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A new-reality agenda for Canadian technology leaders

3 Mins read

The events of 2020 have underscored the urgent need for accelerated digital transformation across a broad array of industries. They’ve also presented the perfect opportunity for Canadian Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to lead their organizations on this journey. In collaboration with their business and technology colleagues, such an undertaking will mean aligning technology investments with efficiency and growth aspirations that delight customers and generate long-term value for their organizations.
And they’re eager to do so, according to the results of the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2020, during which Canadian technology leaders told us they’re committed to making digital investments count and are prepared to lead the charge. Will they be able to do it? Given that 61% of them say that the challenges of the pandemic have permanently increased their influence, we think there’s good reason for optimism.

Impetus for change

Make no mistake: this opportunity to accelerate innovation—especially in the areas of customer experience, operational efficiency, and cost optimization—is unique, and those who architect for enduring value will win in the long run. Encouragingly, according to KPMG’s 2020 CEO Outlook, a solid majority of CEOs (68%) say they are partnering more closely with CIOs to ensure the potential of emerging technology is fully harnessed .

A solid majority of CEOs (68%) say they are partnering more closely with CIOs

Some pressing questions do remain. How do we get the most from our business transformation investments? How do we balance competing priorities to make the business more resilient for all stakeholders? What specific strategies will optimize digital uptake and realize the greatest benefit for customers and employees alike?

CEOs, CIOs and other technology leaders will need to collaborate closely on answers to these questions if they are to maximize the probability of digital transformational success. Here are some considerations to help get them started.

The art of the possible with technology enablement

Apart from disruption, “digital transformation” is the buzzword of our times—and for good reason. Technology-enabled efficiencies and customer-centric innovations offer immense potential for growth that extends well beyond the immediate circumstances.

Our study found that 41% of Canadian technology leaders believe they have been extremely or very effective using digital to advance their business strategy. However, declining CIO representation on boards—even between now and when COVID-19 began (67% vs. 77% pre-pandemic)—indicates that there is room for stronger integration with the business.

Worryingly, one in four technology leaders think their use of digital is having little or no effect at all in driving true business value. It is therefore incumbent on both CEOs and CIOs to marry technology enablement possibilities with the desired business goals.

For instance, it’s not enough to publish a new website and then forget about it. These types of isolated and disconnected activities won’t support sustainable enduring return. Why? Because meaningful digital transformation requires full, end-to-end digital experiences powered by technology that generates value over the long term.

Technology leaders must have a seat at the decision-making table, where they can promote the “art of the possible”—technology platforms, systems and tools that drive significant business value. CIOs need to engage with business leaders to jointly define how the organization can maximize return on digital investment, leverage technology to increase business resiliency, and position the business for greater agility in the face of internal and external changes.

CIO Survey infographic 2

Competing priorities in virtual times

It would be an understatement to say that CIOs’ attentions are split. All have been consumed with stabilizing enterprise systems to help the business recover quickly and prepare for the new reality. At the same time, they need to focus on pre-pandemic challenges that haven’t gone away: establishing digital technology solutions, including those that connect front, middle and back offices. They have a lot on their virtual plates.


Fortunately, most Canadian technology leaders (61%) expect their budgets to increase over the next 12 months. Canadian enterprises are prioritizing spend on cloud infrastructure, security and privacy, and tools that enhance customer experience and engagement.

Boards and management committees alike have increasingly expressed interest in technology investments that improve operations, enable customer relationships, and support virtual workforces—especially in light of COVID-19 challenges.

But CIOs’ divided attention may account for why cyber security risks have declined in importance since the pandemic hit. In our survey’s comparison of CIOs’ pre- and post-COVID priorities, “improving security and trust” dropped below other pressing areas.

This decline, however, is not necessarily a sign that organizations are taking cybersecurity less seriously. More likely, it shows how the pandemic has driven urgency on the sudden and immediate need to support a newly remote workforce, strengthen digital systems of customer engagement, and widen focus on automation opportunities.

With over a third (37%) of Canadian CIOs reporting an increase in cybersecurity incidents as a result of remote working, and less than half of CEOs (47%) feeling prepared for a future cyber-attack, we expect their focus to swing back to cybersecurity as more immediate objectives are met and emergent digital risks take clearer shape.

37% of CIOs have experienced and increase in security or cyber incidents as a result of remote working

Actions to deliver timely value…

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