Tech Chiefs Need To Fight For Digital Transformation Budgets

Technology spending is a tempting target for some in the C-Suite, but the moment is right for accelerating, not pulling back, says Mike Rulf, Syntax CTO.

As the pandemic slowly subsides and before the economy begins to truly rev up again, companies need to seize the moment to tweak or revamp their systems altogether—so they can expedite their digital transformation journeys.

So says Mike Rulf, CTO, Americas at Syntax, a managed cloud service provider based in Montreal, Canada. Rulf spoke with StrategicCIO360 about the dangers of short-term thinking and how CIOs can prepare their enterprises now to get a real jump on the competition in a post-pandemic economy.

What are some of the biggest roadblocks you’ve seen in companies working toward digital transformation, particularly over the last year?

The last year has created a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the business world which has led to a general reluctance to “rock the boat” by introducing any sort of change to the business. This often leads the executive team to target budgeted IT investment dollars for system upgrades or new IT initiatives first when looking to cut costs and streamline the business due to uncertainty, as the economy simultaneously slowed down on a global scale. 

What is something you think every CIO should know when pursuing a digital transformation initiative, but many might not? 

While the conservatism leading to the reductions in IT investments is understandable, CIOs are also missing out on what can potentially be a pivotal moment in many industries. When business is booming, executive teams often are hesitant to retool core business processes and systems, especially when doing so requires downtime resulting in lost revenue.

Companies that were in a strong financial position going into the economic slowdown resulting from the pandemic should take that lull in the business instead to engage key business stakeholders. These key resources normally consumed with running the business now have available time to put toward process improvement, system redesign and automation initiatives. As a result, companies that seize this opportunity for change will come out of the downturn in an improved position, and ready to be more competitive, because they implemented sustainable reductions in cost through automation and tooling instead of just a short-term reduction in headcount and expenses.

How did Syntax prepare for potential digital transformation roadblocks? 

Internally, Syntax has always focused on optimization and automation of our business processes and services as an integral part of being a managed services provider. In fact, we took our own advice and made key acquisitions during the downturn to accelerate our investments and abilities in these areas. We then make these enhancements directly available to our customer base for them to leverage in their own organization.

In addition to our tools, Syntax also acts in an ongoing advisory role to our customers ensuring new and emerging technologies provide quantifiable and measurable value to their business. This can be through a sustainable reduction in our customer’s costs to deliver their products or through differentiating their products and services in their own respective industry.

Post-pandemic, how will the role of the CIO continue to evolve?

CIOs and IT leaders should be able to create business value through technology solutions; define and develop the strategies, goals and KPIs for IT to drive outcomes aligned with the business’ goals; evaluate internal software to optimize processes and improve customer experience; and align platforms, tools and software for financial and budget efficiencies.

These are only a few of the attributes and skills necessary to be a CIO. The pandemic has shown that the ideal CIO is additionally able to identify the existing weaknesses in the business and work to enhance and improve the key solutions needed for the business.

Many companies this past year have been working to meet strategic goals with limited IT budgets due to the pandemic, so it’s important for CIOs to begin the planning process with a well-defined strategy at the start. Without one, it won’t take long to fail if something isn’t initially working out. Creating a proof of concept to demonstrate that a business proposal is actually feasible can help minimize capacity planning issues down the line.

Post-pandemic, more CIOs and other IT leaders will take the approach of trying out a few different tools to see what works best for their business and ensure they’re investing money in the most effective way possible. This way, the focus is taken off of the cost of any specific tool or service and more about making long-term investments towards larger company goals.

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