Upskilling has moved from what once was viewed as an employment perk to a mandate. Even with tech layoffs and uncertain economic times, the IT labor market remains hypercompetitive and organizations cannot afford not to invest in training existing staff.

Forty-one percent of CIOs reported plans to increase investment in training programs to reskill IT employees, according to Gartner’s 2023 CIO talent planning survey. The most essential skills they need are cybersecurity, cloud, and customer/user experience skills.

In addition, the firm’s 2023 midsize enterprise talent outlook report found that attracting and retaining technology talent have become critical areas of concern for midsize enterprise (MSE) CIOs, with 84% of CIOs reporting more competition for qualified IT talent. Further, 73% of MSE CIOs reported being worried about increased IT attrition rates.

One reason is that digital transformation projects continue, unabated. In the past couple of years, 84% of organizations have started at least two new digital experience initiatives, according to an April report from Enterprise Strategy Group.

So IT leaders are getting creative. Here are nine tips IT leaders have to offer based on their experiences upskilling staff.

Assess skills and personality for training fit

Tim Dickson, CIO of Generac Power Systems, a manufacturer of power products, came to the company over two years ago as the first CIO, and knew immediately he wanted to conduct a skills and personality assessment of his 80-person staff to upskill those who wanted to grow their careers.

It was the height of COVID-19 and Dickson didn’t have a huge pipeline of candidates. Moreover, digital skillsets were lacking in the organization. But digital transformation “is in my blood,’’ and he was hired to lead the initiative at Generac. That meant Dickson needed people with data, AI, automation, RPA, and cloud skills, and he needed them fast.

So, Dickson built a set of artifacts to assess the team’s skillsets and aspirations, complete with various use cases. Then he created templates of use cases he had seen in prior companies related to what he would be asking IT to do. A 30-question digital assessment was part of the artifacts, which Dickson characterizes as “very introspective and subjective” related to personality and skills.

Questions ranged from “Do you understand digital?” and “Do you aspire to do more for the company or do you want to come in from 9-to-5.” From there, Dickson plotted four areas that the team fell into. There was a small group “ready to jump in and very eager.” A second bucket had aspirations but needed tech aptitude. The other two buckets included those who weren’t interested in growing their careers, he says.

Dickson focused most of his upskilling efforts on the group he characterizes as “the crown jewels,” those who aspired to do more, but didn’t know how.

“You’re always going to have people not interested [in growing their careers] and people who are and need upskilling and coaching,’’ he says. It turned out that 40% of Generac’s IT staff fell into the latter bucket.

The personality test was designed to help Dickson understand what makes the IT staff tick and what motivates them. This was helpful in gleaning whether someone has a dominant personality because that is important to know going into a team project, he says.

Hold hackathons for hands-on learning

The last part of Dickson’s three-pronged approach at Generac was to hold a hackathon that included training, incubation, and prototyping aspects, along with public speaking opportunities, with employees selling their ideas. Dickson enlisted eight vendor partners he had worked with previously to co-sponsor the event, selecting them for various types of emerging technologies they offered, such as AI, UX/UI, RPA, and APIs.

The vendors trained Generac IT staff who wanted upskilling for a month leading up to the hackathon. At the day-long event, employees not only showed up with a new skill they learned but also an idea and prototype for how a particular technology could improve something at Generac.

In one example, a team member proposed embedding the Alexa chatbot into Generac’s generators so customers could talk to them. The idea ended up being produced and going live.

There were 16 teams with 70 team members, and over half of those teams’ ideas have been implemented into production, Dickson says.

Hackathons are now conducted on a regular basis. Recently, one was held with a spotlight on OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and a Microsoft reseller came in to demonstrate how the technology has been implemented. “Any time there is a new technology that could be disruptive, we do these hackathons,’’ he says.

One of Generac’s SAP data analysts expressed to Dickson that she wanted to become a UX/UI designer, so he partnered her with a friend who is one and she coached the employee through a hackathon. Now, the employee has become Dickson’s sole UX/UI designer.

Aside from the hackathons, Dickson also organizes lunch-and-learns with vendors, which he says have been effective. “The best way to get someone to a generic meeting is to give them food,’’ he says.

The downside of upskilling? “The [daily] work still has to get done,” Dickson notes. “So if I’m moving people into new roles, that’s leaving holes, so that’s where I leverage contractors to keep the ship running.”

Personalize the approach

CIO Taren Rodabaugh says much of Bridgestone Americas’ recent focus has been on “eternal” skills that build “well-rounded technology professionals.” This includes business acumen, financial literacy, problem-solving, agile ways of working, and wellness programs to support mental and emotional well-being.

“We continually evaluate and refine the upskilling strategy based on our overall business strategy — which likely includes more than just technology,” she says. “We work to personalize the approach based on your team.”

The issue leaders ran into with required learning was that people would sign up to say they took a course, but they didn’t actually engage with the training, Rodabaugh says. “We changed our approach and instead of requiring it, we made it available for them to enlist and learn on their own. This was a lesson learned for us.”

For example, she has instituted Gemba walks, which take teammates out from behind their desks to where work is happening.

“This gives them a breadth of knowledge that makes them well-rounded and allows them to move around IT,’’ Rodabaugh says. “Gemba walks allow our teammates to put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They see in real-time what processes or tools are working and what isn’t.”

Leaders should not be afraid to adjust personalized learning if they aren’t seeing the impact they desire, she adds.

Lean into aspirations

Desperate times call for desperate measures. With “a significant amount of turnover,” and difficulty finding IT candidates to work at the University of Montana, Zachary Rossmiller, associate vice president and CIO, turned inward. Rossmiller identified students and non-IT staff who had an interest in technology and found mentors for them to work with along with providing training modules on what they needed to do to get a job in the department.

Higher education doesn’t pay as well as the private sector, he notes. Rossmiller also has to compete with a number of tech companies that have moved into Missoula, Mont. He has about 15 to 20 student employees and he zeroed in on seniors who were working part-time and told them, “We’ll get you kick-started with your career.’’

“It was mostly out of necessity to stop the bleeding of our staff,” Rossmiller adds, noting that 16 people left IT within a six-month span.

He also upskilled two of the university’s HVAC technicians, one of whom expressed an interest in network engineering and the other in project management.

Now Rossmiller is contending with moving the university’s ERP system to the cloud and upskilling other staff, some of whom have been there 20 years and are only accustomed to on-prem server administration.

“One person said, ‘OK, you’re basically telling me I won’t have a job after’” the move to the cloud, Rossmiller recalls. “I said, ‘No, we need managing in the cloud. We’re here to retool you and add more skills to your existing resume so you can learn more and take on more.’”

He set up a training portal after looking at classroom-led training, which didn’t work for people who didn’t want to travel and be away from their families for one to two weeks. But there were other employees who didn’t want to train in the office because they felt they couldn’t concentrate.

Like Bridgestone America’s Rodabaugh, Rossmiller customized learning based on the individual, because he found that a lot of the younger staff wanted to move into Linux administration while senior staff wanted to learn how to manage databases in the cloud.

He wrote a playbook that looked at traditional 12-week courses offered at the university that people could enroll in, but also included self-taught training because, in some cases, Rossmiller needed people to ramp up more quickly.

Pair people up

Rossmiller also did what he calls a “triangle of mentorship,’’ by pairing people with cyber mentors, for example, and when one of those mentors needed further skills expertise, “they would go to the infosecurity team and grab someone from that team” to train the employee, he says.

Then Rossmiller looked at where any potential gaps were and whether an individual needed a certification. Rossmiller says he got lucky hiring some very good students with an aptitude for learning.

“What hasn’t gone well is we tried moving way too fast and sometimes we forget these are 20- and 21-year-olds trying to get an idea of life, and we moved at a pace faster than most of them are used to,” he says.

Jose Ramirez, a senior principal analyst at Gartner, says pairing two employees is a great way for employees to learn from each other. “It’s a mode for social learning,’’ he says. “You’re not necessarily using a formal training approach like classroom-style training or a conference or taking a course online.”

Build digital academies and talent marketplaces

Another approach is to find non-IT talent with “high potential and upskilling them into IT roles’’ by creating digital academies, which tap tech talent and help non-IT employees upskill and become future IT employees, Ramirez says. “We’re seeing that more and more.” Twenty-two percent of non-IT employees have some foundational untapped talent, according to Gartner research.

CIOs shouldn’t feel they have a responsibility to upskill only their own employees — they should upskill any employee with some degree of technical skills, Ramirez stresses. This is because “we’re shifting toward skills-based staffing to help close the talent gap. It’s the idea that great talent can come from anywhere.”

This can be done by utilizing learning platforms and talent marketplaces, where IT employees share their strengths. One way of doing this is by IT posting small projects that employees can work on together, which they find out about through a talent marketplace.

But Ramirez cautions that “if people haven’t bought into it, they won’t learn. Culture plays a huge part.” He adds that talent marketplaces are not that prevalent.

Foster employee ownership

Mark Long, CTO of platform provider Vytalize Health, calls himself a big believer in instilling a culture of learning and says he expects “every employee to keep up with the state-of-the-art in their particular skill set.”

“The second thing I tell people is my job is not to have all the answers. If your job is senior anything, you should bang your fist on my desk once a quarter” and let him know about conferences they attended or videos they watched, Long says. “This is a learning organization, and we obsess about learning about what our professions are and our external internal customers. If you’re not a curious person, this isn’t the place for you.”

The speed with which technology changes requires every employee who cares about their job to upskill and train, and Long wants to make that a shared responsibility.

“We as a company want to improve skills, but I remind employees they’re the custodian of their career.” Employees have an annual meeting with their manager to set goals in terms of jobs and skills, and Long says he and other leaders are there to help and provide mentorship.

From there, it is incumbent upon the employee to schedule a meeting with their manager once a month or quarter to update them on what they’ve done on their development plan, he says.

“At the end of the day, I want to create ownership on the employee that they’re pushing their career forward in a way that meets not only meets the company’s needs but their long-term needs,” he says.

The idea of employees taking ownership of their careers is a “conceptual shift,’’ so “everything’s on the table” for upskilling. This also includes lunch and learns, reading and discussion groups, shadowing, and certificate programs, says Long, adding that he genuinely wants everyone to be successful so there may be a conversation about looking for something different.

“I had a software architect 20 years ago and he wasn’t great,’’ he says. “I said, ‘It’s time to move you into a different role.’ He pushed back in the beginning but then found joy in something new” as a project manager.

Upskilling doesn’t have to be a top-down process, Long says. It’s important to involve employees and all the different stakeholders in bringing a program and methodology together.

Explore rotational programs

Like University of Montana’s Rossmiller, Vytalize Health’s Long says peer pairing and real-time coaching have been successful in his software engineering group. He also rotates whom people are paired with.

Ramirez says rotational programs are one of the most unique ways to upskill. Unlike apprenticeship programs or early career development programs, it is faster and easier to invest in junior IT talent and put them in a six- to eight-month rotational program where they learn critical skills for weeks at a time in areas such as cybersecurity, cloud, and AI/machine learning, he says.

Rotational programs provide “a culture of experiential learning and sharing that is much more powerful than reading a book or taking a class in abstraction’’ because it is putting work into practice, Long says.

At Vytalize Health, the feedback on rotations and pairing hasn’t always been positive. In the peer pairing example, Long recalls an employee telling him they felt “uncomfortable and upset” that he made them try this. He chalks this up to some people not being as up to speed as others.

But other employees told Long that while they were skeptical going into it, they were glad he paired them with more senior IT members.

Upskill for skills, not jobs

CIOs should embrace and foster a culture of agile learning, where upskilling is integrated into the flow of work rather than outside or in addition to work, Ramirez says.

Gartner research on agile learning has found that organizations are 4.3 times as likely to achieve business outcomes when learning is done as a collective. There is also a significant correlation between upskilling and retention, Ramirez says. Nearly 21% of employees have reported leaving an organization because of a lack of development opportunities.

Vytalize Health’s Long pushes back a little on the word ‘upskilling,’ saying that, “I actually don’t think that’s the right way of thinking about it. This is the work of your career — it’s not something you do from time to time when tech changes.”

Part of being in IT means you need to think about upskilling every day, he says.“The world we’re in is moving so fast … and I went to school to learn how to learn.” People need to get out of the mode of thinking upskilling is an occasional event, Long says. “It’s as important as security and everything else you do with employees.”

IT Skills, IT Strategy, IT Training 

CIOs have contended with technical debt for decades, yet many still struggle to adequately manage it. And it’s costing them.

Management consulting firm Protiviti surveyed more than 1,000 tech execs for its 2023 Global Technology Executive Survey and found that technical debt is a leading obstacle to innovation for nearly 70% of organizations. Executives also reported that tech debt consumes 31% of IT budgets and requires 21% of IT resources to manage.

LeanIX’s IT Cost Optimization Survey 2023 had a similar finding, as 56% of respondents said outdated technology and technical debt are particularly high contributors to wasted IT budgets.

Meanwhile, IT leaders who successfully manage technical debt are far better positioned to enable their organizations to perform better. According to research and advisory firm Gartner, infrastructure and operations leaders who actively manage and reduce technical debt can achieve at least 50% faster service delivery times to the business.

Given such findings, many CIOs have focused on finding ways to trim their technical debt. Experienced technology leaders share five strategies they use to keep tech debt in check.

1. Get analytical about measuring your technical debt

Andrew Sharp, research director for the infrastructure and operations practice at Info-Tech Research Group, is a strong proponent of cataloging technical debt. The analyst advises IT leaders to establish a list of their critical technical debt, know the business impact of that debt, and have a process for addressing it.

Many CIOs, he and others say, too often fall short on these three foundational issues.

“One of the biggest challenges is just understanding and organizing the scope of technical debt,” Sharp says, explaining how IT teams struggle with knowing the amount and impact of technical debt “because it sprawls into different systems. It has knock-on effects.”

But like most everything else in business today, debt can’t successfully be managed if it’s not measured, Sharp says, adding that IT needs to get better at identifying, tracking, and measuring tech debt.

“IT always has a sense of where the problems are, which closets have skeletons in them, but there’s often not a formal analysis,” he says. “I think a structured approach to looking at this could be an opportunity to think about things that weren’t considered previously. So it’s not just knowing we have problems but knowing what the issues are and understanding the impact. Visibility is really key.”

Sharp cautions against tracking every bit of tech debt, though, stressing instead the need to track the debt intended to be fixed.

Ken Knapton, senior vice president and CIO at Progrexion, likewise speaks to the importance of knowing details about the debt his IT department has accumulated.

To that end, he and his IT team developed a method for measuring their debt. They rate debt on key technology attributes (supportability, expected remaining life span, stability, and span) and then on two additional attributes (business criticality and strategic alignment). They multiply the sum of the four key attributes by the sum of the latter two and then normalize the values to a ratio between 0 and 1.

Knapton says any tech debt that rates 0 to 0.4 is acceptable, anything between 0.5 and 0.7 is concerning, and anything above 0.7 is critical.

“Now that I have a framework to measure technical debt, we’re able to track it. We’re able to focus on what part of our technical debt we are going to tackle and what we’re going to go work on now,” he adds.

2. Pay down your debt by prioritizing it on roadmaps

Knapton says he has seen firsthand the cost of not paying down technical debt in a timely manner.

He points to one past incident where a development team used a Java library but didn’t go back for the updated code in the interest of time and speed to market, as is often the core reason for taking on debt. That decision, while justified at the time of the product’s initial development and deployment, hindered the team’s ability to add updates or make needed changes later.

Knapton says he has learned that “there is nothing so permanent as a temporary decision” if those temporary decisions aren’t revisited.

“Because you allow all these little decisions, this technical debt can stay in place and then you have overly difficult solutions, overly complex solutions, that don’t allow you to be as agile as you can be as a business. That’s when technical debt starts to be a liability, when we don’t pay it off,” he says.

“Now we measure it, manage it and recognize that if we’re going to take on some technical debt to be first to market, we have to follow through and pay down that technical debt after we release.”

To make sure those payments get made, Knapton says he and his team know “we have to add into our timeline the ability to manage it and get it resolved.”

To support that, Knapton’s teams, who work in an agile fashion across all of IT, have moved the goalpost for defining when they’re “done” to include mitigating technical debt.

“A project isn’t done until you go back and adjust whatever it was you took on as technical debt; and everybody agrees this is how we define ‘done,’” Knapton says, noting that technical debt is part of a team’s backlog until mitigation work is completed.

He adds: “I don’t want a temporary solution to become permanent, so we put it officially on our roadmap.”

Others similarly advocate for allocating resources (time and money) as well as creating accountability for dealing with the debt.

Sharp, for example, talks about “improving verification on what value a project provides, knowing and keeping eyes on bugs, budgeting for maintenance and any new equipment needed.”

He adds: “A surprising number of organizations don’t do that.”

3. Treat tech debt as the business risk that it is

Enoche Andrade, who as a digital application innovation specialist at Microsoft has advised executives on technical debt, says technical debt is not just an issue for IT; it’s a business risk, too, pointing out that technical debt has business, financial, and security implications.

As such, Andrade says technical debt is a topic for all executives and business function leaders, not just IT, and decisions about when and how much technical debt to incur and when and how it’s paid down should align to the enterprise strategy and business needs.

“CIOs have a critical responsibility to raise awareness about technical debt among the board and leadership teams,” he says. “To foster a culture of awareness and accountability around technical debt, companies should encourage cross-functional teams and establish shared goals and metrics that encourage all groups to work together toward addressing technical debt and fostering innovation. This can include creating a safe environment for developers to experiment with new approaches and technologies, leading to innovation and continuous improvement.”

Knapton agrees with the need to loop in the business when deciding when to take on technical debt, measuring its impact and prioritizing what to pay down.

He says his IT team’s metrics really help inform his C-suite colleagues on the issue, saying, “Now I have a way to communicate with my board and my executive team to say, ‘This is our debt, and we are leveraged because of decisions we made in the past.’”

4. Be intentional when taking on new debt

Mike Huthwaite, a CIO with Hartman Executive Advisors, which provides fractional executive leadership to clients, compares technical debt to financial debt. “Debt to me is something you incur, that you then solve,” he adds.

Just as it’s sometimes savvy to take on financial debt, Huthwaite says it’s often smarter to opt for technical debt than not. Like others, he says teams may decide to incur technical debt for speed and agility — market advantages that outweigh the costs of the technical debt.

“It’s always a tradeoff, and if you continue on the analogy of personal debt, there are points or decisions where taking on debt has value. But it’s still debt just the same. So hopefully you’re doing it in a prudent manner,” he says.

Huthwaite says he instructs IT teams to be deliberate about taking on technical debt, weighing the benefits that they gain by using, for example, suboptimal code against the downside of that decision. He calls that intentional technical debt, in contrast to unintentional technical debt which is incurred without such deliberation.

“Intentional technical debt has its place and has its value; unintentional technical debt is a greater problem,” he says. “When we don’t track all the debt, then you can find you’re on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Andrade has similar words of advice, saying that although organizations can’t realistically eliminate all technical debt, they can take steps to limit its creation (and particularly the creation of unintentional debt).

He advises teams to adopt the agile development methodology, refactor, automate testing, and streamline processes. Teams should also use code analysis tools to identify technical debt and have regular code reviews by peers and stakeholders to ensure code quality and identify potential issues. They should also embrace architectural simplification, componentization, and standardization.

5. Recognize debt management is an ongoing process

Wayne F. McGurk, CIO and SVP of IT for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, doesn’t see technical debt as a good or bad thing but rather “a natural outcome of the development process, occurring because something new is being built.”

“There’s a tendency to go as fast as you can to get the MVP out there, and you don’t necessarily build an overly industrialized application at the beginning,” he says. Teams make tradeoffs, opting for technologies that work for the MVP that they know will be insufficient as solutions scale.

So McGurk factors that into not just his development cycle but IT operations, pulling in various tactics to create a holistic approach for managing technical debt on a continuous basis. As part of this approach, McGurk’s team documents and details the introduction of any new technical debt, which is then tracked through the organization’s ticketing system so that IT teams “can pull that all up and report it and look at it.”

McGurk also considers how each piece of technical debt impacts operations in five key areas: simplicity, flexibility, continuity, security, and transparency.

“When technical debt starts hindering any of those operating principles, then it’s risen to the level where we want to address it,” he explains.

McGurk and his IT team consider the level of impact, the risk to the organization, and the organization’s overall strategy to then prioritize what needs attention. They then make those determinations known, thereby creating visibility into the topic across the organization.

All this gets wrapped into his IT department’s workflow, McGurk says, which ensures managing technical debt isn’t treated as a one-off project but is instead managed in an ongoing manner. For example, his Scrum teams are expected to identify new technical debt and determine when and how to address it.

“You have to build the culture of accountability and responsibility so your teams know that just because a project is delivered, it’s not done. It’s a journey, and there’s no end to it, so then it becomes part of your demand management strategy — handling both the demand for new work but also legacy work and technical debt,” he says.

IT Strategy, Software Development

One of the key advantages of the cloud is cost savings, and yet cloud costs are on the rise and overspending by as much as 70% is commonplace, according to Gartner. Much like gyms make their money off members who never actually use the equipment, cloud providers profit from those who underutilize their resources. That’s a problem for financial leaders and IT leaders trying to govern digital transformation costs and tighten their budgets in response to economic pressures. With cloud spending doubling every four to five years, it pays to cut cloud costs.

But how do you get a handle on your corporate cloud spending?

From Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to Software as a Service (SaaS) and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), here are four leading strategies for cutting cloud costs.

1. Eliminate redundant cloud applications

This advice sounds basic, but it’s easier said than done. Getting the visibility to see both sanctioned and unsanctioned applications can be a challenge. Technology is key. Cloud expense management platforms help establish a centralized inventory of all cloud applications and infrastructure services currently in use. Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) security technologies can also be helpful. Gaining deep visibility is the first step in reducing app redundancy and improving cloud security.

Those who do it best plan a cross-functional project tapping into data from Single Sign On systems, as well as financial expense systems. You’ll want to identify the most cost-effective app consolidations and rank your apps based on cybersecurity risk. This helps teams prioritize response efforts around app elimination and security polices for acceptable cloud use.

2. Reduce cloud infrastructure waste

With a centralized inventory, the next step is to reconcile infrastructure usage against ownership. The key is to know what you already pay for and how efficiently you’re using it. All too often, companies overestimate their needs and resources go underutilized. There are many examples, whether it’s an ambitious IT engineer wanting a big piece of infrastructure so he can sleep at night, data transfers triggering unnecessary charges, or virtual servers forgotten after their owner left the company. In some cases, servers will run for no reason at all.

Cost analysis efforts take on exercises in:

Evaluating your IT environment over periods of time, creating usage benchmarks aiding the analysis of traffic charges and storage forecastingUnderstanding how and when to use pausing features to ensure you’re paying for IaaS services only when you need themKnowing when to remove or downgrade infrastructure — the same way you downgrade a phone plan from unlimited data to a lower tierOptimizing costs for direct network connections to cloud providers, as the provider’s service is not always the best optionExploring spikes in IaaS usage and knowing when retention plans create unnecessary backups burning a hole in your pocket

Software powered by artificial intelligence can “see” these types of inefficiencies instantly, bringing forward misappropriated tags and cost savings recommendations informed by normalized data and pricing information updated in near real time. Beware: Default dashboards from cloud providers will not deliver cost optimization insights. Nonetheless, the data is available. Simply plug in analytics tools to reveal savings. It’s not uncommon to immediately find 20% in savings and achieve a triple-digit ROI in the first year.

3. Improve cloud management productivity

When cloud innovation can mean the difference between winning and losing in the market, IT teams should be spending more time transforming and less time worrying about how their cloud resources are being used and managed, how expenses are reconciled or allocated to business units, and how needs are forecasted. IT staff efficiencies are cited as one of the most important benefits of moving workloads to the cloud, but those productivity gains can be undermined by manual vendor management tasks.

Outsourced services can offload the manual work of IaaS usage audits, application optimization, and expense management. They’re also helpful in bill pay, contract renewals, and integration projects following mergers and acquisitions.

4. Put checks and balances in place

Give a leader or team the authority to govern the cloud. Create initiatives to reassess assets with cost top of mind, understanding that the long-term strategy is to create thoughtful usage that allows room for more meaningful cloud adoption as innovation evolves. Allow this team to work beyond defined perimeters and identify cloud usage policies in addition to key risks in the areas of finance, IT, and security. If you have more than 50 applications and more than two cloud infrastructure providers, consider a dedicated resource or ongoing partner program. 

The cloud triggers other reasons for oversight. Challenges include cloud application performance and reliable connectivity issues when increased cloud usage demands more of the IT network. With a team experienced in effective cloud expense management, companies are better guided through modernization initiatives, deploying SD-WAN solutions designed to manage 5G and internet service providers cost-effectively.  

Payouts worth the investment

In the end, don’t expect to tackle all four steps at once. Prioritization is key. Investments in cloud cost management have a high likelihood of paying for themselves, as benefits materialize in dollar savings, productivity gains, and security. If companies spend 2023 evaluating cloud costs and ensuring their spending aligns with needs, efficiency, and innovation are sure to follow. Now, is the time to inventory and reconcile cloud assets. Right-sizing will help avoid cloud investment hangovers and empower companies to effectively govern the past three years of innovation run amok.

To learn more about cloud cost optimization, visit us here.

Cloud Management, Cloud Security, Endpoint Protection

In an IT marketplace marked by turbulence, inflation, and economic uncertainty, the process of contracting with vendors for technology products and services has gotten significantly more challenging for CIOs.

IT leaders may find that prices are going up without an accompanying increase in benefits, with technology providers — less dependent on any one industry or geography — taking a harder line on deals, says Achint Arora, a partner in the pricing assurance practice at Everest Group.

“Prices are increasing, and negotiation is becoming more difficult,” agrees Melanie Alexander, senior director analyst on Gartner’s sourcing, procurement, and vendor management team. “Vendors are not granting the same concessions they have in the past.”

Evolving regulations related to data privacy, data sovereignty, and responsible AI further complicate matters as customers and vendors work out the responsibility and costs of meeting increasingly stringent requirements.

What’s more, technology contracts are often multilayered. The SaaS provider you’re negotiating with may be constrained by its own deals with IaaS vendors and IT service providers.

“Today’s biggest challenges are complexity and compliance,” says Brad Peterson, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Chicago office and leader of its global technology transactions practice. “There are an increasing range of technologies and providers. Technologies such as AI and processes such as agile make it more difficult to know what commitments to seek. The group of stakeholders keeps growing.” 

Pricing models and metrics can also be complex, making it difficult to understand when additional costs might kick in, Alexander says. Indeed, the arithmetic can be downright opaque.

“Some contracts are structured as a black box with limited view into the components and their commercial impact,” Arora says, adding that buyers with limited access to market data are at a disadvantage when negotiating. “The sell side typically has the information advantage.”

Technology capabilities, often provided by third parties, are intrinsic to business operations and growth, so the deals IT leaders set up with their vendors and service providers are of strategic importance, making effective negotiation a key difference maker not just for IT, but the business. talked to technology transaction experts, who live and breathe contracts and pricing, about the best actions IT leaders can take to negotiate effectively with vendors for the outcomes they seek. Here are their top 10 tips.

Recognize the significance of the contract

The legal agreement between vendor and customer is not just a document standing in the way of getting work started; it sets the tone for the relationships and the expectations for vendor performance. If what you’re looking for isn’t in the contract, it won’t happen.

“The biggest missteps seem to flow from applying approaches that succeed internally across organizations,” says Peterson. “This causes the IT leader to underestimate the role of the contract as the foundation for the relationship and the importance of the supplier’s incentives, culture, and business to the success of the contract.”  

Build in the time for back and forth

Coming to terms takes time that IT leaders should factor into the process and any business expectations for how quickly a deal can be done. “We often see that IT leaders do not allow enough time for a successful negotiation,” says Arora. “Reaching a win-win agreement takes patience from both parties.”

This is particularly important for as-a-service contract renewals. “Neglecting to track contract renewal dates inevitably results in little time to effectively negotiate,” says Alexander. “Proactively manage software maintenance and support renewals, as well as SaaS renewals, and allow enough time to truly evaluate how these deals fit your technology roadmap.”

Seek cross-functional expertise and input

A host of issues can crop up when those who do the negotiating are disconnected from those who operationalize the agreement, says Marc Tanowitz, managing partner in the advisory and transformation practice at West Monroe.

“That causes some friction as the operations that are conceptualized in the agreement don’t necessarily make their way through to the delivery team,” Tanowitz says. “This can ultimately erode confidence and value delivered to the client.”

Before negotiating with any supplier, IT needs to get on the same page with other business leaders regarding core objectives, risk appetite, and standards by which to assess deal terms — before a product or service contract is even on the table.

“IT sourcing is a team sport,” says Peterson. Deals done by business users alone may be technically unsound. Deals done by procurement professionals alone may reduce costs but disappoint users. Deals done by IT departments alone provide leading-edge technology but often at high cost and legal risk. That’s why IT leaders should build an advisory team — or at least get appropriate input — when deciding on key deal points.

Peterson advises creating a team with representation not just from IT, but also users, operations, finance, procurement, and legal. “Get specialists advice early, to avoid costly pitfalls,” Peterson says. “[And] run an informed, efficient, effective process designed to make good decisions while building good relationships.”

Look beyond price

It’s the biggest misstep Tanowitz sees in vendor negotiations? “Over-indexing on price — for example, the perceived lowest cost —rather than value,” he says, adding that IT buyers who work collaboratively with their service providers to structure full solutions that add value to their enterprise end up with greater satisfaction levels in their IT service provider relationships.

IT buyers may think they got a good deal if they get the vendor to come down on price. But that’s almost never the case. In fact, low prices may be a red flag — an indication of hidden costs that will emerge later or under-sizing of the deal by the vendor. “A deal that is priced too low can have greater negative impact than overpaying,” Arora says.

Do your homework

“Consider benchmarks, market norms, and strategy before entering the room for a negotiation,” advises Amy Fong, partner in the sourcing and vendor management group at Everest Group. Price should be part of the pre-negotiation assessment, but not the lead factor.

“Build a holistic service delivery view and consider factors beyond cost such as performance, efficiency, and risk management,” Fong says.

Decide on your negotiation approach

“One of the common complaints is when either party considers the negotiation to be win/lose,” says Arora. “This tends to be driven by a position-based negotiation strategy.”

Taking a unilateral stance to serve your own needs, demanding outcomes, or making ultimatums may simplify the process or speed it up, but it doesn’t foster collaboration. “In fact, it often results in splitting the difference with both parties compromising on benefits,” Arora says.

A more effective approach is interest-based negotiation. “In this framework both parties work to understand the other’s needs, desires, and problems to be solved,” Arora says. “While this extra effort can be difficult to execute – deconstructing and analyzing positions can be complicated and nuanced – the process focuses more on problem solving.”

The result is better value distribution and typically a stronger relationship with the vendor. Seeking mutual gains, agreeing on equitable terms, and executing a balanced contract should be the goal, says Fong.

Look beyond the obvious solutions

IT buyers often end up negotiating a deal as an end unto itself instead of looking more broadly at how to generate business value. For example, they might focus on signing an IaaS deal rather than looking for a reliable platform for running specific software.

Even when negotiation begins in earnest, it pays to set pricing aside at first. “Design the right solution from the business before negotiating the final price,” advises Tanowitz. “Allow the service providers the opportunity to differentiate based on the unique assets or tools or accelerators that they can bring to the operations.”

There may be alternative deal models that make sense. “Buyers should stop running away from more complex commercial models like outcome-based contracts,” says Arora. “Discussing outcome-based contracts with service providers should be a strategic decision, geared toward better business results for both parties.”

Get all-in pricing and press for cost protections

Even as IT leaders take a win-win approach to vendor deal-making, it’s important they protect their interests. That begins with making sure you get “all-in” pricing from vendors to eliminate surprise costs, says Peterson.

Alexander advises pushing for cost protections for deals and renewals. “Some deals that lack such protection have resulted in increases in annual fees between 5% and 20% — sometimes even higher,” Alexander says. “Negotiate caps on renewal increases, reveal and protect against hidden costs, and include flexibility in the pricing model or contract term length.”

Tanowitz also recommends “hard-wiring” any productivity and cost savings improvements in vendor contracts to ensure they are realized.

Take advantage of economic volatility

Macroeconomic dynamics are changing faster than ever and IT leaders should ensure that their deals flex with the times.

“As we move from a hot tech economy to recession, IT leaders have tremendous opportunities to optimize cost through contracting with IT vendors,” says Peterson. “Use an agile approach based on the negotiating leverage you gain in the downturn. Focus negotiating energy to what past downturns have demonstrated are the ‘money points’ in the negotiations while building for the future.”

Have an exit plan

Just like startup founders have a clear exit plan when they launch, so too should CIOs when approaching a vendor contract.

“IT leaders need to have an understanding of what it will take to disentangle themselves from that vendor and, just as importantly, when they can,” says Alexander. “Ensure a smooth transition to another solution by including data extraction and transition assistance in contracts.”

CIO, IT Leadership, Outsourcing

Networking isn’t just for holiday parties. It’s something you should do all year long and, if approached correctly, it works no matter where you are on the career ladder.

The two cardinal rules of networking, according to CIOs and career coaches, are to schedule time to do it for at least an hour every month, and to approach it as something you do to help others in addition to yourself.

Joe Topinka, a career coach with CIO Mentor in Charlotte, NC, says he was not originally a big fan of networking. “My boss encouraged me to do it back when I was in software development, and I actually resisted it,” he recalls. “I used to try to do it on Fridays, and I’d get up and start whining about it to my wife. But then I started doing it, and I’d come back energized and full of ideas.”

These days, like most people interviewed for this article, Topinka puts networking on his calendar to make sure he blocks out the time, and he advises his CIO clients to do the same.

Know you are not alone

Of course it’s critical to stay current with your contacts if you’re looking for a job, but networking goes far beyond that. Edward Wagoner, CIO of Chicago-based commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, says that attending events with other CIOs has given him a much-needed confidence boost.

Edward Wagoner, CIO, Jones Lang LaSalle

Jones Lang LaSalle

“For years I avoided networking events because I felt I didn’t belong,” he says. “I suffered from a crippling lack of self-worth.” But after sharing these feelings at conferences with other CIOs, he heard from a number who had the same issue. “I’d walk into a room and think, ‘Oh, my God, look at all these very accomplished people.’ But it turns out they were thinking the same thing. We’re more alike than I ever gave myself credit for.”

In addition to building a sense of comradery, networking helps in other ways, too. CIOs talk to each other about approaches to major projects — techniques and technologies that have or have not succeeded for them — as well as tips for working with various vendors and how to address staffing issues, among other topics.

“‘We’ is smarter than ‘me,’” says Larry Bonfante, an executive coach with CIO Bench Coach in West Nyack, NY. “The more you can surround yourself with smart people, the more you can avoid stepping into the same rabbit holes.” Plus, he says, given how quickly the industry is evolving, networking “helps you see what’s going on in the broader world.”

Ken Piddington, VP and CIO, US Silica

US Silica

In fact, networking can help keep you marketable even before you start a job search, says Jayne Mattson, a career coach and author. Talking to others can help you see how your accomplishments can transfer across industries and how you can add value to other companies. It’s also a great way to hear about other opportunities, including at companies that may be laying off in some technology areas but staffing up in others, she adds.

Some CIOs, including Ken Piddington, CIO at US Silica, use networking events to “keep recruiters warm,” by connecting with national or local IT specialists. Even if he’s not looking for a job, he might know other CIOs who are and can help get them in touch. Plus, he says, “I want to understand the different [HR] firms and where they specialize, and then I find a way to get introduced.”

Make the most of online opportunities

Most experts agree you’ll get much more out of an in-person outing. But if budget or time are tight, online conferences can work, Mattson says. If you do opt for a webinar, make sure your camera is on, and comment when you can.

“When you participate, people look at you as a go-to person, and that’s how you want to be seen,” Mattson says. “If you’re on mute and don’t look at the camera, that defeats the purpose.” And make sure to take advantage of any online networking opportunities the conference organizers provide.

The pandemic has been a boon for online conferences. Megan Duty, vice president of technology and project delivery at Puritan Life, says her time available for networking increased because she was working at home more. “I wasn’t commuting as much and felt these conferences were important,” she says.

Choose your groups carefully

Generally, Duty attends meetings that are relevant to insurance, leadership, women in technology, or those hosted by consulting groups she wants to get to know better. A lot of these forums are back in person, she says, and she traveled a lot during 2022. But she used her virtual time to figure out what the most valuable conferences were before attending in person.

Megan Duty, VP of technology and project delivery, Puritan Life Insurance Company of America

Puritan Life Insurance Company of America

Another technique, she suggests, is to tap into the people you meet. She asks professional acquaintances which groups they belong to and whether they have found value in attending their meetings or annual conferences.

JLL’s Wagoner says he selects conferences that will help him learn things he doesn’t already know, or that “challenge me to think differently.” For instance, he doesn’t need to hear that cybersecurity is important; he already knows that.

Another plus is to have inspirational speakers, like Sabina Ewing, the global CIO at Abbott Laboratories, or Danielle Brown, CIO at Whirlpool, “people I’d pay to be in the room to hear from,” Wagoner says. He explains how he was impressed by how Whirlpool, a mature manufacturing firm, knocked a tech company out of The Wall Street Journal’s “Management Top 250” list, and wanted to learn more about how it did that.

Wagoner recently hosted a group of CIOs at JLL’s Chicago corporate headquarters, and he spoke about his company’s efforts to be carbon-neutral as part of his firm’s commitment to help educate people about what it’s doing. Another speaker at that event was Dr. Nancy Tuchman, founding dean of sustainability at Loyola University Chicago, “one of the most sustainable” secondary institutions in the world, Wagoner says. “The audience was asking questions and engaging even before we asked them to.”

Ron Mathis, corporate IT operations director, Illinois Tool Works

Illinois Tool Works

Ron Mathis, operations director for information technology at Illinois Tool Works, says he needs to pick and choose which groups he belongs to because “there are many different organizations targeting my demographic; I can’t participate in all of them.” Most of his networking time and energy are spent with the Chicago chapter of the Society of Information Management (SIM), a national group for IT leaders with many local chapters. He’s also active on LinkedIn.

His counsel: “Pick one, and don’t look for an immediate ROI on your investment of time. Over time, I’ve found significant value in building a network of other people I ask for professional advice.” 

Start local and small — and do it now

Don’t wait until you need a network; you don’t know when that will happen. Instead, build it before you need it, which means now. “A good network doesn’t happen by accident,” says US Silica’s Piddington. “It has to be purposeful.”

If you’re just getting started with networking, it’s probably best to begin with local MeetUp groups, or the closest SIM chapter — in other words, something small that includes people you can keep in touch with afterward. Choose a group where you will be as comfortable as possible with your peers, and where you can give something back. Keep in mind that other attendees really do want to hear about your relevant professional experiences, both positive and negative.

Prepare questions before you go, then pick a couple of names off the agenda as people you want to talk to, and do it. Ask to meet for coffee at the conference venue or nearby (and pick up the tab), have a half-hour conversation, then ask if it’s okay to keep in touch after the conference is over. Build from there; most people remember what it’s like to be new in their role and are generous with their time.

CIO Bench Coach’s Bonfante says, “It’s not about being the most interesting person in the room; it’s about being the most interested. Ask about the people around you — what they’re doing, what they’re having problems with.”

You can also start by leveraging your existing professional social-networking contacts; Mattson is a big fan of using LinkedIn as a networking medium. Just make sure your profile is up to date.

Where to get some help

For the truly introverted or absolute beginner, you can learn the basics by doing some reading before venturing out. US Silica’s Piddington recommends Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow, and Keep Your Business Relationships, by Thom Singer.

Mattson wrote a book, You, You, Me, You, explaining how to develop and nurture professional relationships. She says she wrote the book out of frustration because people often believe they know how to do this well when, in fact, they don’t.

Give back

Once you find your tribe and are comfortable, volunteer to be a mentor, be on a panel, or lead a discussion. It helps build your brand, too, CIO Mentor’s Topinka says.

CIO Bench Coach’s Bonfante recalls when he left Pfizer and tried to keep in touch with someone who was still at the company. For a year his calls went unanswered, “and I got the hint” and stopped calling. Two years later, the person called him to ask for a favor. Bonfante did it, but as he spent time helping the guy, “I was thinking, ‘Wait, when I tried to call you, you were in witness protection, and now you want something from me?,’” Bonfante says.

Don’t be that guy.

Everyone knows something of value, but it might take some time before you’re up for genuine sharing, JLL’s Wagoner advises. “I wasn’t ready for self-reflection until a bit later in my career,” he says. It took some time to develop “the ability to look at myself critically, in the right way, and share with others, to really open up and help people.” For him, these days, networking is about being authentic as both a human being and a CIO, and that realization was the result of “a lot of coffee and a lot of angst.”

It takes some time and effort, but networking is more important than ever, especially for younger people or those new to an IT leadership role. “You’ll get out of it what you put into it,” Wagoner says. “Figure out a way to participate.”

Careers, CIO, IT Leadership, Mentoring

IT leaders seeking to drive enterprise growth through technology investments are often saddled with budgets that make their tasks of increasing the top and bottom lines challenging. The year 2023 seems to be no different.

Despite an estimated increase to IT budgets of 5.1% on average for 2023, research firm Gartner points to a projected 6.5% global inflation rate, an ongoing talent squeeze, and persistent supply issues as a triple threat to CIOs’ ability to realize time to value for their tech investments this year, according to its 2023 Gartner CIO and Technology Executive Survey, which gathered data from 2,203 CIOs in 81 countries and all major industries.

While some would argue that whatever budget is allotted it never appears big enough, that’s not reality. Irrespective of getting a small or a large IT budget, by managing it well, technology decision makers can put their organization’s resources effectively toward delivering great business benefits. To help them do so, here are tips for making the most of your IT budget, from IT leaders from different geographies and industries.

Base your decisions on revenue value

Those CIOs who aren’t getting a substantial increase in their budgets will likely start thinking where they need to cut costs — a particular project, human resources, certain procurements — so that they are able to spend on their areas of focus. This is where Saurabh Mittal, CTO at Mumbai-based Piramal Capital & Housing Finance, wants IT leaders to make a careful distinction.

“Enterprise technology leaders must differentiate between cost and investment if they want to make the most of their limited budgets. Areas where IT leaders spend money but don’t have any leverage on are clearly costs, whereas investments are where they spend money now to get multi-fold returns later,” he says. “Technology leaders should have this clear segregation and then actively, consciously reduce long-term costs and increase investments.”

Of course, making this distinction can be challenging, and is a skill that can take time to develop, says Mittal, whose company is taking a tech-first, cloud-native approach to transforming loan servicing.

“It took some time for me to realize how to make the right tech choices. What systems to have and how to have them can impact your long-term cost. For example, CIOs can buy an off-the-shelf system that costs X in license fees today and 20% of X every year as long as they are using it or they could choose to build the system in a manner where instead of X they incur 1.5X as the cost and the long-term operating cost is only 2% instead of 20%,” he says. “Keeping long-term costs as low as possible will always create more and more room for you to make impactful investments.”

Bob Cournoyer, senior director of data strategy, BI, and analytics at Richmond, Va.-based Estes Express Lines, throws light on how he differentiates between cost and investment. “I make a lot of my budgeting decisions based on revenue value — what value will get added to the business by investing in a particular technology,” he says.

For the freight transportation company, business intelligence (BI) is one area where IT can have a top-line impact.

“We have telematics devices running on our tractors in the warehouse, tablets running on our forklifts, and dimensional scanners that scan freight, all of which provide crucial business intelligence to us,” says Cournoyer, who recently reorganized Estes’ data operations around a logical data fabric to better serve its customers. “We obviously won’t cut investments here. I invest in those areas in the business that bring revenue to the table. To me, it’s how can we replace old technology with newer technology that’s going to be more agile, more cost effective.”

Develop a clear technology vision

Having a clear vison of where you are and where you are going helps to put everything into perspective. As Madhumita Mazumder, GM-ICT at Australian tourism company Journey Beyond says, “If we have a proper strategic plan for the IT department that is aligned with the organization’s vision, we can achieve things within the budget and deal with half the problems that could arise six months or a year down the line.”

Giving an example of this approach, Mazumdar says, “We have got absolute clarity on pursuing a cloud-first strategy. The vision of having 100% cloud infrastructure enabled us to significantly reduce our third-party data center costs as we migrated it into our cloud environment.”

Similarly, Mazumdar is clear on the outsourcing versus insourcing debate. “I am a big fan of insourcing and support developing a team to take things in-house. For instance, having an in-house team ensures 100% patching of all my network devices on time. Patching happens at odd hours when the business isn’t operating. If it’s outsourced, the coordination with the vendor becomes very tough, and there is every chance of things going awry,” she says. “With the internal team working alongside the vendor at 11 p.m., it seems a wasteful expenditure when instead of paying for both, I could just pay for the internal resource.”

Being able to foresee extraneous costs such as these is key to ensuring there is enough budget to cover better bets, Mazumdar says.

“This clarity with respect to the technology roadmap can enable a CIO to prevent wasteful expenditure and deploy the saved capital more effectively,” she says.

Make the most of your negotiation skills

Negotiation skills have always been important for succeeding in a business-technology role. To conserve capital, IT leaders will have to increasingly bank on them in the new year.

“When maintenance agreements come up for renewal, going back to the table and negotiating hard to rationalize rates will help,” says Cournoyer, who prefers to leverage expertise from Gartner before entering any negotiations, be it for renewing maintenance agreements or procuring any new technology solution.

“As a Gartner partner, we get tips from their analysts, which could be around industry-wide prevailing price range of a specific solution, certain guidelines around it, or even advice on buying complementary products. This gives us some guardrails while dealing with service and solution providers and helps save capex,” he says.

Another approach to cut spiralling costs, according to Vijay Sethi, chairman at technology-based mentorship platform MentorKart and former CIO of Hero MotoCorp, would be “by inking long-term (three-year period) contracts with vendors. As costs are negotiated for a longer period, CIOs stand to get better discounts.”

Procure only what you use

Enterprise technology leaders are increasingly making the shift from monolithic to modular applications. “The former is not only expensive, but also fails to deliver the value it promises. While CIOs make the transition to modular to save costs, the switch, if not thought out well, can defeat the very purpose,” says Cournoyer.

Big-ticket items like ERP systems provide a good example, he says.

“I have seen a lot of ERP vendors trying to package their solutions attractively for CIOs to buy. Their argument is that CIOs should invest in the entire solution, at a discounted price, even if they don’t have to implement all the modules in one go,” he says.

In such cases, the sales pitch is that the CIO can maximize the value of a subset of modules now, and then the vendor can come back later to implement the other modules any time the CIO wants. “This approach is flawed as the CIOs are still paying for stuff that they are not using just to get a price discount and, in the process, blocking their capital,” Cournoyer says.

Continuously evaluate your infrastructure, projects

Software makes up a major chunk of an organization’s IT infrastructure cost. CIOs must therefore evaluate whether there is optimum usage of the software deployed or not. “Cloud service providers are constantly coming up with better plans that are better, faster, and cheaper. Moving to those helps in cost savings,” says Mazumdar, who recently transitioned Journey Beyond to a cloud-based communications platform for its contact center.

“CIOs should also ask themselves questions such as, ‘Are we using everything that we have deployed? Are we on the right cloud platform? What is our backup strategy? What storage do we have?’ Today, there are lots of cost-effective storage solutions available in the market that allow CIOs to store huge amounts of information for next to nothing,” she says.

There are several hidden costs at the project level too that can be significantly reduced, says MentorKart’s Sethi.

“A project could be getting delayed leading to a CIO paying extra consulting charges. There could also be additional incurring costs on account of slow decision-making, non-availability of users, frequent changes in requirements, or even lack of competency of team members, leading to lot of reworks. The quantum of hidden costs is huge, and if controlled well, could lead to significant savings thus leaving money for CIO to do innovative projects,” he says.

There are several hidden costs at the project level too that can be significantly reduced, says MentorKart’s Sethi. “A project could be getting delayed leading to a CIO paying extra consulting charges. There could also be additional incurring costs on account of slow decision-making, non-availability of users, frequent changes in requirements, or even lack of competency of team members, leading to lot of reworks. The quantum of hidden costs is huge, and if controlled well, could lead to significant savings thus leaving money for CIO to do innovative projects,” he says.

Adopt a phased approach

Even though budgets may get allotted for important initiatives, CIOs still need to be frugal with their finances. This can be done by assessing whether a phased approach to projects can be adopted. “CIOs need to judge if a vital enterprise-wide project can be initially rolled out to only a few departments or locations and then gradually scaled up to other departments or locations later,” Sethi says. “For instance, can the refreshing of old laptops be deferred or instead of replacing all old laptops could RAM be added in some cases and asset life increased by a year or two?”

Deferral strategies such as these can help set aside budget for more innovative initiatives aimed at achieving top-line business goals, enabling IT leaders to innovate frugally even when budgets are tight.


By Saket Srivastava, Chief Information Officer at Asana

There has never been a better time to be a CIO. The pandemic has evolved how we regard the IT organization within businesses, in no small part due to the extensive role it played in keeping teams connected and able to perform during a more disconnected time than ever. No longer is the tech function conceived of as a back-office team — we are leading the charge in how the workplace adapts.

The year ahead will bring new and continuing challenges for all businesses. Organizations are once again turning to CIOs to bring about digital transformation that drives productivity, agility, and growth for the future. With two decades of experience working in technology, I’m no stranger to leading through uncertain times. With this in mind, I’ve created a survival guide for CIOs — with five key tips to help tech leaders navigate the year ahead while improving customer and employee experiences alike.

Make hyper prioritization a growth opportunity: While many organizations are faced with challenging economic conditions and resource constraints, CIOs have an exciting chance to turn these factors into new growth opportunities. Start by identifying and prioritizing which investments will have the biggest impact on your organization both in the short and long-term, enabling your teams not to spread themselves too thin focusing on less critical goals. Market constraints mean the opportunity to focus and double down on work that matters most.Scale up security investments: The move to a more distributed workforce has reset the level of flexibility employees have. However, it has also created security challenges — with more access points and sensitive information available to share and download on personal and corporate devices. Enhanced cybersecurity practices should be a priority for any CIO as they look to balance work between corporate and home offices. Additionally, make sure that your cloud technology tools use security industry best practices when it comes to how data is transmitted, stored, and processed. Internally, it’s vital for everyone to be aware of the dangers around sharing sensitive information — organizations should invest in robust security training to ensure company data isn’t compromised.Automate ongoing, low-skill tasks: Companies must increasingly focus on getting the most out of the investments they make in AI, tech, and data to optimize ongoing operational efficiencies. Automation is a sound investment to make, especially when it can free up employees to focus on high-impact work, optimize resources, and drive productivity. A few ways to get started are automating workflows through a work management platform to save employee time, reduce the need for status updates, and evolve from clunky spreadsheets and never-ending email chains; utilizing advanced data science models to understand customer pain points; and assessing the value your organization might gain from incorporating chatbots to power support teams. Tune in to customers: One of the single best investments that an organization can make in the coming year is ensuring that employees have the tools to be engaged, efficient, and productive. When teams can focus on work that drives meaningful results, it ultimately trickles down to improved customer experiences and outcomes. In the coming year, having a good read on customer needs will be crucial as many organizations battle resource constraints, challenging economic conditions, and continuing uncertainty when it comes to planning. Optimize distributed workforces: Today’s enterprise organizations rely on distributed teams, and it is important to ensure that employees collaborate effectively across time zones, geographies, and departments. One of the biggest challenges to workplace efficiency is that employees are distracted, often switching between an average of nine apps a day. This makes it easy to miss critical messages and updates from teammates. For CIOs, there will be a greater need for work management platforms to update individuals across multiple channels, integrate more productivity-focused tools, and minimize redundant cross-functional work and errors. 

CIOs have a breadth of touchpoints across any business. By optimizing both employee and customer experiences, they have a golden opportunity to help reduce friction and increase productivity. This will prove pivotal in positioning organizations not just for the year ahead, but also for longer-term growth. It’s a tall order, but by focusing on the priorities above, CIOs can ensure their enterprise remains nimble, relevant, and able to pivot around whatever the future may hold.

To learn more, visit us here.

Saket Srivastava, Chief Information Officer at Asana


Digital Transformation, IT Leadership

Once relegated to the back office, CIOs are now key customer-facing leaders charged with delivering great customer experiences.

According to our State of the CIO 2022 survey, 57% of responding IT leaders say improving customer experience (CX) is a top goal, while 81% are implementing new technologies to support customer interactions.

Research also indicates that many organizations are struggling to reach their CX objectives, as they face challenges in bringing together the required skills, tools, and data. To help overcome those hurdles, we asked researchers and CX leaders to list steps CIOs can take to strengthen their organization’s customer experience function. Here’s the ten action items that will have the greatest impact.

1. Embrace a customer-centric mindset

CIOs themselves will have to think and work in new ways as their organizations make CX a strategic objective, says Elli Rader, a partner at digital services firm West Monroe who works in its Product Experience and Engineering Lab.

Some CIOs, however, will have to work harder than others to make this shift, Rader says.

“Some CIOs — particularly in times of pressure, which is now — tend to fall back on things they’ve done for a long time. They fall back on things that are familiar because they have muscle memory. And those things tend to be around delivery, like ship fast, but, unfortunately, they miss what’s best for the customer when that’s your focus,” Rader says.

“They need to be open to new ways of working, so not just building the same well but building the right things,” she adds, explaining that CIOs need to learn enough about human-centered design and other CX-related methodologies so they’re able to effectively lead their CX teams.

2. Evolve the culture

“As a CIO my role is to first create an organization and culture that supports and enables customer-centric, design thinking, technically innovative, agile ways of working and secondly to enable and empower our colleagues to be successful in re-imagining the way we work and the way we provide value to our customers, both internally and externally,” says Mark Mintz, senior vice president and CIO of Charles River Laboratories.

“When we are evaluating opportunities for how best to serve our internal and external customers, we continuously seek to understand the core of the opportunity from a customer perspective as well as from a business perspective and strive to re-imagine those experiences based on what we learn,” he explains. “From there we identify our key metrics that we expect to impact through our re-imagination and then we stay focused on regular collaboration with our customers, guided by data and metrics, to ensure we are delivering the highest value experiences that not only are delights for our customers but also creating real business value for them.”

3. Create shared responsibility for CX within the C-suite

Customer experience technologies were among the top IT investments over the past year, according to Foundry’s 2022 State of the CIO Study. But CIOs have to own more of the CX program than technology delivery; they must share ownership for it, along with the marketing, operations, sales, and revenue officers, as well as the chief customer or chief experience officers if those roles exist within the company.

Research has found that companies that deliver great customer experiences make CX a shared responsibility, says Sudhir Rajagopal, research director for Future of Customer Experience at research firm IDC.

“It’s not about any one person or one function,” he says. “It’s one thing to say it, but what it means is that each one of those functions, every one of those leaders within their functions, thinks about how they’re delivering on their operational pieces against the same customer objectives.”

4. Build joint ownership through cross-functional teams

That joint ownership must extend throughout the organization, says Sam Bright, chief product and experience officer at Upwork, a platform serving the freelance work market.

“In order to ensure better product and business outcomes, it’s essential that tech leaders put a structure in place that tightly couples product, experience, and data teams and even combines them at certain junctures where it makes sense. This instills a culture of collaboration across the organization that brings multiple departments — whether directly or indirectly responsible for the customer experience — closer together,” he explains.

Bright says Upwork has focused on creating a team structure that “binds together product and experience.” That includes co-locating these teams as well as promoting transparency and collaboration across the organization.

“With a more unified team, where VPs and product managers of our various products or delivery models sit right alongside our UX function, analytics team as well as customer support and trust experts, we get a true 360-degree view of customer problems we’re trying to solve while creating a real feedback loop that revolves around customer obsession,” Bright says.

5. Align CX strategy to the enterprise strategy

Delivering great customer experiences is a good goal, but the objective should be delivering great experiences in ways that also help the organization achieve its goals, says Thomas Randall, advisory director at Info-Tech Research Group and its SoftwareReviews division.

“IT has to work with the business to ask, ‘What are our goals for customer experience?’ whether that’s upselling or customer retention or customer acquisition,” Randall says, explaining that aligning CX with the corporate strategy enables IT to identify the technologies, features, and functions to pursue and advance.

For example, CIOs whose companies are focused on customer retention will need to prioritize the delivery of technologies that can solve customer problems on their own and, if they can’t, enable customer service reps to quickly do so.

6. Define the problem before defining the solution

“As technologists, it’s easy for us to quickly jump to the addition or purchase of a technology solution without clearly defining the reason and problem it is meant to solve,” says Erin Howard, executive director of product, service, and experience design at Charles River Laboratories.

“Using methodologies found in design-thinking practices can help to define the problem space; journey and process mapping, persona definition, ideation workshops and many other broad thinking tactics can help you and your team spend time in the problem, empathize with the customer and ultimately define and design the solution with a focus on the needs and experience of your customer,” she explains.

That’s critical for determining not just how to build a great customer experience but building the right ones.

“Fully understanding the problem, looking at it from different angles, and spending more time in the problem space will lead to better solution evaluation, understanding of needs, and definition of goals before purchasing your next technology solution,” Howard says.

7. Get a handle on the data

Teams looking to improve CX often focus on the experience layer, putting most or all of their efforts into understanding customer journeys and customer personas.

But teams need good data to do all that successfully. “That’s the layer that needs to be fundamentally addressed,” Rajagopal says, pointing out that IT is instrumental in building the infrastructure needed to bring in first-, second-, and third-party data and create a “unified customer data view.”

Justin Skinner, CIO of SmileDirectClub, knows the value of building data sets to leverage for enhanced CX, pointing to the company’s SmileMaker Platform, which uses artificial intelligence to enable customers to see in minutes how the company’s treatment plans could change their smile.

“With this technology, we’re able to utilize data from 1.8 million smiles to create an educational experience for customers that makes it easier for them to get started,” Skinner says. “Analyzing the smiles of our existing users allows new customers to go through the process more quickly, while also enabling us to reach consumers across the globe at scale.”

8. Prioritize and prune

“There are way more ideas and work than time and money,” says Amy Evins, executive vice president and CIO of LPL Financial. That’s why she believes high-performing CX functions have a disciplined approach to prioritizing their work.

To that point, Evins’ team calculates the value of proposals and prioritizes them based on the impact that they are each expected to bring.

“That also empowers the team to say no, so when they push back, they have the data to show why, and then they can prioritize the customer experience products that will drive the most value,” Evins says.

Rader advocates for that approach, too. She also advises CIOs to use a similar approach with existing features and functions by determining which ones don’t deliver value so they can be retired.

“Look at what features are being used and kill those that aren’t. Why spend money maintaining that stuff when you can spend money building new features that customers will actually want?” she asks.

9. Measure the impact of CX efforts

To prioritize and prune effectively, and to determine which activities are actually improving customer experiences, organizations must have accurate ways to measure the value of their CX work, Rajagopal says.

That means using more than the Net Promotor Score (NPS) and instead using additional customer-centric metrics such as the Customer Effort Score and measuring whether CX initiatives bring increased consumer spending.

There’s some movement on that front but not a lot. IDC predicts that at least 30% of organizations will introduce new success metrics to track and measure the internal and external flows of customer value creation by 2024. IDC also predicts that one-fourth of global brands will abandon the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) as a measure of customer experience and adopt a Customer Effort Score correlated to outcomes as a key indicator of journey satisfaction and success by 2027.

Rajagopal says CIOs can bring in tools that enable such measurements, adding that CIOs can also deploy AI technologies that analyze text and verbal tone, enabling organizations to gauge customer sentiment during interactions.

10. Build CX teams and a true CX discipline

Like other CIOs, Mintz lists attention to hiring the right people as one of his top tasks in support of a strong CX function.

“A large focus of my time is spent on attracting, exciting, and retaining world-class talent and giving them the support they need to use the best of their expertise to deliver on our objectives,” he says.

CIOs should also be attentive to how they organize their talent, Rajagopal says, adding that research shows that organizations with the best CX have specialized CX teams with dedicated resources to execute experience transformation. Furthermore, those teams are coupled with the organization’s digital transformation strategy.

“So the customer experience team is looking across all [functions and touchpoints], asking whether they’re addressing customer needs while also addressing some of the operational constraints,” Rajagopal explains.

Such moves, experts add, enable organizations to move past seeing CX as a series of one-off projects to creating a true CX practice that’s capable of continuous improvement and evolution as market demands change.

Digital Transformation, Software Development

What is project management?

Project management is a business discipline that involves applying specific processes, knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to successfully deliver outcomes that meet project goals. Project management professionals drive, guide, and execute company-identified value-added goals by applying processes and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor, and close all activities related to a given business project in alignment with the organization’s overall strategic objectives.

Project management steps

Project management is broken down into five phases or life cycle. Each phase intersects with any of 10 knowledge areas, which include: integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communication, risk procurement, and stakeholder management. The phases, processes and associated knowledge areas provide an organized approach for project managers and their teams to work through projects, according to the following outline:

Initiating phase:

Integration management: Develop project charter.
Stakeholder management: Identify stakeholders.

Planning phase:

Integration management: Develop project management plan.
Scope management: Define scope, create work breakdown structure (WBS), gather requirements.
Time management: Plan and develop schedules and activities, estimate resources and timelines.
Costs management: Estimate costs, determine budgets.
Quality management: Identify quality requirements.
Human resource management: Plan and identify human resource needs.
Communications management: Plan stakeholder communications.
Risk management: Perform qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, plan risk mitigation strategies.
Procurement management: Identify and plan required procurements.
Stakeholder management: Plan for stakeholder expectations.

Execution phase:

Integration management: Direct and manage all project work.
Quality management: Performing all aspects of managing quality.
Human resource management: Select, develop, and manage the project team.
Communications management: Manage all aspects of communications.
Procurement management: Secure necessary procurements.
Stakeholder management: Manage all stakeholder expectations.

Monitoring and controlling phase:

Integration management: Monitoring and control project work and manage any necessary changes.
Scope management: Validate and control the scope of the project.
Time management: Control project scope.
Costs management: Controlling project costs.
Quality management: Monitor quality of deliverables.
Communications management: Monitor all team and stakeholder communications.
Procurement management: Keep on top of any necessary procurements.
Stakeholder management: Take ownership of stakeholder engagements.

Closing phase:

Integration management: Close all phases of the project.
Procurement management: Close out all project procurements.

Stakeholder expectations

Stakeholders can be any person or group with a vested stake in the success of a project, program, or portfolio, including team members, functional groups, sponsors, vendors, and customers. Expectations of all stakeholders must be carefully identified, communicated, and managed. Missing this can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and even project failure.

Here are some tips for managing stakeholder expectations.

Assemble a team specific to project goals, ensuring team members have the right mix of skills and knowledge to deliver.
Leave sufficient time in advance of a project for key individuals to delve into and discuss issues and goals before the project begins.
Ensure the project timeline and scheduled tasks are realistic.

Project scope

During the planning phase, all project details must be solidified, including goals, deliverables, assumptions, roles, tasks, timeline, budget, resources, quality aspects, terms, and so on. The customer and key stakeholders work together to solidify and agree on the scope before the project can begin. The scope guides the project work and any changes to the scope of the project must be presented and approved as a scope change request.

Project budgets

Budgets play a large role in whether a project progresses, or if it can be completed. Few companies have an unlimited budget, so the first thing project stakeholders look at in determining whether a project succeeded or failed is the bottom line. This fact fuels the pressure project leaders, and their teams face with each passing day. As such, effective budget management is a primary area of focus for project managers who value their careers. The following are five strategies for maintaining control of your project budget before it succumbs to whopping cost overruns:

Understand stakeholder’s true needs and wants
Budget for surprises
Develop relevant KPIs
Revisit, review, re-forecast
Keep everyone informed and accountable

Project management methodologies

Most projects are conducted based on a specific methodology for ensuring project outcomes based on a range of factors. As such, choosing the right project management methodology (PMM) is a vital step for success. There are many, often overlapping approaches to managing projects, the most popular of which are waterfall, agile, hybrid, critical path method, and critical chain project management, among others. Agile, which includes subvariants such as Lean and Scrum, is increasing in popularity and is being utilized in virtually every industry. Originally adopted by software developers, agile uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in developing a product or service.


Successful organizations codify project management efforts under an umbrella organization, either a project management office (PMO) or an enterprise project management office (EPMO).

A PMO is an internal or external group that sets direction and maintains and ensures standards, best practices, and the status of project management across an organization. PMOs traditionally do not assume a lead role in strategic goal alignment.

An EPMO has the same responsibilities as a traditional PMO, but with an additional key high-level goal: to align all project, program, and portfolio activities with an organization’s strategic objectives. Organizations are increasingly adopting the EPMO structure, whereby, project, program, and portfolio managers are involved in strategic planning sessions right from the start to increase project success rates.

PMOs and EPMOs both help organizations apply a standard approach to shepherding projects from initiation to closure. In setting standard approaches, PMOs and EPMOs offer the following benefits:

ground rules and expectations for the project teams
a common language for project managers, functional leaders, and other stakeholders that smooths communication and ensures expectations are fully understood
higher levels of visibility and increased accountability across an entire organization
increased agility when adapting to other initiatives or changes within an organization
the ready ability to identify the status of tasks, milestones, and deliverables
relevant key performance indicators for measuring project performance

Project management roles

Depending on numerous factors such as industry, the nature and scope of the project, the project team, company, or methodology, projects may need the help of schedulers, business analysts, business intelligence analysts, functional leads, and sponsors. Here is a comparison of the three key roles within the PMO or EPMO, all are in high demand due to their leadership skill sets.

Project manager: Plays the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing of individual projects. Organizations can have one or more project managers.

Program manager: Oversees and leads a group of similar or connected projects within an organization. One or more project managers will typically report to the program manager.

Portfolio manager: This role is at the highest level of a PMO or EPMO and is responsible for overseeing the strategic alignment and direction of all projects and programs. Program managers will typically report directly to the portfolio manager.

Project management certification

Successful projects require highly skilled project managers, many with formal training or project management certifications. Some may have project management professional certifications or other certifications from the PMI or another organization. Project management certifications include:

PMP: Project Management Professional
CAPM: Certified Associate in Project Management
PgMP: Program Management Professional
PfMP:Portfolio Management Professional
CSM: Certified Scrum Master
CompTIA Project+ Certification
PRINCE2 Foundation/PRINCE2 Practitioner
CPMP: Certified Project Management Practitioner
Associate in Project Management
MPM: Master Project Manager
PPM: Professional in Project Management

Project management tools

Project management software and templates increase team productivity and effectiveness and prepare the organization for changes brought about by high-impact projects. has compiled the ultimate project management toolkit as well as some open-source project management tools to help you plan, execute, monitor, and successfully polish off your next high-impact project.

Project management software falls into multiple categories. Some tools are categorized as project management software; others are more encompassing, such as project portfolio management (PPM) software. Some are better suited for small businesses and others for larger organizations. Project managers will also often use task management, schedule management, collaboration, workflow management, and other types of tools. These are just a few examples of the project management software and tools available to help simplify project management.

Popular project management tools include:


Project management skills

Effective project managers need more than technical know-how. The role also requires several non-technical skills, and it is these softer skills that often determine whether a project manager — and the project — will be successful. Project managers must have these seven non-technical skills: leadership, motivation, communication, organization, prioritization, problem-solving, and adaptability. It’s also beneficial to have a strategic mindset, have change management and organizational development expertise, agility, and conflict resolution capabilities, among other skills.

Project management jobs and salaries

By 2027, the demand for project managers will grow to 87.7 million, according to PMI, but these hires won’t all be project manager titles. While the more generic titles are project manager, program manager, or portfolio manager, each role may differ depending on industry and specialization. There are also coordinators, schedulers, and assistant project managers, among other roles.

Project managers have historically garnered high-paying salaries upwards of six figures, depending on the role, seniority, and location. Indeed provides a searchable list for job salaries, including some annual project management salaries companies are offering for these roles: 

Project manager: Base salary $85,311, bonus $13,500
Program manager: $85,796
Portfolio manager: $100,742
Software/IT project manager: $106,568
Project administrator: $62,093
Project planner: $69,528
Project controller: $90,342
Document controller: $74,899
Project leader: $130,689
Program/project director: $101,126
Head of program/project: $128,827

Careers, Certifications, IT Governance Frameworks, IT Leadership, IT Skills, IT Strategy, Project Management Tools

By Milan Shetti, CEO Rocket Software

In today’s digital world, technology can make or break a company’s outcomes for its customers. As a result, all companies that use technology to meet or solve customer needs should consider themselves a tech company. In order to meet ever-changing customer demands, it’s critical that companies understand why and how to successfully modernize their tech stacks in order to provide a top-notch customer experience.

Too often, businesses make the mistake of blindly following tech trends and jumping from one platform to another without sufficient planning, disrupting operations and struggling to deliver outcomes and revenue. Instead, companies should look to modernize existing infrastructure — including mainframes. While these undertakings are complex, leaders can ensure a seamless experience by keeping in mind a few key points. 

1. Mainframes are still the backbone of many organizations

Mainframes have been the backbone of IT infrastructure for mission-critical companies for decades because of their resilience, security, and data governance. A report from Rocket Software, The State of the Mainframe, showed that these technologies are still the cornerstone of most large enterprises, with 80% of IT professionals agreeing that the mainframe is still critical to business operations. As cloud-based solutions continue to gain popularity, companies that can achieve selective and in-place modernization that combines both cloud and mainframe technology will be ahead of the curve.

2. Modernizing in place ensures a seamless experience

As new innovative technologies enter the market, many organizations are looking to “rip and replace” mainframe systems for cloud technologies. But while the impulse is strong, rip and replace approaches to modernization introduce significant risk, requiring a substantial time, cost, and energy investment with no guarantee of a successful outcome. Organizations must remember that ripping and replacing requires organizations to replace all of their IT infrastructure while maintaining the same level of security, data governance, and resiliency as the mainframe — a nearly impossible task.

Fortunately, with the right tools and technology, any innovative application can be developed in the cloud and then safely and securely connected to the mainframe with little adoption. These hybrid infrastructure models allow businesses to continue leveraging the reliability and security of their mainframe infrastructure while also taking advantage of the latest tools to provide teams with the flexibility and user experience they crave.

3. Hybrid cloud is the future

With 10 of the top-10 companies in the defense, space, banking, and healthcare industries continuing to leverage mainframe technology through hybrid cloud models, it’s clear that hybrid infrastructures are the future. By enabling core infrastructure to continue living in mainframe environments while leveraging APIs that provide teams and customers with access to cloud solutions and web and mobile applications, businesses are providing a modern experience for employees and end-users without taking on additional risk. 

4. Customers are at the core of modernization 

Companies that take the time to understand what their customers really want from their business can take a more strategic approach to modernization. By identifying customer needs and then working backward, teams can more clearly determine where modernization is necessary in order to deliver the desired outcomes. By making customers the central point of modernization efforts, companies not only mitigate disruptions and save time and resources, but also ensure efforts are aligned with what their customers truly want.

As we dive deeper into an age of modernization, Rocket is looking forward to the challenges ahead as we continue our mission to simplify mainframe modernization. To learn how Rocket Software can simplify your mainframe modernization project, visit our modernization page.

Digital Transformation