Companies that survived or thrived during the ongoing global shutdown sparked by COVID-19 did so in large part because of the steady leadership of CIOs. Whether moving entire workforces remote, shoring up infrastructures to handle extreme surges in site visits or product orders, or shifting systems to handle changes to customer demand and digital engagement requirements, the critical role of the CIO was on full display for all to see.

Target Corp.'s Executive VP and CIO Mike McNamara captures this well, recounting how their “IT team set up 15,000 remote employees. At the same time the company was seeing an explosion in digital sales, up 282% compared with the same month a year earlier. System stability became paramount from a tech perspective.”

Also paramount to brand success during shifting times is the need for CIOs and CMOs to formalize their co-ownership of customer experience (CX) initiatives. While it’s critical to meet increasing website demands, the overarching CX strategy needs to be preserved, as well.

Presenting at Sitecore Symposium 2020, Yousif Khan, Partner at Ridge Ventures and a longtime CIO, warns “Alignment between the CIO and CMO at a strategic level is key. Don’t underestimate the interdependencies. IT needs to understand marketing’s business objectives so they can help integrate solutions and better support their needs.”

One such interdependency is marketing technology. Virtually all organizations require a content management system (CMS). From a centralized web presence to internal and external communications to integrating an increasingly complex martech stack, most medium- to large-sized organizations require an open, extensible, and interoperable digital experience platform (DXP).

Whether a CMS or a DXP, both solutions have significant resource and infrastructure implications for IT, and the practical realities loom large.

As a CIO, finding common ground with your CMO requires solutions that deliver on marketing’s needs, integrate and interoperate well with the other solutions in your organization’s stack, are secure, and — increasingly important — fit your organization’s cloud computing strategy in the short- and long-term.

Hybrid cloud is the new normal

Lacking robust analytics, automation, or other critical tools, legacy technologies often hinder marketing’s effectiveness. They can also significantly slow the pace of IT’s innovation. Whether enabling IT to embrace constant deployment and constant integration or marketing to take advantage of AI-driven insights, cloud-based solutions are increasingly becoming the new norm. According to a March 2020 report from Deloitte, “More than 90% of global enterprises will rely on hybrid cloud by 2022.”

While virtually all companies (94%) have begun the move to the cloud, most organizations still have some legacy on-premises solutions — and will likely maintain that mix for some time. The challenge is developing a cloud strategy that’s compatible with today’s reality, while also being capable of adapting to future needs. And if this year revealed anything, it’s that the future can come faster than you think.

Companies that ran certain business critical applications on-premises were significantly impacted by the shutdown. While “companies that laid the foundations of cloud, agility and strategic partnerships were ready to respond with digital solutions,” which Forrester deemed “critical to customer and business success.”

Organizations across the board appear to be realizing the importance of the cloud. As Charles Bell, Regional VP of Sales Engineering, Sitecore, says:

Many of our conversations with customers over the past year have seen a shift in the priority of cloud migration. While it was often a secondary consideration as part of a broader digital experience platform adoption strategy, it is now a primary driver.

Secure cloud storage — mitigating risk

Strategic and well-executed cloud computing adoption can increase agility, thus making your organization more resilient. It can also reduce downtime and simplify security, the management of which takes up 44% of CIOs' time.

According to McKinsey, “By 2030, companies will lose roughly $650 billion as a result of system downtime and security breaches. Through more resilient architecture, cloud could reduce downtime by about 57%, resulting in a 26% cost reduction for breaches.”

Due to the new reality of remote work, IT teams are even more focused on security and privacy. By Gartner’s reckoning, 2020 accelerated top IT concerns, which now include, “reviewing remote access policies and tools, migration to cloud data centers and SaaS applications, and securing digitization efforts to minimize in-person interactions.”

Cloud platforms are designed specifically around keeping data secure and compliant. An on-premises data center is unlikely to have the controls and capabilities of a cloud service provider.

Secure cloud storage is so trustworthy that Gartner predicts that by 2025, 99% of security breaches will be due to operator error (read: the customer) not the provider’s. McKinsey Digital agrees: the security of the cloud isn’t the issue; however, organizations must take the right actions to mitigate vulnerability, such as adopting a DevSecOps operating model, where security is a central aspect of every development project, and relying on automated versus manual security controls.

Lastly, there’s the matter of what to do with your data, which often means your customer’s data. Given the rigors of security compliance, many organizations find it simpler to store data in the cloud, trusting that given the millions of dollars cloud providers invest in security annually (not to mention having their business models on the line), they’re more likely to be up to the task than much smaller in-house IT teams.

Better experiences, faster — for both teams and customers

Alongside the evolution of the cloud, solutions providers have been improving core technologies and expanding portfolios. Built on the foundation of a CMS, the digital experience platform (DXP) offers the full suite of tools needed to engage customers and employees in today’s digital-first world. And according to Howard Kim, Global VP of Cloud Solutions, Sitecore, the cloud is critical:

Sitecore’s success as a DXP is rooted in its power to connect businesses with their customers. But what’s sometimes overlooked is the platform’s technical architecture — with purpose-built flexibility and extensibility for the vast range of business needs. The cloud is key to carrying forward that flexibility and extensibility into our new global and digital marketplace. By leveraging Sitecore’s cloud offerings’ best practices and top-notch implementation experience, IT leaders can focus on their unique businesses from the start, without having to reinvent the wheel.

Sitecore serves hundreds of cloud customers globally across a wide range of verticals, many of whom are considered CX leaders. Whether it’s global health insurer Bupa’s hybrid approach, which enables their app to run securely at high volume, or it’s Microsoft Partner Network’s managed cloud, which increases the speed of both delivering content and leveraging new technologies, these companies are keeping pace with the changing demands and behaviors of consumers by removing some of the functional demands on IT.

General Mills is a house of brands with 300+ websites worldwide and offers another powerful example. Just two of their websites alone, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, generate 200 million visits per year, making General Mills the #5 ranked food publisher in the US. By outsourcing hosting and services, the General Mills marketing team can now focus on innovating ways to engage consumers by creating “moments that matter.”

Future-proofing your technology investment

A crucial part of marketing’s job is responding creatively and urgently to changing customer expectations and other market dynamics. Being agile and gaining first-mover advantage can be pivotal to their success.

But no matter how much customer expectations change, there are still critical constants, including high performance, data security, and the need for analytics and data mining that offer deep insights. These are factors that IT can impact with its decisions.

With so many rapid changes in business operations, especially in marketing, it’s only a matter of time before you need to add functionality that goes beyond the original scope. Having solutions in the cloud can make that less painful, since you’re adding or updating capabilities within an existing framework.

Going cloud-first is also a way to future-proof your investment. One example of this is minimizing the expensive “rip and replace” cycles, which can feel like two steps back to take one step forward.

This is why the American Heart Association (AHA) made the transition to the cloud when updating its site to drive volunteerism, donations, and advocacy, “We’ve been down this road for years of buying, patching, and managing infrastructure. We wanted to get out of that business,” said Todd LaCocq, AHA’s Director of Digital Solutions. “The cloud offers that benefit.”

The big picture — $1 trillion

Every industry is undergoing unique changes that often impact operations. But some companies are experiencing more of a metamorphosis than others. KPMG reported that only 26% of companies are operating in “modified business as usual” mode, leaving the vast majority to deal with some level of transformation in the wake of the pandemic.

Regardless of what lies ahead, an increasingly important part of your role as CIO is to lead your organizations into the next stage of cloud maturity – becoming cloud smart. According to recent research from McKinsey, there’s $1 trillion on the table between now and 2030 for organizations who adopt the cloud.

McKinsey locates the value across three spectrums — rejuvenate, innovate, and pioneer — with the biggest benefits coming from IT cost optimization, risk reduction, and innovative business operations. They highlight how Maersk, a Sitecore customer, used the cloud and a new IT operating model “to build out new capabilities at half the cost of doing it on-premises.”

Making the necessary shifts to ensure your organization adopts a cloud-first strategy isn’t easy. But it’s necessary for resilience in the long term and will be extremely valuable to the organization in the future.

Doing so requires critical partnerships. Finding common ground with your CMO on CX delivery and considering technology that moves the organization forward as a whole is a great place to start. We’ve seen our customers achieve success by:

  • Setting clear and ambitious goals
  • Defining use cases
  • Investing in cloud-based platforms
  • Adopting cloud-ready working methods (such as agile)

A cloud-based DXP could very well be central to this effort. Whether you want to manage your DXP solution yourself while running it on the cloud or you want Sitecore to manage it all for you, you have options. When you’re ready to learn more about partnering with Sitecore to further your businesses goals and explore how to make a case for fitting a DXP into your cloud strategy, click here.

Tom De Ridder is Sitecore's CTO and leads the teams responsible for the development of Sitecore’s future-focused technology solutions, with a focus on products that help Sitecore maintain a distinct innovation lead in the market.