5 minute read 9 Apr 2021
Two women working at table in modern office

How CIOs can put humans at the center of their agendas

By Kok Yong Lee

Partner, Technology Consulting, Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd.

Passionate about making technology work for businesses. Technology champion.

5 minute read 9 Apr 2021

As CIOs drive technology transformation within the organization, working with the CHRO to put humans at the center of change is vital.

In brief
  • As CIOs embark on their transformation journeys to become business enablers, collaboration with CHROs is crucial.
  • CIOs have to evolve their leadership capabilities to drive technology transformation that requires cultural changes beyond IT implementation.
  • CIOs need to be technologists, business partners and people leaders to be effective strategic enablers of the future.

The future of work and how businesses operate or deliver products and services are changing in ways that demand technology solutions to be implemented quickly, at scale and effectively. Any delays or errors could have a material impact on business operations and profitability, or legal implications if the organization is found to be non-compliant with evolving regulations.

CIOs are under pressure to deal with these demands and face internal challenges as organizational structures, cultures and ways of working are being disrupted. They also currently manage their IT portfolios based on a combination of factors, including their teams’ capacities, budgets and business priorities. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, CIOs are required to swiftly and effectively reprioritize projects based on business continuity needs rather than resource constraints. For example, many have been tasked to accelerate technology initiatives in the form of e-invoicing, enterprise workflow and electronic document management to support the business’s transition from manual and paper-based processes to automated ones.

To be an agile business enabler, CIOs and their IT teams will need to find new ways of operating within the department as well as better engage multiple stakeholders across the organization. This is to gain a deeper understanding of technologies and advise on their impact in helping to drive business outcomes.

Partnering with the CHRO

As CIOs embark on this journey of transforming themselves and their teams, consultation and collaboration with the CHRO to build an effective talent and change management strategy for the function will be important. CHROs can help CIOs with workforce planning, which requires an understanding of the ways to optimize the team structure and operating model, as well as the competency needs and development road maps to build a future-ready IT function. Both can also work together to identify potential impediments in the current organizational structure that would hinder CIOs and their teams in working closely with other functions, and design enhanced support models or ways to incentivize behaviors to overcome these challenges. For example, instead of a centralized IT team, IT team members could be redeployed to different parts of the organization, which helps to foster closer working relationships with others in the organization.

Collaboration between the CIO and CHRO is crucial to build an effective talent and change management strategy for a future-ready IT function.

A key roadblock preventing CIOs from effectively engaging the rest of the business on new digital initiatives could be the lack of a digital culture in the organization. Implementing new technologies involves behavioral changes and mindset shifts, particularly for technologies that require the workforce to connect, collaborate and learn in new ways. The need to quickly shift to telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic proves that such a change demands as much from IT enablement as it does from a people management perspective.

With the rapid shift to online business models, organizations will also need a workforce that is not only adaptive, but also innovative, in initiating new digital initiatives from the ground up. Such a digital-first culture will help businesses to accelerate their transition from offline to online channels, from physical to virtual events, from iterations of existing products to conceptualizing new online services and products.

Building a digital organization starts with putting humans at the center. How can we be more inclusive and people-centric to make technologies friendlier, more accessible and useful to employees? Inputs from the CHRO and HR function will be valuable: they can identify employee personas and engagement preferences, as well as highlight moments in employees’ experience life cycle to help CIOs embed talent considerations into the way technologies are designed and deployed for use. At the same time, CIOs can collaborate with CHROs to enable the workforce to learn new skills that build a more digital-ready workforce.

An evolved set of leadership capabilities

Clearly, to drive technology transformation that requires cultural changes beyond IT implementation, CIOs will need to evolve their leadership capabilities. 

Firstly, CIOs will need business acumen, authenticity, customer-centricity and a results-oriented perspective as a foundational set of skills. In time, they will need to evolve these skills from building relationships internally with stakeholders to externally across the network, from learning to ideating, and from managing change to pioneering disruption. Secondly, they will need to cultivate empathy to preempt the impact of technological advancements on the workforce, as well as resilience to make tough but necessary decisions. These capabilities are critical for CIOs to be able to think outside the box to ideate, innovate and reimagine the business using technology as a strategic enabler.

The reality is that with the fast-evolving business and technology environments, there will always be proficiency gaps. CIOs will require the support of a multidisciplinary team that offers a mix of non-technology related skills as well as subject matter experts in new emerging technologies. At the same 


Putting people at the center is key to building a digital organization. CIOs will need to partner closely with CHROs to evolve their leadership capabilities, transform the IT function and build a digital culture.

About this article

By Kok Yong Lee

Partner, Technology Consulting, Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd.

Passionate about making technology work for businesses. Technology champion.