What Tech Leaders Can Expect in 2021 – A 30,000 Foot View

Protiviti Experts Share Their Insights 

Recently, Tech Insights interviewed a number of Protiviti’s Technology Consulting leaders to get their thoughts on the “hot topics” on which CIOs and CISOs should focus in the year ahead. These insights are based on the conversations our experts have had with tech leaders throughout 2020. Our 2021 Tech Priorities series continues through January. Today, we take a broad look at just a few of the challenges facing CIOs and CISOs this year. 

2020 was a year for the ages, full of unanticipated twists and turns that kept many a technology leader awake at night. That makes the start of 2021 a perfect time to look confidently ahead at what the next 12 months might bring to the already-full dockets of most CIOs and CISOsEach Protiviti expert we talked to agreed there are several key priorities on which tech leaders should focus their efforts in 2021.  

Finely Tuned Balancing Act 

Leslie Howatt

A former CIO herself, Protiviti Australia’s Leslie Howatt said, “from the CIO’s perspective, or any business executive looking into 2021, it’s less about any one topic and more about “How do I manage to do everything all at once?” CIOs should consider how to improve digital engagement with customers and staff. They will look at how to effectively cut costs, preserve cash flow and get maximum value from any tech spend set for 2021. They will need to support new ways of working as the workforce continues to operate remotely. Simultaneously, CISOs will consider all of those moves by the CIO, while keeping the organization and its customers safe, “whether that’s from a cybersecurity or a data privacy or a third-party risk management perspective.”  

She added, “the puzzle going forward is less about how to adopt cloud or intelligent automation or big data or any other emerging technologies, but how to make all those bits work in concert. What is the right recipe for the organization that allows tech leaders to deliver efficiency while improving digital engagement and staying safe in a way that also fits with the culture of the organization so that the people in the organization can adopt the technologies, can use the data and the information, and can really use that to boost business performance?” Howatt believes 2021 will be about harnessing all these factors together effectively 

 Start 2021 with End Goals in Mind 

Kim Bozzella

Kim Bozzella, managing director and head of Protiviti’s Technology Strategy and Operations practice, and former head of technology risk/CIO of corporate technology for a global banking firm believes starting 2021 with several goals in mind will help tech leaders ensure success in the months ahead.  

First, modernize or retire legacy apps. “Basically, merge the old with the new estate,” she said. “A CIO’s ability to do that well will move the organization forward.”  Often, fully modernizing an organization is cost prohibitive, so creating the abstraction layer to leverage data or core processing from the legacy app while deploying new client-impacting technologies is essential. In some cases, the systems are so old, you don’t have the skills and the knowledge in your technology organization to even work on it,” she added. The most talented tech team players “want to work on the new and emerging tech. So, the ability to find and retain the talent you need is the second goal. Keeping the really good people you have is going to be harder than ever.” She believes the emergence of a remote workforce “gives CIOs a lot of flexibility, but it also gives employees a lot of options to explore.”   

Keep Innovating 

Bozzella’s third 2021 goal for CIOs involves the need to “foster innovation and creativity while trying to keep the lights on and run the business as usual.”  Creating an environment and a culture to harness innovation, while also maintaining focus on existing core programs, “whether it’s your cyber program, or your disaster recovery, your business continuity planning, your technology resilience or your life-cycle change management activity of the core programs,” and keeping teams focused on those objectives while still fostering innovation will “be what 2021 is all about – getting people to think differently and more creatively around delivering to their clients while still delivering on the core technology operations of the firm.” 

Board-Level Focus on Privacy and Risk 

Manisha Agarwal-Shah

Anticipating what Boards of Directors will view as critical in the new year is also likely top of mind for CIOs and CISOs. As we talked with our Protiviti leaders, the themes of managing risks, particularly around data privacy, stood out as items that will flag board attention in 2021. Managing Director Manisha Agarwal-Shah, who leads Protiviti’s privacy practice, said, “I think privacy has really moved from being a nice to have back in 2018, to really becoming a critical board issue. What resonates with the board of directors is ‘show me where my risks are, and how well are we meeting those risks.’ We see many organizations setting up independent privacy committees that report to the board of directors. We will also see organizations consider privacy as a business advantage, asking how can they use their privacy compliance efforts to build trust with their consumers to improve the organization as a whole? I think that’s a big change for 2021 and certainly high on the C-suite agenda.”  

Managing Data Effectively 

Peter Mottram

“Including data management and, to some degree, analytics, data security and privacy in every project” should be an important CIO and CISO priority in 2021, according to Peter Mottram, who leads Enterprise Data and Analytics for Protiviti. “The way tech leaders evaluate and manage projects should change,” he added. Given the volume of data most organizations now have on hand, and the ever-increasing focus on keeping that data protected, leaders need to look to new ecosystems to effectively manage and protect that trove of information. “We work with a number of clients who are impacted by big data projects – not big data in the marketing sense but trying to manage large data projects and to solve problems that have accumulated over time. We are looking to help those clients mature their data management processes in this new year.” 

Technology and Operational Resiliency 

Matt Watson
Ali Yasin

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly taught organizations the importance of ensuring proper alignment between business requirements and technology services, and this will remain an imperative in 2021, according to Ali Yasin, managing director in Protiviti’s technology operations and delivery practice and Matt Watson, managing director and leader of Protiviti’s business continuity and IT disaster recovery practice. “Going forward, one of the critical challenges facing technology leaders is to effectively partner with business operations and work together to understand the impact of business disruptions and then solve those problems by deploying technology solutions that will minimize the business impact following a business disruption,” said Watson. “The threats we are now seeing in the market could very well shut down the providers of major business services,” added Yasin. Operational resilience challenges us to look at those threats and try to avoid any adverse effect on the organization. That’s the real sea change here between operational resilience and traditional business continuity management.” 

Protiviti is proud to partner with CIOs and CISOs in companies of every size as these tech leadership roles continue to evolve and grow beyond providing the right technologies to being recognized as corporate collaborators with expertise in every facet of the business.  


Our Tech Priorities series will continue through JanuaryLast week, we covered the best tech investments for 2021. Other topics in the series will include data privacy and security, customer experience and cloud technologies. To learn more about Protiviti’s Technology Consulting capabilities, contact us. 

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