost’, while this year it’s ‘you spent how much? And what have we got to show for it?’.

Compared to last year, there are a lot more CIOs actively seeking specific skills, upskilling and running intern programmes, and using outsourcers. The growth in internship programmes is obviously a positive move for the future of the IT space, noted Hinchcliffe.

So what are those specific skills that CIOs are looking to hire? Top of the list are data analytics, cyber security and software development, which are obviously key to digital transformation.

“This is the time for CIOs to prove they can continue to deliver,” said Hinchcliffe in conclusion. “None of us will forget 2020 in a hurry, but I’m going to suggest that it served as the platform for the CIO to build on, to prove what they’ve been saying for years − that technology can make a positive impact on the organisation.”

VIEW the 2021 CIO Survey Results

These are the preliminary results, as the survey is still running. The final results will be included in a comprehensive research report, which will dig deeper into the data and trends, and will be available early next year.

To view the preliminary results presentation slides, click here.