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Disruptive Innovators: Ready, Set, Go!

The conditions are right for disruptive innovators to take the lead, but are CIOs ready?

There is no doubt that the stats from this year’s CIO Survey make it clear that the time is right for CIOs to get disruptive.

 As a former CIO I can attest that CIOs have clamored for the chance to transform organizational strategy. And in my opinion, the time is finally right. Think about it – global economies are showing significant signs of recovery, business models are evolving, innovation is taking center stage and the technology of tomorrow is taking shape.

Let’s face it, this tsunami of forces puts many CIOs in an unprecedented position to step forward as disruptor innovators, leading their organization onward and, more importantly, upward.

 It’s a frightening proposition.

Why so scary?  Even though every CIO would love to fill the role, the reality is that most can barely keep their head above water. They remain focused on “keeping the lights on” even as they address the growing need for modernization, a foundational component for innovation (even if it lacks the glitz of IoT and 3-D printing).

Transforming this critical role is a truly culture shock to many CIOs. For instance, countless  organizations were forced to make huge cuts after the market crash. Then, year after year, their CIOs became conditioned to do more with less. Now even as IT budgets rise, it can be very difficult to shift the mindset of a large organization that has been taught to favor cost control over to proactive innovation.

Beyond this shift, there are also times when it’s more important for IT to be the orchestrator of services rather than a sole-source provider. CIOs need to realize there may be parts of the business for which innovation is most needed, yet they are not in the right position to be the disruptor. For instance, it may be that the CMO, who strongly grasps how best to define product offering and pricing models, is in a better position to lead the type of innovation needed to achieve organizational goals. This doesn’t preclude the CIO from playing a pivotal role—after all, big data analysis may prove instrumental here. It does, though, require CIOs to refine their role.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the biggest challenge is simply figuring out how to let the business innovate while maintaining control over workflow integration, security and data privacy. After all, security is one of those operational must-haves that all too often define a CIO’s tenure because they tend to be the fall guy if a breach occurs. Recent trends make this focus more important than ever.

The best way of ensuring compliance in a highly decentralized, complex infrastructure (i.e., one using multiple third-party and cloud providers) is to automate the provisioning and management of service through tools that enforce “digital blueprints” of applications and remove the flexibility and risk of manual configurations. This requires a new language between applications and infrastructure, but without it you are going to struggle to keep up with demands and invariably end up on the wrong side of history.

 A key practice to making the transition is to partner with experienced providers—trusted advisors with access to leading-edge technology and the ability to guide organizations through the innovation process. It is this type of partnership that enables CIOs to essentially carve out an incubator to manage forward thinking and capitalize on opportunities beyond daily operations. Simply put, after decades of being the organization’s sole-source provider for information and technology, the CIO needs to accept that no one can accomplish the task alone.

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