Organizations across the world are facing the disruptive impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, we all went on a digital transformation journey that influenced everything from our businesses and people to our processes and infrastructure. In fact, digital transformation was accelerated by up to 10 years across some industries.

As we enter 2021, the path to digital transformation might seem uncertain and riddled with formidable challenges. Considering their involvement with both the business and technical side of things, CIOs are in a key position to facilitate digital transformation as they embark on digital journeys.

According to the WalkMe CIO Outlook 2021 report, CIOs across different industries are prioritizing change through innovation by leading the growth and digital transformation of the business. Overall, the CIO role is taking a stronger hold across the organization including involvement with customer experiences and recovery of the organization post-pandemic.

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a foundational change in how organizations deliver value to their customers and how they use technology, processes, and human resources to enhance business performance.

Above all things, it is a technology that has the greatest potential to transform business processes, increase employee satisfaction, and boost revenue.

Digital transformation doesn’t always equal legacy migration though complex legacy technology is a huge barrier to digital transformation. In fact, attempts to put a digital transformation in place – big or small – is oftentimes hamstrung by legacy IT concerns. However, seeing past the constraints of legacy systems is essential for CIOs tasked with organization-wide digital transformation.

In other words, it’s not just about large-scale change management projects. The evolving role of CIOs entails developing a solid understanding of areas in the organization where there’s room for more incremental digital transformation initiatives. For example, CIOs need to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to gain more value out of an existing tech portfolio.

In fact, a whopping 77.3% of CIOs recognized digital transformation as their number one budget priority going into 2021 with cybersecurity and analytics and business intelligence following closely behind. This means that companies are putting more resources into digital transformation initiatives to ensure they emerge from this crisis stronger than before whether it’s through investing in new technologies or optimizing the use of existing ones.

That said, with an almost limitless number of places to initiate a digital transformation, choosing an effective starting point is not without risk.

Why CIOs need to make digital transformation initiatives

Despite the grim forecasts businesses made at the start of the pandemic regarding IT budget cuts, up to 80% of CIOs reported no change (or less than 10% change) to their IT budget. For some, the budget for IT expenditure increased from what it was back in 2019.

When asked about how their posture on IT spending has shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an overwhelming majority of 56% reported that budget and staff are still around the same as pre-COVID times.

As organizations’ reliance on technology continues to grow, IT budgets are likely to increase in order to drive businesses forward. Instead of throwing a ton of new technologies at an ill-defined problem, CIOs need to first understand what digital transformation means for their organization so they don’t miss the boat and fall into a technology trap.

As CIOs look for ways to make incremental digital transformation initiatives across the organization, they’re starting by gaining more visibility into the entire tech portfolio, encompassing user journeys and software usage. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the maximum value is being extricated from existing tech investments and that innovation gaps are identified and acted upon swiftly.

One facet of making incremental digital transformation initiatives using existing software is to deliver an effective digital transformation strategy without adding to the tech portfolio or, in other words, making major infrastructure investments. With the CIO’s guidance, transformation teams can work in tandem with IT leaders and business stakeholders to identify areas of improvement.

Digital transformation requires cross-departmental collaboration. With this in mind, CIOs need to employ solutions that maximize IT uptake and adoption. For this, they’ll have to use powerful technologies like digital adoption platforms, automation technologies, and next-gen analytics tools. The goal is to focus on putting an orchestrated series of incremental digital transformation initiatives into action rather than making drastic changes that could take months or years.

According to data gathered from the top CIOs in the world in the WalkMe CIO Outlook 2021 report, CIOs can make digital transformation initiatives in a variety of different ways by leveraging their current tech investments. This involves adopting more automation including AI, workflow, and RPA. This will help future-proof the organization and adapt it to change.


CIOs are also looking to perform portfolio assessments and rationalization in order to reduce (or combine) assets and costs wherever possible. Another way to make digital transformation initiatives is by using the untapped but high-leverage features and capabilities of already owned IT assets. As a result, they can pave the way for success through their existing digital assets and tech investments.

In the same direction, IT leaders put forward some other ways to make digital transformation initiatives including by cross-training IT and other workers in the organization to perform more varied functions and just-in-time skill building platforms such as digital adoption platforms.


In the face of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic situation, digital transformation has undoubtedly taken on heightened importance for organizations across different industries. However, initiating radical change can be challenging no matter how small.

CIOs are in a unique position to lead their organization to success as they have a broad perspective that ensures digital transformation initiatives reach into organizational silos and across different departments. For this reason, their role is pivotal to digital transformation that’s successful both in the short-term and long-term.

By understanding the hurdles in the path to successful digital transformation, CIOs can make informed decisions on how to speed up their digital journeys and put ideas into action.