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Top five priorities for CIOs heading into 2021

Top five priorities for CIOs heading into 2021

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With CIOs playing a critical role in charting their organization’s course, Joanne Wong, Vice President, International Markets, LogRhythm, outlines five priorities for them heading into 2021.

It would be a gross understatement to say that 2020 has been a whirlwind year – COVID-19 has dramatically disrupted the way we live and operate, and even with optimistic updates around vaccine developments, there’s no doubt that the post-pandemic future will look very different from how we know it today.

One of the most drastic leaps has been the pace of Digital Transformation. According to a study by McKinsey, the digitization of business offerings in Asia Pacific has accelerated by 10 years, the highest globally. In this process, the role of CIOs has come to the fore.

They have played an instrumental role to support organizations’ shift to remote work, while increasingly integrating cybersecurity as part of their overall digital strategy. After all, ensuring that their business can operate securely in the digital world is the foundation for which they can thrive in the long run.

As we enter the new year, CIOs must be prepared to navigate yet another wave of novel challenges. There is a huge opportunity for them to step up and play an even more integral role in transforming and future-proofing their business for the new normal.

Here are the top five things CIOs must keep in mind as they head into 2021:

Align IT priorities with business goals

The Gartner CIO Agenda revealed that IT leaders expect an average 2% increase in IT spending in the coming year, a stark contrast against the overall economic downturn. CIOs bear a huge responsibility in ensuring that these commitments ladder up to their businesses’ overall Digital Transformation efforts.

They must identify crisis-related areas of focus with the long-term in mind – this could be prioritizing upskilling their workforce, fortifying their cybersecurity capabilities, or updating legacy infrastructure to cater to increased preferences for remote interactions.

Regardless of where organizations are in their Digital Transformation journey, CIOs must seize this opportunity to take stock of their progress and re-align these priorities for the year ahead.

Reinforce safeguards for remote working

With companies implementing remote working arrangements and more people spending time on their laptops and smart devices at home, the risk of cyberattacks has increased. This trend is likely to persist and worsen in the coming year, as people will increasingly let their guard down after a prolonged time of working from home.

CIOs cannot underestimate the risk of such cyberattacks, with data breaches costing companies in ASEAN an average of US$2.62 million each. They must adopt a two-pronged approach to reinforce cybersecurity safeguards, by providing workers with training and resources they need to adopt basic cybersecurity hygiene, while also strengthening support for IT teams who must contend with new threats and challenges.

Be on high alert for deepfakes

Deepfake technology is not a novel cybersecurity threat, but it has increasingly posed a significant threat to business integrity. Malicious cyberactors have become more sophisticated in their use of deepfakes, especially with the shift to remote working and reliance on video conferencing. They can weaponise videos and images of business leaders to exploit employees, but also manipulate public brand perception and impact stock prices for financial gain.

This is no easy feat for CIOs to overcome, but they must be vigilant of such threats and work closely with government institutions to weigh in on suitable legislation. Additionally, they must deploy updated cybersecurity measures and detection algorithms to minimize the risks of being caught off-guard.

Expand the role of Artificial Intelligence

While COVID-19 has temporarily slowed the growth of AI, it has also further asserted the role of AI and analytics as an ‘essential navigational tool’ for businesses today. Organizations have leveraged AI as a strategic asset to strengthen its response to the pandemic, (i.e.by making demand forecasts, evaluating their supply-chain operations to effectively allocate resources).

Beyond these immediate use cases, CIOs must capitalize on the strengths of AI to unlock further growth opportunities in the new norm. The pandemic has dramatically changed the business landscape, and CIOs who can tap on the potential of AI – to enhance customer experience, accelerate innovation and empower employees – will be able to develop a competitive advantage for their business.

Integrate IT and OT systems

The proliferation of IoT – with the boom of technologies like smart lamp posts, smart home appliances and wearable devices – has accelerated the convergence of IT (software) and OT (hardware). CIOs must then relook at how they integrate their IT and OT systems, especially given that remote access in OT systems has now become the norm.

These increased access points amplify the threat vectors and cyberattackers may expose vulnerabilities to carry out attacks on the system. While there is conventionally a dichotomy between IT and OT teams and structures, CIOs must-have the foresight to incorporate both as pressing priorities for their cybersecurity strategy.

If possible, they should create a cross-functional team comprising IT and OT experts to cover the entire system cycle of cyber-protection – from threat detection, incident response and system recovery. Only then will they be able to reap the benefits of IoT adoption without compromising on their security.

More than ever, CIOs have their work cut out for them as we enter the new year. They play a critical role alongside business decision-makers in charting their organization’s course and digital narrative for the next few months ahead, and potentially make or break their business in this new norm.

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