CIOs: Taking charge and leading change with digital

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The CIO is levelling up to drive innovation across the business. According to the State of the CIO 2022 research from, “CIOs are increasingly seen as changemakers, taking the lead on business and technology initiatives,” a view shared by CIOs (84 percent) and LOB (75 percent) respondents alike.

At the recent WSJ CIO Network Summit, Andrew Wilson, CDO at Microsoft, Willem Marx, editor, Custom Programming, at The Wall Street Journal and I discussed ways the CIO role is expanding, both in response to the pandemic and in the push for organizations to become digital first. We talked about digital’s impact on the employee experience and organizational culture. And we discussed ways CIOs are leveraging automation, AI/ML technology, and data to drive new business value.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

Digital’s impact on the employee experience and organizational culture

The past couple of years have been a breeding ground for innovation, pushing CIOs everywhere to reconsider how we work and stay productive. At Adobe, we had to continue making sure employees felt supported operationally at the same time we were actively trying to verify that our new digital strategies were effective.

In that sense, Wilson’s take is spot on: “Now we’re at the point where we need to mature and scale the services that we’re running. We need to be agile enough to continue to be successful and thrive.”

One example of adaptability in action began with the creation of the Adobe Employee Experience Group to centralize employee-centric technologies. We looked at our employee personas and how people worked — asking questions like: Are they always in a customer office? Are they engineers who work with tools in a certain way, or are they communicators who work with Wall Street?

Then we geared certain tools to these personas. This was all put to the test when we shifted to widescale remote work. It’s an initiative that’s paid off for us as we continue to pursue more creative technologies to support the employee experience.

As CIOs, we need to look at the workplace and how people are working. And we need to consider ways to adapt AI and ML to our workstreams to make people more productive and remove mundane activities.

Enriching the employee experience will continue to be important to help us attract and retain great talent. People are going to demand the kinds of great experiences that empower them to be innovative. As Wilson said, “A great experience has to be table stakes.”

The changing role of the CIO

During our conversation, Marx said the focus on corporate culture could be considered new territory for CIOs. He asked how Wilson and I think differently about our positions as digital leaders now.

“I love being a technologist more than ever,” said Wilson, “because the role of technology is more central to the business. CIOs are steering the business in real time, which is a humbling honor. Every board and C-suite will need technology representation for the organization to thrive in this new digital future.”

Today, he says, “many leaders are looking at an increasing number of services which they're consuming, but not creating themselves. So they're brokering them into their organization. That's the nature of the platform economy. It’s the nature of a lot of the services which are being provided.”

This is a more sophisticated role for technology leaders, he explained. CIOs and CDOs now serve as consultants to the business, have responsibility to know the business fully, and need to recognize which capabilities are ready for prime time.

Because CIOs carry a horizontal view of the business, they also have a unique opportunity to help prioritize initiatives and business processes. The things that help the company become more digital, responsive, and agile — end to end.

How CIOs are leveraging automation, AI, and ML

As CIOs, we get to see firsthand the impact of new and innovative technologies and make decisions on how they come to bear.

For example, in the Adobe Lab82 Garage, we can experiment with different technologies and consider how to use new digital capabilities to improve on old physical ways of working. Similarly, Wilson’s team at Microsoft has the Hive. His team has also adopted the upcoming capabilities in Microsoft Teams and the employee experience platform, Viva, to help prove them out. They’ve also been exploring how AI may power new capabilities in Teams going forward.

Automation, AI, and ML are clearly moving us into the future. Here, Adobe Sensei is the magic behind a lot of our creative products, using insight to bring images, content, and experiences to life.

We’re using AI and ML to look across the employee experience, the customer experience, and overall operations. We’re using AI and ML-powered bots to identify patterns in our internal community channels and find ways to improve how we work from home or use different tools. We’re helping customer service agents in their interactions with customers. And we’re using self-learning capabilities to create event driven automation to help correct system hiccups before they become issues.

At Microsoft, AI is helping the field teams to be more successful with their customers by recommending what products and services should be deployed next and by helping teams acquire knowledge about new capabilities faster. Viva will also be important for organizations that are looking to understand and experiment around the nature of work and experiment. “We’ll have a lot of telemetry this year that’s also going to be exciting in terms of helping drive new culture,” says Wilson.

In these ways and more, the CIO has a significant role to play in driving value across the business, now and well into the future.

Learn more ways Adobe and Microsoft can help you move the future forward.

For a more detailed look at how the role of the CIO is changing in today’s evolving business landscape, watch Cynthia’s full conversation below.