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Five key tech trends for digital leaders in 2022

The past two years have seen a surge in investment that will bring new challenges to digital leaders over the next year

Driven by the pandemic, the past two years have seen huge investments in technology as businesses have built new digital channels and delivery methods to keep interacting with their customers. Tracked through our Digital leadership report, which has been running for 23 years, 2020 saw the biggest surge in technology spend we have ever recorded. There was little let-up on this in 2021 and in fact digital leaders reported their highest-ever levels of optimism for increasing budgets and headcount during 2022.

Clearly, digital transformation remains at the top of the agenda – but at a more granular level, what trends are we likely to see? We predict that five areas will be key.

1. The proportion of companies that are essentially ‘tech companies’ will pass the 50% mark

As the adage goes, “we’re all technology companies now”. If calling some organisations a technology company may be overstating it, at the very least, almost every business is technology-powered or enabled. We’ve seen this in spades through the pandemic, with businesses across sectors digitising their services to reach customers.

SMEs have developed new e-commerce capabilities and channels, businesses that were previously very physically focused, such as restaurants, have developed apps, joined the big delivery platforms and diversified into meal kits and other spin-offs.

It’s the same theme wherever you look: adapting and innovating through technology to adjust to the changing environment. There will be no falling back on this – it has set the direction for 2022 and beyond.

2. No one can afford to take their eye off the ever-present cyber threat

Cyber security has loomed large on the agenda for many years, but the sheer pace of digital change through the pandemic has made it even more critical. Cyber criminals are looking for vulnerabilities to exploit where businesses have expanded their digital footprints without bolting down the entry points.

At the same time, the persistent cyber skills shortage is getting worse. It was the top shortage in last year’s Digital leadership report, with 43% of UK organisations suffering a shortfall. Many businesses, especially SMEs, may not be able to afford a full-time CISO on top of all the other demands – but they can afford a fractional CISO who they can draw on to help devise a robust security strategy tailored to their business.

3. Gender diversity is set to turn a corner

The percentage of women in technology leadership roles has been depressingly low for many years – 12% in last year’s Digital leadership report. Meanwhile, only around a quarter of tech teams as a whole are female. However, there are signs of hope.

In November last year, Office for National Statistics data found there had been a step up in the number of women working in the UK’s technology sector, with almost 150,000 jobs created for women over the last two years. I expect this trend to continue as hybrid working delivers the level of flexibility that women with young families have required for a long time.

Not only has the pandemic created more opportunities for women, but greater diversity has also made technology teams more effective. Investment in diversity programmes has a clear commercial, as well as equality, case. It may take a few years to really see the difference in the data, but I am encouraged that we are moving in a more positive direction.

4. Sustainability will shoot up the priority list

Carbon – and the wider ESG agenda – are becoming key strategic items for boards. For most CEOs I talk to, it’s a top five issue. But our Digital leadership report found there has been something of a disconnect for technology teams, where carbon and sustainability ranked in the bottom three priorities. This will change during 2022.

With technology forming a significant part of an organisation’s energy consumption and carbon footprint, digital leaders will find themselves coming into the spotlight. They will need to get up to speed quickly and embrace the net-zero agenda.

5. The CIO’s role will continue to evolve among a wider range of technology decision-makers

The pandemic has accelerated the use of cloud technologies and business-managed IT adoption, putting more power into the hands of disparate areas of the business. It’s a more diffused picture now, with a number of key technology decision-makers and “brokers” sharing the limelight.

But this is not necessarily bad news for the CIO – for those ready to grasp it, there is an opportunity to position themselves as the collator of technology initiatives and programmes, bringing everything together into one coherent strategy. As the corporate oil tanker becomes more a collection of individual sun-seekers, it is the CIO that can ensure they are all heading in the right direction.

Digital leaders and their boards are already on the front foot – creating new products and services is now a top-three board priority for the first time since our research began, and half of organisations have major plans for transformation in the next two to three years. One thing is certain: it’s going to be a busy year for technologists everywhere, because technology is key to the post-pandemic recovery.

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