Operational responsibilities. Budget pressures. Growing customer and employee expectations. Increased connectivity. More complex, hybrid environments.

The list of responsibilities and challenges for CIOs is constantly growing. With digital transformation priorities now topping it off, the struggle to find time for innovation is a recurring theme.

In fact, IT departments currently spend 83 percent of their time managing IT and communications platforms as well as resolving user issues, leaving little time for planning and innovation, according to the new CIO Outlook report. That small investment in time and effort won’t cut it.

IT leaders need to be bolder than ever, tackling new cloud-based business models thanks to SaaS, managing new applications, phasing out legacy hardware and software, and finding the time to be a champion for data analytics across technical and business users. But that means these leaders are being spread thin.

How can more time be freed up to spend on strategy? What can be done to improve the efficiency of IT’s time and limited resources? And which of those decisions can also drive innovation at the same time?

The expectations are great, the resources are sparse, and there is a continual push for cost savings in addition to revenue-driving contributions. We know juggling is a must-have skill for IT leaders today, but with all the balls in the air, what should be prioritized? What can make the greatest impact in the least amount of time? What has the most long-term value that has yet to make its way to the top of that ever-growing list?

survey of nearly 300 CIOs revealed what is weighing on IT leaders’ minds today as to how they answer the overarching question: How can CIOs leave a legacy, adding their voice to the strategic decisions of rapidly-changing enterprises, while keeping IT operations afloat?

Here are a few of the survey findings:

  • IT is expected to save costs. CIOs are expected to save 12 percent of their budget on average over the next five years. 61 percent of CIOs say that their peers in the C-suite place too much emphasis on this aspect of IT, restricting them from other initiatives that would impact topline growth.
  • There’s a disconnect between what IT leaders want to focus on and where they must routinely spend their time and resources. 58 percent of CIOs say they can’t focus on new trends and technologies due to other pressures. There’s too much to be done, and not enough emphasis on delivering innovation.
  • Being a cloud champion isn’t enough. By the end of 2017, 96 percent of CIOs will have a formal cloud strategy in place. Is your cloud strategy something that is moving the needle sufficiently to keep driving improvements?
  • Overseeing the communications applications used by the average worker is daunting. The average company offers three voice conferencing applications, but may also offer a dozen other applications to fill in the gaps – some with and some without screen sharing, some screen sharing only, some for messaging, some exclusively for document collaboration. This causes headaches for IT and chaos for people at the office.
  • Most CIOs are concerned about the complexity of communications infrastructure and applications. More than 80 percent say they’re too complex, affecting ongoing support for workers; more than 85 percent say they take too much time or cost too much to manage, leaving insufficient resources to properly train users on the tools.

The top three drivers for UCaaS adoption are improving the customer experience, improving enterprise communication, and reducing operating costs.

What does it all mean?

IT has what they need at their fingertips to solve some major issues this year – if they’re bold enough. There are SaaS options designed to reduce TCO while also streamlining the amount of work expected of lean in-house IT teams. The right cloud-based UC services are designed with these goals in mind. IT leaders reluctant to make UCaaS a priority now will lag behind others taking a step that will position them as change agents for innovation in their organization.

The top three drivers for UCaaS adoption are improving the customer experience, improving enterprise communication, and reducing operating costs. Given the authority to be a cloud champion, IT leaders must think critically about which actions to take now versus later. They are making decisions that will provide competitive advantage, build consensus across teams, keep employees around longer, and create a culture of connectedness. UCaaS can help more people – internally and externally – experience the benefits of digital transformation most quickly. If the choice to switch from legacy systems to cloud-based communication is in your hands, it’s one of the most powerful cards you can play.