Managing data security is the most urgent focus area for retail CIOs, according to a new study from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Forrester Research Inc. The report, “Retail CIO Agenda 2015: Secure And Innovate,” shows that 97% of the 84 retail CIOs surveyed place that at the top of their 2015 priority lists.

The findings are hardly surprising, considering the lenghthy list of security incidents and breaches involving major retailers over the past 18 months or so.

Strong corporate-level governance is next when it comes to top focus areas this year, with 78% of retail CIOs citing it as one of their top five internal focus areas, up from just 24% in 2014 and 20% in 2013.

“With the role of the CIO evolving further as a company’s strategic technology innovation leader, the complexity of the business challenges cannot be lost; from data security to new digital customer experiences,” Tom Litchford, aid NRF vice president of retail technologies, said in a statement.

“Our study findings provide insight into the enormous accountabilities placed on the IT leader’s role, which will help C-suite retail executives collaborate more innovatively as they respond to everything from security issues to staying in step with their customers’ needs.”

Nearly one third of the CIOs surveyed (30%) expect their budget to be flat for 2015, and just slightly more, 34%, expect a slight increase. With most retail CIOs working with flat to modest budget increases, they must choose their priorities wisely, the report notes.

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