9 key phrases for CIOs in 2019

New and not-so-new ideas and technologies that progressive IT leaders will use in the next 12 months

9 key phrases for CIOs in 2019 - CIO&Leader

Every year, in December-January, we are thrown with dozens of new tech forecasts that all look pretty much the same. But that is not the problem. If anything, it is reassuring that there is a broad consensus.

The issue here is something else. It is much like Indian Railways Budget. Over the years, it has become a smaller and smaller part of India’s overall Budget. Beyond the thrill of figuring out if a new train would run through your town, it serves little purpose. Not that it is not useful; but its importance in the overall scheme of things has become less and less.

The same with the tech forecasts. Do you need to be a great analyst to tell that AI or cyber security will be hot? But more importantly, how important are tools and technologies in the overall responsibility of the CIOs, who, finally is now a true business leader—after years of talking about it. 

A CIO’s responsibility is far more than selecting, purchasing and rolling out technologies. He has to figure out how tech can add business value. That makes him do several things other than the three mentioned above. He needs to be aware of/worry about many more things.

Our list of nine key phrases is drawn after looking at the CIO’s universe and figuring out what would he be conversing about the most—the tools, the technologies, the practices, the ideas—in the next 12 months or so.

Here is the list:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Data-driven
  3. Data Protection
  4. Design Thinking
  5. Robotic Process Automation
  6. Security First
  7. Upskill
  8. Use Case
  9. User Experience

Missing something? Is Blockchain conspicuous by its absence? We tell you, it is not a miss. It is an exclusion. You will read why.

Every key phrase is measured by two parameters—how new is it, through Newness Index and how familiar are the CIOs with them. The XY chart plots them on two axes. As many as seven key phrases are not so new and high on CIO understanding index. They are in the action zone.

Just one is fairly new but understanding is not so low. That is what most will experiment with in the next few months. There is one that we foresee becoming a hot phrase. That is in the learning zone. The CIOs would do well to familiarize themselves with Design Thinking to drive innovation and human centric approach.

We present here the nine phrases (and one notable exclusion). With each phrase is mentioned its type, its Newness Index, its CIO Understanding Index, what that phrase means and why we think it will be hot in 2019.

The sequence is alphabetical.

Artificial Intelligence

Type: Technology

Newness Index: 1

CIO Understanding Index: 9

What? Our first key phrase is a non-brainer.Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) is all about making machines understand languages, context and take decisions through learning and self-correction, in addition to intelligent algorithms. It has got multiple applications in the business.

Why? Artificial Intelligence is already eating the world (with apologies to Marc Andreessen). The immense popularity of the technology is because it promises to offer some of the basic improvements in business efficiency to long-term business model change. The entry barrier is fairly low—allowing people to experiment and even fail! This is in contrast to say Blockchain, another buzzword, which has remained just that—a buzzword for businesses other than a few like banking. The initial commitment for even a pilot is huge.

It has become so ubiquitous—especially the conversational applications or chatbots that work on understanding of natural language. Chatbots, which today is considered synonymous with AI, is just the tip of the iceberg. AI can impact almost all parts of the business—HR, marketing, customer service, manufacturing, even strategic decision making—to make visible impact on those. In India, almost all major B2C companies have done some implementation of AI/machine learning based with a huge pipeline of projects.

Even while it has started showing the results in specific areas, the long-term impact of AI has become a major topic of discussion because it raises many ethical and legal questions. Many nations including India have enacted/drafted their national AI strategies. India already has 100s of startups working on AI.

This would easily be the most actionable area through 2019, as businesses try to figure out what would give them quick results and how they can use it for long-term competitive advantage. AI, combined with another key phrase in this list, ‘use case’ may rule CIO lingo in the year.


Type: Approach

Newness Index: 3

CIO Understanding Index: 7

What? Typically, data-driven, as an adjective, is used to describe a decision taken or action initiated by analysis of data, as opposed to basing them on human perception or intuition. The term has a much wider meaning now.  

Why? Basing decisions on data is not a new concept. Edward De Bono referred to it as White Hat thinking in his legendary book, Six Thinking Hats. But with availability of data, better computing availability and now machine learning, the expectations from data-based decision-making is rising. The term is now used as an adjective, not just with a specific decision or action but with business models too. A data-driven business model, as the name indicates, is a business where most business decisions including strategic ones, is taken through data analysis. Typically, it could mean too things. One, strategic decision-making based on insights derived from analysis of data, which could be internal (like sales data or manufacturing data), external (like open data or reports) or new (research) data (data from research done for specific purpose). It could also mean automation of operational decisions through data analytics without human intervention. Often, a real data-driven business makes use of both. In fact, the hype of AI and machine learning is also based on the foundation of data and analytics.

For CIOs, rise of data analytics has been a double-edged sword. While it has put IT in the centre stage, data analytics has of late emerged as an independent activity and many companies that deal with large amount of data are appointing teams specialized in data science. These groups in some organizations are of significantly large size and have taken the custodianship of data from the CIOs, though in effect, all the tech needed for capturing, processing, storing and analyzing (and now complying with regulations, see Data Protection) the data is still implemented by the CIO’s team.

With IoT and machine learning, the ability of data to play more and more meaningful in the entire business value chain is only rising. How CIOs tackle the data deluge to extract insights and help in business gains is something that will be mainstream task for CIOs in next few months.

Data Protection

Type: Goal

Newness Index: 2

CIO Understanding Index: 7

What? Protection of the personal data of individuals by organizations, typically by complying with legislations enacted in different regions. 

Why? Protecting information—especially that stored in electronic form—is nothing new for business organization, as it is driven by competitive reasons, such as protecting business confidentiality and intellectual property. However, of late, there is rising awareness and sensitization about individual’s rights over their own personal data. Countries across the world have enacted legislations that require that this data be protected, deleted, or shared with the owners of the data (individuals) as and when they want. While European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is the most well-known, India is enacting its own data protection law which is now in draft stage. Over the next year, this will become a major task before IT, as more and more digitization happens. The B2C businesses which directly deal with personal data of individuals will be impacted more. Typically, it is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) who is responsible for ensuring this. But since security is part of IT in most industries other than a few highly regulated industries like banking, insurance and telecom, it is the CIO with whom the buck would finally stop. This is likely to be a major priority for many organizations once the legislation comes through.   

Design Thinking

Type: Management Idea

Newness Index: 8

CIO Understanding Index: 2

What? Design thinking is a borrowed concept from designers that found its way to UX and from there to business. The method consists of five steps—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—to make any ideation or problem solution process more human centric. It is especially used in tacking problems that are unknown or not well-defined, often called wicked problems.

Why? As business problems—and by extension IT challenges—become more and more fuzzily defined, the need for design thinking is felt more and more. As innovation becomes an expectation, tech teams in organization, both for their IT operation and in their collaboration with business units, need to follow design thinking to draw on a blank canvas.

CIOs need to be familiar with design thinking in order to innovate and leverage the new developments that are taking place. At the same time, its user-orientation will help IT teams to apply design thinking to better design their solutions.

If we have to recommend one thing that CIOs and senior IT managers need to learn in 2019, it should be design thinking.

Robotic Process Automation

Type: Practice

Newness Index: 7

CIO Understanding Index: 7

What? Robotic Process Automation (RPA) aims at automating business processes with repetitive tasks through use of pre-defined algorithms or machine learning. It makes voluminous business processes more efficient and error-free by replacing humans by machines for doing repetitive tasks.

Why? RPA addresses several challenges. First and foremost is cost. RPA can do the same task at a fraction of cost than the human being. Secondly, the efficiency and accuracy of an automated process is far better. Third, it makes the processes extremely scalable, as hiring and training takes a lot of time. Fourth, there is tremendous enhancement in speed. Finally, accuracy goes up manifold. All this makes RPA a very exciting proposition.

India is a services country and is the world’s back office. So, the fundamental value proposition for RPA is very strong in Indian market. We believe RPA—which does not feature in many big forecasts—will be the dark horse of 2019. Unlike many other tools and technologies that are just talked about without any real progress on ground, RPA would see a lot more action. We expect RPA to be one of the hottest selling technologies of 2019.

Security First

Type: Approach

Newness Index: 2

CIO Understanding Index: 9

What? Traditionally, security of a system or application is initiated after the basic functionalities and user interfaces are built. That is changing with security being initiated right at the beginning of a rollout, development or design.

Why? Businesses today are far more sensitized about the threat from cyber risks. Earlier, technology security initiatives were around computers, networks, datacenters and other such IT infrastructure. Today, more and more parts of any organization’s operations are getting digitized, often generating huge amount of data, which are often analyzed at the real-time to take operational decisions. A security failure in one small system can bring the entire business down. Instead of earlier practices of ‘securing’ the system after building it, there is a growing demand for securing it right at the time of building it. In the typical IoT-based projects in manufacturing, it is becoming an imperative.

In software development cycle, the concept of DevSecOps is becoming popular. DevSecOps is security along with DevOps. It works on the premise that everyone in the software development life cycle is responsible for security. It is about trying to automate core security tasks by embedding security controls and processes early in the DevOps workflow

Increasingly, this approach is becoming ubiquitous. In the next 12 months, the phrase is likely to be used much more.


Type: Goal/Task

Newness Index: 2

CIO Understanding Index: 9

What? The need is to train and retrain enterprise tech workforce to make them up-to-date with new technologies and new business applications of technology.

Why? Upskill is still not part of proactive vocabulary of CIOs, even though when asked specifically about challenges, skills availability is always cited as a reason. In newer areas like AI and Big Data as well as in newer sub-areas within security, availability of skills is a major challenge. While the problem is well-understood and well-defined, the solutions that are discussed are often vague, half-hearted. Many managers want to avoid the more difficult path of training and instead want to hire. But it is now clear that the pool has to be created and there is no running away from reskilling workforce.

While many organizations do not realize the need for skills unless they use it, the new regime of outside-in or looking continuously at emerging technologies to identify their potential for one’s own business is something that requires quick overviews of tech and their business application. The MOOC sites have already been doing brisk business. Increasingly, we will see their turning to enterprises in a big way for their business.

New technologies are just one driving factor for skill augmentation. A major skill training is required for users who have traditionally been using non-IT technologies and are now required to use IT because of digitalization of their core functions. Unless it is a special area like manufacturing, the buck would stop at CIO.

While reskilling is still the most common phrase to describe, upskill is more sensitive and politically correct, as it does not give that older skills are outdated. Progressive organizations are already using the phrase.

Use Case

Type: Approach

Newness Index: 4

CIO Understanding Index: 6

What? It is short for proactive exploration of emerging technologies for identifying opportunities for creating business value.

Why? As businesses get convinced that technology can indeed be an enabler of competitive advantage, there is a rush to use emerging technologies as early as possible. So, the focus has shifted to take up a technology like blockchain or machine learning and see in which part of the business and in what way it can be applied to close gaps or create new revenue opportunities or create disruptively huge efficiency gains. For the CIOs, it has created a dilemma; all these years they have been preached that they must talk the language of business rather than the language of technology. And now suddenly, they have to start with technology and look for application in the business. However, it is not as paradoxical that it seems at first go. Earlier, when they talked about technology, it was without adequate understanding of business; it is just the reverse. What ‘use case’ has done it is that it has allowed the CIOs to take the lead—without waiting for a tight problem statement, defined by someone else. They know the technology, they know the business. They must think proactively to combine both in the most meaningful way. Just knowing tech and understanding business is not enough; they must actively scout for what is happening out there in the world of technology and its application in their industry globally and how they can do it. This need for active scouting requires newer attitude, newer skills. Some call it outside-in regime as you do not start with internal problem statement to the world but come to the organization with opportunities available out there.

User Experience

Type: Goal/Task

Newness Index: 3

CIO Understanding Index: 6

What? User experience, in the traditional sense, is the human interface of any system or product. It typically concerns itself with ease of usage. The meaning is a bit wider now.

Why? User experience has been one of the most important factors in certain industries like e-commerce and online businesses that differentiate their products and services based on user experience. Often, the ease of use is given equal or more importance than functionality, range of features and even ruggedness. Traditionally, enterprise software has been driven by functionality, security, interoperability and a host of other factors, often at the cost of ease of use.

That is changing. So much so that user experience is becoming essential CIO lingo. This is happening, we believe, because of five major reasons.

One, consumerization of technology in businesses that has led to users demanding what they want and getting away with it. Two, rise of non-IT business decision makers for IT products (which is further catalyzed by SaaS models) who look for ease of use. Some product makers like Tableau have used this trend to get into enterprises by targeting business users and making products with great UX. Three, with more and more parts of business getting digitalized, much more human beings are now dealing with IT systems, some of which may have not even used a computer for their work. They need to be given systems and apps that are easy to use. Four, many organizations dealing with consumer products and services—such as banking, telecom, automobiles—have realized the need of UX in differentiating, which has led to UX taking centre stage in consumer facing applications. It has had some rub-off effect even on enterprise applications. Finally, there is availability of tools on cloud which allows startups and others focused on building an enterprise app adding great UX features by using APIs available, without having to hire large UX teams which are difficult to maintain.

Businesses have already started adding UX parameters to evaluation of products and building it into development system. It is going to be even more important in next few months.

Notable Exclusion


Type: Technology

Newness Index: 8

CIO Understanding Index: 1

What? Blockchain ensures the trusted transactions through a shared ledger with access given to multiple entities that have traditionally maintained their own ledgers, and often compete with each other. Once they share a ledger, with adequate privacy, a transaction does not have to be recorded multiple times by multiple entities. Based on their permissions, a participating entity can initiate, modify or just see the transaction. What is really different is that traditionally, the competing entities have required a trusted third party to secure those transactions. But blockchain, by making transactions transparent, removes the need for that third party.

Why not? If it was just about listening to discourses, Blockchain would probably feature right at the top, along with AI. But if it is about CIO’s speaking about it, blockchain would feature nowhere. We may sound a bit pessimistic but we believe, beyond banking and allied services, blockchain is not going to see major action in enterprises and hence less likely to be part of action lingo of CIOs. That explains the exclusion.

Read the CIO&Leader December 2018 Issue

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