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5 Key 2020 IT and Technology Learnings from Minnesota’s Top CIOs

December 9, 2020

Category: Digital Transformation Strategy

2020 has been a year unlike any other. It has arguably shifted and accelerated priorities of Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Digital Officers (CDOs), and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) more than any year in the past few decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced digital transformation on organizations across every industry – healthcare, education, legal, construction, manufacturing, retail, and more. In many cases, this forced digital transformation helped enterprises realize their ability to accelerate innovation and change in ways they didn’t know were possible. In other cases, it has challenged businesses beyond repair.

Today, Minnesota’s MNTech (Minnesota Technology Association) gathered a panel of top CIOs from across the state to discuss key learnings from 2020 that will inform priorities for 2021. This year’s panel included:

Here are 5 Key 2020 IT and Technology Learnings from Minnesota’s Top CIOs:

1. The COVID-19 Pandemic Forced Digital Transformation Upon Organizations Across Every Industry

COVID-19 hit the United States at the beginning of this year and shook our world as we know it. Everything shifted – from where we work, to the way we work, to the way we interact with each other. And this is something that industries across the board were not prepared for.

Chris Ross, CIO at Mayo Clinic, discussed how when Mayo started receiving word of and cases of COVID, they were forced to take unprecedented action in order to sustain business, keep employees safe, and keep patients healthy. He said they “had to mobilize as if they were going to war.” They had employees who were working from home for the first time. Telemedicine visits quintupled. And things like iPads at bedsides in the hospitals to maintain communication with patients while keeping as many people as safe as possible became the norm.

A benefit, if you can call it a benefit, that did come out this, Ross explained, was “Mayo realized they are more agile and resilient than they thought despite the fact that they are a highly complex business with many locations. We can move faster and be more innovative than we gave ourselves credit for.”

2. The Digital Divide Became Clearer Than Ever

As human interactions of all kinds were forced to go digital, the divide between the “digital haves” and the “digital have nots” became more and more evident.

Chris Ross of Mayo Clinic spoke about this divide and accessibility issue as a challenge in making sure patients continued to have access to telemedicine.

Teddy Bekele, Senior Vice President and CTO at Land O’Lakes, has experienced this as well. Winfield, one of Land O’Lakes’ brands which is centered around crops, has spent the past five years focused on shifting operations to digital. Land O’Lakes has given growers access to technology to help make key agronomic decisions and support better practices. “The challenge though,” Bekele explained, “is in the digital maturity of the growers. They will tell you that they are great with seed! But technology isn’t always their strong suit.” 

A focus on creating technologies and programs that are accessible, intuitive, and understandable continues to be key to an organization’s digital transformation success.

3. Remote & Virtual Interaction Presented New Business Opportunities…

While businesses could have focused on nailing down short-term solutions that would get them through the challenges of this year, many focused on accelerating their digital transformation to prepare for inevitable change in the way we live and work for years to come.

Casey Gordon, CIO at The College of St. Benedict’s and St. John’s University, spoke of the college’s emphasis on this over the past year. A primarily residential and in-person learning environment, they had to act quickly to maintain that college experience for students while still keeping faculty, staff, and students safe and healthy. They quickly outfitted over 200 classrooms across both campuses with new remote technology to support both professors and students who would need to “call in” to class for any reason.

While they could have stopped there – with quick solutions that would get them through this year, Gordon and her team took this year as an opportunity. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other threats that the higher education industry is facing, including a shortage of students coming out of the 2008 recession, and technologies ability to enable students to consider higher education options around the world. “If schools continue to focus on the traditional learner,” Gordon explained, “they are going to close. But if we adapt, there are a ton of new opportunities.”

A continued emphasis on great online learning experiences that go beyond just connecting with the professor has been a focus. “Think chemistry, biology, 3D modeling – how will students be able to continue taking advantage of hands-on experiences but inside a virtual environment,” Gordon said.

By continuing to build out and enhance virtual learning capabilities, Gordon believes colleges will be able to continue to attract new students from markets they never could before, continuing to evolve the higher education field and experience at large.

4. …and Presented New Challenges in Maintaining Strong Culture & Collaboration

Shawn Swearingen, CIO at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reach LLP, spoke of the big change in culture and business operations as their entire law firm moved to remote work. Identifying and utilizing new tools to encourage connection and teamwork was a big priority this year. 

“This year has accelerated adoption of new technologies,” Swearingen explained. They identified new tools for both employee-to-employee engagement, as well as employee-to-client engagement. “It’ll be important not to go back to the way things were,” she continued. As we recover from the pandemic and go back to in-person interaction, continuing to build off of this digital transformation momentum will remain a key focus for businesses.

5. Using Data to Make Key Decisions Has Never Been More Important

Dan Abdul, CTO at Medica, emphasized the fact that the pandemic has placed a bigger demand on systems to manage data. Of course in his industry, that’s all of the new public health data available and needing to be analyzed. But even beyond that, it’s become even more evident the importance of analyzing data available to make key business decisions.

Laura Groschen, VP & CIO of Business Partner Services at Medtronic, explained that “today it’s not about a lack of data. It’s about the ability to effectively evaluate data to provide insights to the right stakeholders and partners at the right time.” At Medtronic, data has become an economic asset that they can use to drive revenue, decrease expense, and increase productivity.

The importance of data access and evaluation will hold digital transformation at the top of priority lists for years to come.


As we enter 2021, this year’s learnings will inevitably shape priorities and agendas with continued focus on accelerated digital transformation.

Thank you to MNTech and these top Minnesota CIO’s for sharing their insights from such an eventful year!