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CIO/CTO and technology leaders

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

CIOs and CTOs anticipate how to keep the hybrid work model humming

With most companies in our latest PwC US Pulse Survey planning to embrace hybrid working in the short term, chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) face an increasingly complex environment, one which they are responsible for powering and securing. And their concerns, which in several cases diverge from other executives in our survey, highlight their focus on practical challenges.  

One area in which technology chiefs are more worried than their peers is determining which groups of workers should come into the office in person, how often they should do this and when. While 37% of the technology executives cite this as a major challenge, only 22% of all the other executives did so. Not surprisingly, tech leaders are also more concerned about not having the appropriate technology tools to support hybrid work, compared with all executives in our survey (28% versus 19%). These differences suggest executive teams may not be fully aligned around the potential risks of a hybrid model, and CIOs and risk management leaders should work together to help close the gap between perception and reality. 

Among the other areas CIOs and CTOs see as major barriers to a successful hybrid operating model are managers treating on-site and remote workers differently, the possibility of returning to 100% remote work, not having effective cybersecurity measures in place and office space going unused or underused.

It’s important to note that the challenges facing technology executives at large global enterprises are likely to be different than those at much smaller companies. For instance, the difficulty of managing the tech needs of a hybrid workforce of a few hundred people is nothing like overseeing tens of thousands of workers in various parts of the world.

Where CIOs see hybrid work challenges


All
CIOs

Determining which groups should be in person, how often and when
%
%
Not having technology tools to support hybrid work
%
%
Loss of our in-person corporate culture
%
%
Impact of hybrid work on revenue growth
%
%
Concerns that managers will treat on-site and remote workers differently
%
%
Possibility of returning to 100%-remote work should COVID-19 variants lead to new restrictions or school closings
%
%
Not having effective cybersecurity measures in place
%
%
Office space going unused or underused
%
%
Loss of innovation opportunities
%
%
Loss of mentoring opportunities
%
%

Q: To what extent do the following present challenges to the success of hybrid work at your organization? (Responses to ‘Major challenge’)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: base of 752; CIO base of 87

Risk concerns top list of technology challenges in new environment

When it comes to their own function, what’s top of mind are the familiar challenges that pre-date the new working reality, but now the hybrid model intensifies those challenges. The concerns about insecure work environments that have plagued IT departments since the pandemic-driven work-from-home trend emerged in 2020 haven’t gone away. In fact, CIOs and CTOs rank data privacy, cybersecurity and compliance concerns at the top of the list of technology challenges they face with the hybrid model (43% see it as the biggest challenge they face).

Threats such as ransomware, phishing and malware continue to loom over organizations. People working from home or alternating between home and the corporate office are using unsecured devices to access enterprise networks via unsecured connections. That’s a risky combination that CIOs should address to secure the new workplace.

Managing data security and privacy — as well as regulatory compliance — might actually be even more complex in the hybrid model than it was when many people were working at home full time. That’s because employees will now be working from multiple locations, using various devices and accessing multiple networks.

Another of the key challenges cited by CIOs and CTOs, the need for digital upskilling, also plays into cybersecurity risks. Among the most needed skills in the midst of the technology talent shortage are those related to cybersecurity.

One-third of tech leaders also mentioned the increase in shadow IT as one of the bigger challenges. This is not surprising given that hybrid work processes might lead business executives and staffers to take technology matters into their own hands to meet pressing needs. For example, groups or even individual users might opt to download messaging applications or use cloud-based storage services without the approval or even knowledge of central IT.

What worries CIOs about the hybrid work world

Data privacy, cybersecurity and compliance concerns
%
Digital upskilling
%
Balancing tech-driven experience of remote and on-site workers
%
Increase in shadow IT
%
Degraded or inconsistent IT support services
%
Lack of clear ownership over technology investments
%
Inability to scale up/down IT resources as needed
%
Inability to demonstrate value of technology investments
%
Managing and evaluating IT employees
%

Q: What technology-related challenges do you see as most pressing in a hybrid work model? (Select up to three.)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: CIO base of 89

The human+tech capabilities CIOs are prioritizing

As tech leaders attempt to lay the foundations to support a dynamic future of work, they’re looking at how technology can enable their own teams and broader workforce to do more. It’s clear they see data as the key here. About half of the technology executives surveyed (49%) cite analytics to drive better decision-making as a capability that will be most important. While they’re focused on arming the business with insight to inform decisions of all kinds, including work strategies, the survey suggests they may be underappreciating what it takes to make that happen. Surprisingly, just 26% acknowledged the importance of data governance, a critical aspect of effective data privacy and cybersecurity.

Other priority areas they will look to invest in and cultivate include security by design and a cloud-centric operating model. The two go hand-in-hand in supporting growth and innovation — an imperative that came through loud and clear in our recent Cloud Business Survey. Tech leaders need to make sure that security guardrails exist to help the rest of the C-suite make the right decisions as they digitize the business. This kind of collaboration is essential as business leaders are actively owning and driving the company’s digital and cloud strategy alongside the CIO. The role of tech leaders, then, is to help educate and guide their peers to make the right strategic choices as they do the work of building the critical technology foundations.

Technology executives also consider it important to have capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize products, services and experiences. That’s just one area where AI is being used to support a dynamic working environment. For example, companies are increasingly using AI to create more self-healing systems — a key part of a cloud-centric ecosystem.

Analytics, cybersecurity and cloud top CIO priority list

Data analytics to drive better decision-making
%
Security by design
%
Cloud-centric operating model
%
AI to personalize products, services, experiences
%
Emerging technology innovation
%
Data governance
%
ESG measurement and reporting
%
Employee-led initiatives
%
Upskilling programs
%

Q:Which technology-related capabilities will be most important in supporting the future of work? (Select up to three.)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: CIO base of 89

The tech tools CIOs are betting on 

Perhaps never before have CIOs faced such an abundant choice of potentially valuable technologies to deploy. That might explain why these executives are mixed on which technologies will be the most valuable for the future of work in the next two years.

While more than one-third see AI as crucial — the highest scoring of all the technologies — the remaining choices were fairly evenly divided among cloud-based applications and platforms, internet of things (IoT), collaboration software and advanced video conferencing systems, remote security products, and automation/robotic process automation (RPA).

This wide range reflects what is important to many organizations as they approach the future of work, including:

  • Building a cloud-centric environment with apps and platforms that provide the flexibility and scalability needed to support a growing digital business.
  • Leveraging newer tools such as AI and analytics for better decision-making and more automated operations.
  • Deploying IoT devices to gather data, for example around workplace usage and coupling that with advanced analytics to drive real-time office planning decisions.
  • Launching and scaling efforts to automate currently manual processes.
  • Securing the remote workplace as many employees shift between home and company offices.
  • Enhancing collaboration and communications among employees working on-site and those working remotely.

Even as CIOs weigh how to deploy these tools, it’s vital that they remember that it’s not so much about any particular technology but about how it aligns with the business objectives of the organization. If a technology does not support business goals, the chances of it succeeding are likely diminished. The flip side is if a technology solution can be shown to solve particular problems or meet corporate objectives, it’s more apt to get funding.

The tech powering the future of work


Artificial intelligence and analytics
%
Cloud-based applications and platforms
%
Internet of Things (IoT)
%
Collaboration software, advanced video conferencing systems
%
Remote security products
%
Automation, including RPA
%
Virtualization and other remote work tools
%
Blockchain
%
Augmented reality/virtual reality/extended reality
%
Upskilling and learning management platforms
%
No-code/low-code development tools
%

Q: Which technologies do you see as most valuable for the future of work in the next two years? (Select up to three.)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: CIO base of 89

What will the future IT organization look like?

It’s difficult to predict how things will play out with so much in flux these days, but technology executives do have definite plans about strategic business changes they plan to make over the next 12 to 18 months based on their company’s experience around work during the pandemic.

One of the most notable changes tech execs cite in our survey is more reliance on outsourcing, including third-party vendors and contingent workers. That was cited by 46% of the CIOs and CTOs, considerably higher than the 27% of all other executives surveyed. Much of this likely reflects technology executives’ struggles with the talent gap, which has left a shortage of people with skills in analytics, data science, cybersecurity, cloud, and other areas of IT. This is especially true for smaller businesses that are perpetually strapped for resources. With an increased focus on working with external vendors, tech and risk management leaders will need to be attentive to compliance, adequate controls and transparent reporting from third parties. 

Nearly half of the technology executives plan to make changes in their processes — for example, through automation — to make their organizations less dependent on employee institutional knowledge. Automation also frees employees to shift their focus from time-consuming rote tasks to more strategic activities. Additionally, a good number intend to make changes to their strategic planning based on changing business conditions, for example, incorporating lean portfolio management processes to be more responsive to the business. Finally, more than a third of the CIOs and CTOs surveyed plan a major redefinition of their operating model, including roles and team alignment.

As they make these various changes, IT organizations will likely want to focus on a few key outcomes. These include decreasing time to value for delivering products and services to users; scaling not just up and down but in every direction in the enterprise; providing the entire enterprise with the power of AI and advanced analytics; upgrading user experience across the enterprise; and securing the enterprise by building in compliance, security and resilience.

Lessons learned: CIOs are making changes

Changes to our processes to make us less dependent on employee institutional knowledge
%
More reliance on outsourcing
%
Changes to our strategic planning based on changing business conditions
%
Major reorganization of our operating model
%
Changing capex investment and approval process
%

Q: As you look to the next 12-18 months, which of the following strategic business changes are you making based on your company’s experience around work during the pandemic? (Select all that apply.)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: CIO base of 89

About the survey

Our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, fielded August 2 to August 6, 2021, surveyed 89 technology leaders from Fortune 1000 and private companies, along with other C-suite executives, about business priorities and decisions they’re making around the future of work. Find all of these insights in our PwC US Pulse Survey.

Next in work: What’s top of mind in the C-suite?

Contact us

Jenny Koehler

Jenny Koehler

Partner, US Cloud & Digital Leader, PwC US

Danielle Phaneuf

Danielle Phaneuf

PwC’s Strategy&, Principal, PwC US

Kumar Krishnamurthy

Kumar Krishnamurthy

Principal, PwC’s Strategy&, PwC US

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