The CIO Balancing Act: Prioritizing Exciting vs. Essential Projects While Building Teams to Handle it All

The CIO Balancing Act: Prioritizing Exciting vs. Essential Projects While Building Teams to Handle it All
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From Infrastructure to Innovation, Tech Leaders Must Communicate Value & Retain the Right Expertise to Scale

CIOs and CTOs are often in a balancing act: leveraging their technical expertise while also being strategic leaders. It’s about aligning technology investments with budgets and priorities. And you’re pursuing initiatives that achieve transformative changes alongside initiatives that enable transformative changes.

You have synchronized a range of IT initiatives on your roadmap to achieve overall business goals. Yet, strategic conversations with C-suite peers often pivot toward the glamour of AI and digital transformation, sometimes overlooking the critical roles of data strategies, cybersecurity and cloud infrastructure.

Technology leaders are tasked with advocating for the essential, behind-the-scenes work, as well as harnessing enthusiasm for the exciting innovations that propel the business forward… and all this while managing the talent and skills to execute.

Let’s explore the dynamics between the “exciting” and “boring” IT projects necessary to achieve business goals, strategies for communicating their collective value, and scaling your talent pool to meet the diverse technological demands.

Technology Counterweights

As a tech leader, you know that a balanced and forward-thinking IT agenda comprises both bold and foundational initiatives. The organization must prioritize “boring” projects to maintain, scale and protect the business while investing in “exciting” projects for growth and transformation.


Descriptors Examples
Exciting Technology
  • Emerging
  • Innovative
  • Transformative
  • Futuristic
  • Generative AI
  • Machine Learning
  • Digital Transformation
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Robotics
Boring Technology
  • Behind-the-Scenes
  • Essential
  • Foundational
  • Future-Proof
  • Cloud Computing Platforms
  • Network Infrastructure
  • Cybersecurity
  • Databases
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

Table 1. We all have different ideas of what’s exciting.

Exciting (But Less Predictable) Technology

Exciting tech is visible and engaging. These technologies capture headlines and imaginations with promises to push boundaries and transform our industries. Business leaders without strong technical backgrounds see how exciting tech can directly impact business goals by reducing costs, streamlining operations and boosting quality.

Emerging technologies are positioned as driving forces of innovation and growth, enabling businesses to better understand their customers, deliver products faster, identify new revenue opportunities and enhance users’ experiences.

However, these technology projects should center around what’s best for the business, not just the latest trend. If new technology initiatives are not aligned closely to long-term business goals or viewed holistically (such as implications for compliance), CIOs risk not only reducing the impact of their technology investments, but also draining their resources.

Moreover, emphasis on exciting tech should not overshadow the foundational projects making them possible.

Boring (But Necessary) Technology

While tech leaders are enthusiastic about all the possibilities of exciting tech, there should also be a thoughtful pause for realism. There are many critical projects that don’t make flashy headlines, like updating legacy systems, reinforcing cybersecurity protocols and building scalable cloud infrastructure. Without them, exciting tech won’t shine as brightly, or in some cases, even be possible.

For instance, the most advanced AI-driven analytics tool is only as good as the data it processes, which must be stored in secure, well-maintained databases. Likewise, the success of IoT devices relies on reliable networks that handle continuous data flow. Transitioning to cloud infrastructure can provide security, scalability and flexibility while potentially reducing costs.

CIOs should reframe these boring tech projects as strategic investments that ensure resilience, compliance and flexibility, creating a solid platform for innovation.

Strategic Technology Planning

Leveling Priorities

Both exciting and boring technologies are crucial for achieving business goals. Highlighting this interdependence is vital for securing stakeholder support.

To engage your C-suite colleagues and get them on board, it’s critical to contextualize technology, set realistic expectations for results and present a cohesive roadmap.

Contextualizing Technology

Building up technical literacy within the C-suite and establishing a shared language around technology is pivotal. This goes beyond simplifying terms; it’s about contextualizing IT within the broader business.

For example, discussing the scalability of cloud solutions in the context of market expansion — or illustrating the role of data governance in risk management — can connect technical concepts with business outcomes that are meaningful to your peers.

CIOs can also explain the interdependencies among exciting and boring IT projects. For instance, while there is currently significant attention on AI, business intelligence (BI) and IoT, simply investing in applications or software doesn’t work.

Data strategies and infrastructure need to be in line and solid before you can execute. On the other side of implementation, processes must be updated to operationalize AI within a business context.

Fostering an environment where questions are encouraged, and knowledge-sharing is the norm will help maintain an ongoing dialogue about the role of technology in achieving business goals. When your C-suite colleagues are informed on how all the dots connect, they will be valuable collaborators, helping design a cohesive strategy.

Setting Expectations

CIOs must navigate the complexities of ROI, articulating not only the financial returns, but also the strategic advantages that accrue over time.

For exciting projects like an AI-driven customer experience platform, ROI can be justified in enhanced customer satisfaction scores, increased sales or market differentiation. In contrast, for “boring” projects like an update to network infrastructure, ROI might be reflected in reduced downtime, lower total cost of ownership and productivity gains.

In general, emerging technologies may have a less predictable ROI because they are at the forefront of innovation, where market readiness and integration with existing systems can be uncertain. This highlights the importance of not only prioritizing based on financial returns.

ROI for IT projects cannot always be measured immediately or directly in financial terms. Sometimes it’s about long-term value, risk mitigation and the enablement of future innovations.

For instance, the impact of an IT initiative might be qualitative. Enhanced security protocols may not generate revenue, but they significantly reduce risk. Demonstrating the avoided cost of potential data breaches or compliance fines can be an effective way to quantify these benefits.

Setting realistic timelines for ROI realization is another key component. Because some AI projects can be large and unfold over time, projects should also work to show positive ROI along the way. Taking incremental steps to improve discrete elements of a workflow can evolve into larger projects with greater capabilities over time, delivering value at every stage along the way.

Ultimately, CIOs must champion a comprehensive view of ROI — quantitative and qualitative impacts, as well as short-term and long-term expectations. This approach will ensure decisions are made based not on the “sizzle” of the tech, but on the genuine business value.

Visualize the Journey

Now that you have contextualized technology and set expectations for results, visualize the journey with a technology roadmap. It’s more than a timeline. It should illustrate how IT projects align with business goals. It also reinforces the understanding that IT is a driving force in the business, not just a supporting player.

A comprehensive roadmap outlines the sequence of initiatives and highlights dependencies, showing how foundational projects lay the groundwork for innovation.

For example, demonstrate how the implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system might precede a big data analytics project. This will help stakeholders understand why certain projects must take precedence and align their expectations with realistic project timelines.

Make sure to update and communicate the roadmap regularly to demonstrate progress, share results and gather feedback. Each iteration is a touchstone for discussion, keeping everyone informed and engaged.

A well-thought-out technology roadmap positions the CIO as a visionary leader who is guiding the organization through a complex digital landscape.

Team Collaboration and Growth

Scaling Talent

While overseeing the technology that operates the business, CIOs also manage the talent to make it all possible.

CIOs must build a balanced technology team — generalists who understand the overarching vision and specialists with deep knowledge of specific technologies.

Cultivating a collaborative team with diverse skills, experiences and backgrounds fuels new ideas and more breakthroughs.

However, the challenge for CIOs is not merely to find this talent, but to do so sustainably and with agility. The IT landscape is varied and demands a range of skills, from machine learning specifics to network infrastructure management. Regardless of the project, each employee must understand how their work is valued and contributes to the larger strategic vision of the company.

Meanwhile, certain technology projects are transient. For example, an enterprise-wide system upgrade may require a skill set that is unnecessary once the project concludes. This poses the dilemma of hiring for the short term versus investing in full-time expertise that may later become redundant.

Building a hiring strategy is complex and time consuming. So, how are CIOs creating strategies to address these needs and accounting for sudden pivots in skills requirements?

They’re gaining a competitive advantage by hiring technology experts to do that job for them.

Achieve Balance with GAP

Growth Acceleration Partners (GAP) understands the challenges CIOs face and offers consulting and technology services to help tackle them all. Our breadth of capabilities and depth of expertise gives companies the resources to execute boring projects and accelerate the exciting ones.

GAP specializes in building technology solutions to power your growth. We help you align technology investments with business goals. By using AI, proprietary tools and seasoned experience, our full-spectrum approach turns your ideas into value, with specialized technology processes to consult, design, build and modernize for your continued success. We ensure what we deliver is not only innovative, but also allows your businesses to stay ahead of technology trends in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Moreover, GAP helps businesses achieve a competitive advantage through technology, and we manage the necessary talent to effectively make that happen. GAP’s focus on professional growth, rigorous recruitment, values and diversity spurs innovation, increases agility and creates an environment where we retain the best software and data engineers in the industry. Our unparalleled expertise unlocks new possibilities for you — enabling objections and alternatives to be explored more efficiently, fostering deep inquiry and igniting breakthroughs.

Whether it’s the immediate impact of exciting tech or the foundational support of boring tech, we are here to help you balance innovation with operational excellence. Contact GAP today to strengthen your IT strategy and optimize your workforce to help you achieve business goals.

To learn more about boosting your organizational influence, check out these 7 Actionable Strategies to Deliver Value.