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Uncertainty and opportunity: CIOs look ahead to 2021

Preparing for uncertainty and building on the momentum of 2020 will be critical this year, two technology leaders tell Tech Monitor.

CIOs bid farewell to 2020 as the year that the pandemic put them under the spotlight. Digital transformation plans were accelerated overnight and the strategic value of technology became inarguable. But what is in store for tech leaders in 2021? Tech Monitor spoke to two international CIOs about the opportunities and challenges they expect in the new year.

Preparing for uncertainty

With countries around the world rolling out mass vaccination programmes, the end of the pandemic could be in sight. But uncertainty about the future still lingers, not only around the speed and effectiveness of vaccination and new variants of Covid-19, but also the economic fallout that will outlive the pandemic itself.

The oil and gas sector, for example, is bracing for another tough year. Demand is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022. Meanwhile, growing environmental concerns about the use of fossil fuel will continue to challenge providers in the industry to transform their businesses.

Sergio Fernández Mena CIOS OPPORTUNITIES 2021
Sergio Fernández Mena, CTO at YPF. (Photo courtesy of YPF.)

Sergio Fernández Mena, chief technology officer at Argentinian oil and gas company YPF, is under no illusion that this year will be an extremely challenging one for his business. As a result, the company is reassessing the goals of its digital transformation strategy.

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“In such a dynamic and uncertain environment, we are revisiting the priorities of our five-year digital agenda on a [frequent] basis to reassure that [it] contributes directly to the potential changes our company plans might require,” he says.

Fernández Mena’s current priorities include long term and sustainable cost reductions and increased efficiencies. He is also advancing YPF’s three-year journey to the cloud, which he hopes will manage the total cost of ownership and reduce the time to value by responding faster to unplanned changes in demand, such as those caused by lockdowns.

However, not everything is doom and gloom for YPF. Fernández Mena says that 2021 will also offer new opportunities to exploit the new ways of working enabled by driving customer adoption of apps and remote collaboration among employees. His team recently built the first fully digital service station, which allows an almost touchless experience in YPF’s fuel pumps and food stores using AI.

Meanwhile, Fernández Mena is focused on “getting the digital foundations right” for the company. “In 2020 we successfully moved all legacy SAP R3 instances to the cloud,” he explains, “and we are now initiating a programme to migrate all those instances to native SAP S4.” Meanwhile, Fernández Mena is also focusing on building the company’s enterprise data lake and developing its data governance capabilities.

These foundations will further the company’s ability to use automation, AI and advanced analytics. YPF’s use of robotic process automation (RPA) has already delivered a more-than quadruple return on investment, Fernández Mena says, and during the pandemic it developed AI-powered systems to encourage employees to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.

Capitalising on the momentum of 2020

Resistance to digital transformation waned in 2020 as a result of Covid-19. In 2021, CIOs need to take advantage of this momentum, says Titilope Fakuade, CIO at telecoms company Lonestar Cell/MTN Liberia.

“We must aggressively become business-driven through an understanding of the requirements for enhanced performance,” says Fakuade. “We have to become visionary architects to design a future through technology with an entrepreneurial, forward-thinking mindset.”

Titilope Fakuade
Titilope Fakuade, CIO at Lonestar Cell/MTN Liberia. (Photo courtesy of Titilope Fakuade.)

To do this effectively, Fakuade says CIOs need an understanding of the business landscape and its direction; getting familiar with its metrics and KPIs, and to use that insight to influence colleagues and corporate strategy: “There is a need to harness the ability to influence colleagues and other parts of the business.” This forward-looking stance, she adds, has the potential of driving profitability and longevity to the business.

There is a need to harness the ability to influence colleagues and other parts of the business.
Titilope Fakuade, CIO, Lonestar Cell/MTN Liberia

At Lonestar Cell/MTN Liberia, Fakuade is leading a digital transformation strategy, named “OXYGEN”, that involves rebuilding the company’s technology stack to allow it to become a digital operator. This involves automating mundane or time-consuming processes to reduce costs and introduce efficiencies, improve time-to-market and provide real-time data analytics and insights.

Customer experience will also be a key focus for Lonestar Cell/MTN Liberia in 2021. Fakuade is spending time to understand her customers and their behaviours to offer more personalised experiences through big data analytics.

“Virtualisation technology will see increased adoption to further reduce costs from a customer support perspective,” she adds. “There will be increased adoption of a digital workplace to leverage on unified communication and collaboration, workplace mobility and paperless environment.”

Customers and businesses alike are evolving, embracing virtual and digital channels, and as tech leaders, says Fakuade, CIOs must be ahead of this evolution to ensure technology and processes are changing and meeting future demands.

To excel in this journey, Fakuade says that CIOs must drive team culture with minds that are open to innovation and engagement. Exemplary leaders, she adds, are humble and visionary: “These traits are critical, considering increased virtual working conditions. This can promote innovation as team members feel empowered and heard.”

Featured image by Wako Megumi/Shutterstock

Cristina Lago

Associate editor

Cristina Lago is associate editor of Tech Monitor.