Digital leaders who focus on these priority areas will help their business to steal a march over its rivals.
Mark Samuels is a business journalist specialising in IT leadership issues. Formerly editor at CIO Connect and features editor of Computing, he has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times and Times Higher Education.
In 2022, chief executives and their boards will be looking for tech chiefs to build on their recent digital transformation achievements. From assuming new responsibilities to delivering great customer experiences and onto sustainable IT, here are 10 areas that will be key for CIOs to focus on during the next 12 months. 
There was a big trend a couple of years ago for CIOs to add new responsibilities to their job titles: as well as information, it became commonplace to see tech chiefs assume responsibility for technology, digital, and product. Some of these new areas of authority allowed CIOs to respond to the rise of CDOs (both chief digital and data officers). The past two years have helped CIOs prove their value to the business. However, they’ll need to assume new responsibilities going forward. Many CIOs will help oversee the move to hybrid work, so expect increased responsibility for other areas such as facilities, people and operations.
2021 was a year when CIOs sharpened their focus on customer experience initiatives. From the refinement of home-working programmes through to the implementation of new e-commerce channels, it was impossible to speak with CIOs without hearing about the importance of customer experiences, whether that was for internal users or external clients. Next year will see the best CIOs take their focus on customer experience to a new level. They’ll reach out to a wider ecosystem of partners from big tech firms to fleet-of-foot startups. They’ll focus on how their organisations use data to provide personalised services and products to customers.
CIOs have been told for years to ensure they’re aligned with the rest of the business. But if they’re not doing that role by now, they’re probably in the wrong job. Technology is so intertwined with business outcomes that it would be impossible for any CIO to stay restricted to operational concerns. IT leaders have received great support for their attempts to fast-forward digital transformation plans during the past two years. Now, they need to do more and show how all kinds of technological innovations – from artificial intelligence to virtual reality – can help their business find new routes to market with fresh revenues.
From robotic process automation to low-code technologies, there’s a whole suite of tools that claim to make the application development process easier. However, automation should come with a warning: while these tools can lighten the day-to-day load for IT teams, someone somewhere must ensure that new applications meet stringent reliability and security standards. Increased automation will mean IT professionals spend more time engaging and overseeing, so focus on training and development to ensure your staff is ready for a shift in responsibility.
With all the talk of automation and low-code development, it would be easy to assume that the traditional work of the IT department is done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the tech team is set to change, but talented developers – who work alongside their business peers – remain a valuable and highly prized commodity. To attract and retain IT staff, CIOs will need to think very hard about the opportunities they offer. Rather than being a place to go, work is going to become an activity you do in a collaborative manner, regardless of location. Give staff their flexibility and freedom they crave.
Digital transformation is really a story about data. While digital transformation is tough to define, one thing is certain: organisations continue to collect and use ever-increasing amounts of information. With CIOs expected to step up and lead more value-generating projects, someone in the back office will need to ensure data, security and governance are always covered. The never-ending cyber threat and the potential for financial and reputation damage through a successful attack means CIOs will need a high-quality security chief or two, even if automation helps reduce the onerous responsibilities of some IT operational activities.
From creating time crystals to helping to discover life on other planets, quantum technology sometimes seems closer to science fiction than boardroom strategy. Quantum is often seen as difficult to understand and even harder to put into practice. Yet that’s no reason to not explore your options. Across a range of areas – such as quantum computing, communications and sensing – big tech companies and innovative startups are pushing quantum advances. CIOs should start exploring use cases now, so that they can explain to their boards how quantum might help to answer some of their business’ biggest questions. 
The metaverse is another trend that’s receiving a lot of attention. As with quantum, there’s a lot of scepticism about it, but while the true applications of quantum might take a decade or more to appear, the foundational technologies for the metaverse are already here. From virtual reality headsets to new types of touchless interfaces, leading edge companies are already making tentative steps into the metaverse. With the world’s biggest technology companies investing huge sums into the area, CIOs can’t afford to hold back when it comes to researching what could be (maybe, sometime) the future of customer experience.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the cloud is done and dusted. CIOs have been helping their businesses to implement cloud-based systems and services for more than a decade now. However, there’s still lots of work to do. Businesses have rushed to implement more cloud services in the past two years and CIOs will have to firm-up and expand these platforms through next year and beyond. Whether they go for a multi- or hybrid-cloud approach, analyst Gartner says most organisations (85%) will establish a cloud-first principle during the next five years.
Growing fears over a looming climate catastrophe mean companies are keen to show their concern for the environment. However, for many consumers, many of these efforts are greenwashing rather genuine action. The IT industry has a poor record for sustainability. The IT industry currently accounts for about 3% of global carbon emissions. The most significant contributions of greenhouse gases in this sector are data centers (45%), followed by communications networks (24%). With more than three-quarters (79%) of consumers prepared to change their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact, CIOs must work make sustainable IT core to their business’ activities.
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