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Opportunity is accompanied by new risks as digital transformation trends and IT budget investments accelerate. In fact, 30% of firms will continue to ramp up spending on cloud, security and risk, networks, and mobility, predicts Forrester. “Leading CIOs will embrace cloud-first and platform strategies for speed and adaptiveness, eschewing stovepipes for end-to-end solutions.”

futuristic roadmap to transformation

This article examines the road ahead for technology leaders and the themes that are most pivotal in planning for digital transformation. The challenge for digital transformation in 2021 will be to bridge silos within organizations, interconnecting without latency and building a culture around innovation and agility that serves both IT and the business. Three technology leaders shared their insight with me about digital transformation’s role and how it will influence CIO leadership, strategic vision, and planning.

Opportunity Rising Out Of Adversity

“The pandemic has brought unprecedented economic and human impact. Across virtually every industry the pandemic has also disrupted the status quo. This disruption can accelerate the opportunity for digital transformation,” says Robert Rippee, Ph.D., Executive Director at UNLV Black Fire Innovation Hub. “To be unshackled from the status quo frees the intellectual and economic capital to challenge old assumptions, inefficient process, and archaic architecture.” 

Contemporary frameworks and approaches are meeting immediate needs. There is a practical need for transformation as companies of all sizes, across industries move towards digital transformation so that they can leverage social innovation (e.g., impact investing, funds focused on D&I and young leaders, social innovation incubators, and more). 

“Technology will explode in 2021 in sheer power and potential through technologies like Quantum and 5G, but will also become immersed into everyday business and consumer life more seamlessly because of the advances that make AI become more emotionally-aware and therefore human-aware. Technology will become more conversationally enabled with high EQ and therefore affect outcomes that acutely impact and create solutions that have greater positive effects. This of course will gray the line of what is human and what is a computer further and thus increased ethical dilemmas will be brought onto society to deal with.  On the balance, if we recognize this, we can truly harness the power of technology to make a difference in solving global problems that have size, scale, and complexity in a meaningful way,” explains C-suite tech and operations executive Salil J. Kulkarni.

CIO Leadership, Strategic Vision, and Planning 

Hybrid work models, new and accessible technologies, workplace automation and AI, are all here to stay for the foreseeable future. The companies that are able to seize competitive advantage through disruption and meet customer experience opportunities will aggressively move to cloud-first operations. fast digital transformation

“Digital transformation is not new, we’ve been living it for quite some time. ‘Leaders’ are those that leveraged it to build more efficient operations and richer customer experiences. And their companies not only survived but often excelled through this pandemic, regardless of their industry,” says John Celona, Vice President, Digital Innovation & eCommerce at MedImpact Healthcare Systems, Inc. “Digital platforms that connect people and teams are redefining the office environment. Telehealth improves the delivery of healthcare services. The gym experience is now inside the home. Education was slow to adopt digital transformation, but consider the reach, scale, and social impact it can have by providing educational opportunities to more groups of people in a much more cost-efficient manner. Even online dating has now changed from just meeting someone online to actually ‘dating’ online! Now consider the rich experiences that are possible once 5G becomes mainstream.”

Speed should be a top priority for leaders’ strategic vision. The same Forrester report anticipates that the public cloud infrastructure market will grow 35% to $120B in 2021. This fast-tracks the need for leaders to be highly intuitive and forward-leaning enabled by comprehensive reporting and rich data sets.

“Leaders embrace technology transformation to identify opportunities to enable great experiences. And yet, I still read comments from executives that speak of ‘when things return to normal…’ Those people are not embracing transformation. Those are the laggards, not the leaders,” adds Celona.

2021 will belong to bold and visionary organizations. Leaders are in a historically unique position to be free of status quo constraints, empowered by contemporary frameworks, and creatively problem-solving for social innovation. This is our new normal.