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The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sea change in customer and business needs that seemed unimaginable until the crisis unfolded worldwide. The pandemic upended nearly every company’s digital transformation plans, replacing them with complete business transformation mandates seemingly overnight.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Now that the pandemic-created dust is settling, it’s become clear that customer-obsessed companies — those that put customers at the center of their leadership, strategy and operations — were the most successful in sensing and responding to systemic risk. Customer-obsessed companies report 2.5 times higher revenue growth than their competition, an important benchmark that the pandemic brought to the fore. These firms achieved this type of success by implementing tech strategies to become:

  • Adaptive, in order to reconfigure core business concepts.
  • Creative, in order to deliver emotion and engagement across all customer experiences.
  • Resilient, in order to deliver on their brand promise and product vision despite the crisis.

Instead of simply hanging on for dear life, 27% of companies achieved “growth mode” during the pandemic, even as businesses quickly made the shift to digital to accommodate changing customer needs. How did they accomplish this? By formulating a technology strategy that enabled their organizations to remain resilient while transitioning to a business model capable of winning, serving and retaining business during a unique, watershed moment.

Tech executives as change agents: The secret to driving transformation

This focus on a winning tech strategy meant that these successful companies shared another common feature — strong, cross-functional technology leaders who, despite the pandemic, adapted quickly, drove meaningful change across their organizations, and kept delivering for customers.

These “change agents” proved able to drive alignment with their peers to accelerate investments in technology: They were among the 44% of decision-makers who accelerated their digital business investments during the pandemic, according to Forrester data. So those companies that currently lack a change-driven technology leader run the risk of losing relevance in markets characterized by shifting consumer demand and disruptive forces.

In addition, while the CIO or CTO was largely unknown to employees in many organizations before 2020, these executives have since emerged to stabilize and ignite company performance. Remote work, which was traditionally used pre-pandemic to access out-of-market talent or accommodate personal needs, has now become a high-stake “anywhere work” requirement that’s impossible to execute without the support of a great technology strategy.

As you seek to drive transformation at your organization, now is the time to meet — or, in some instances, become reacquainted with — your company’s most vital change agent. This person just happens to be your most prominent leader as well: The “future fit” tech executive.

Tech leaders were asked to step up during a time of crisis, and the best and brightest did so in order to drive meaningful business transformation. But this prompts the question: “Was this transformation just limited to the pandemic or is it indicative of the future of the CIO/CTO role?”

Driving transformative change into the future

In other words, will CIOs and CTOs finally be able to sustain their seat at the business table? Forrester asked more than 500 tech leaders what their top priorities are over the next 12 months. The response shows a clear focus on business outcomes: 53% of tech leaders say improving their ability to innovate is one of their top priorities, while 49% point to enabling differentiation in their market.

These responses align with the priorities across leadership teams at future fit companies, where more than 70% of business leaders considered the same priorities as critical. With this level of priority alignment across the business, tech leaders must be viewed as equal partners in advancing the buildout of the enterprise’s modern technology architecture .

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This commitment also empowers future fit tech executives to shift from a mindset of efficiency to one of effectiveness. They will drive deliberate innovation that perpetually transfers energy from research and development to material business outcomes. Customers and employees will thrive because future fit tech executives will balance and integrate compliance-driven and policy-focused risk practices with the innovations required to stay ahead of their ongoing needs.

Don’t slow investment in your tech-savvy change agents

Companies can count on more disruption taking place globally. This is why every organization needs to have tech leaders on board who are both invigorated by change and obsessed with driving company growth. The pandemic has also made us realize that the future of work is now; a tech-enabled workforce of employees, partners and contingent labor connected your customers in the crisis and will keep doing so post-pandemic. Whether we encounter an economic downturn or systemic turbulence, this is not the time to slow investment in technology — and your most vital, tech-savvy change agents.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston is a group research director at Forrester. To access further Forrester insights for technology executives, visit here .