by Anna Frazzetto

Tech days of reckoning

May 02, 2019
CIOEmerging TechnologyIT Strategy

Even for technology veterans, keeping pace with advancements is like chasing a moving train that will always be just a bit faster. Try as you may, you can never quite catch up and, if you stop trying, you will never catch up.

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Today technology gives us endless opportunities to innovate, but the window to be the first closes quickly. This breakneck speed of change and adoption has businesses on edge and wondering how they can keep up not only with the competition they know but also deal with unexpected disruptors. Is Uber, Amazon, Google or Huawei making a move into my industry? Is today our day of reckoning with technology?

Recently, on two different occasions, I met with CIOs whose successful global companies are in two very different industries. Both are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of technology change. One CIO, who works in the transport and delivery business, is anxious about Uber moving aggressively into their sector. The other is in the finance industry and is working on a partnership deal two longtime competitors in order to start a new and separate company that can compete with Venmo and other mobile payment services.

For me, the two conversations were carbon copies of a common sentiment I am hearing echo across so many businesses. It’s the feeling that keeping pace with technology is like chasing a moving train that will always be just a bit faster. Try as you may, you can never quite catch up and, if you stop trying, you will never catch up.

For 20 years now, Harvey Nash and KPMG have been surveying CIOs, and we can see the advancement of the tech industry in their insights. When the surveys began two decades ago, only one or two tech companies were among the largest companies in the survey. Now tech companies dominate them much the way they are dominating a growing part of the global economy. As I look over that changing list, I see some common threads of adaptation and creativity among the non-tech companies that have risen to the top alongside technology industry leaders. If your organization is facing reckonings and disruptions from tech industry interlopers or technology itself, here are some tips for keeping pace with the ever-innovation train.

Tip 1: See the positives

Even those of us who have always worked in technology can be overwhelmed at the pace of change at times. Sometimes the best medicine is to remember the positives. One common story about technology is it leaves older generations behind. That’s the negative side. But there is a strong positive (not to mention empirical evidence) to counterbalance this narrative. It’s not hard to find examples. From smart watches and smart fabrics to health monitoring, emergency communications, and nearly instant delivery services, smart technologies are changing the lives of older Americans for the better.

I encourage businesses to look for the positive side of the story. If Uber or Google want to get into your industry that is because they see opportunity. Look for where traditional and digital competitors might have an edge (Is it data? Is it communication capabilities? Is it remedying customer pain or digitizing existing products to keep pace with consumer behavior?). And then work to eliminate their advantage. Competition fuels innovation. Ask any start up.

Tip 2: Don’t look back

Many business leaders who feel the pressure of changing times and technology fall into the trap of harkening back to past successes. In 2010, we were at the top of the industry. We need to get back to that. I see that resistance to moving forward happening with artificial intelligence (AI). I have heard business leaders say that AI is nothing special. It’s all buzz and just the latest phase in programming.

Many newspapers and media outlets said the same thing about the Internet decades ago. The Internet is nothing special. It’s just the latest phase in publishing. How many of those newspapers and magazine empires are still here today? Almost none. Only those that recognized the need to overhaul their entire model for digital consumption have survived. Walmart is an excellent example of a company that has faced disruptive forces, along with the entire retail industry, and still comes out on top. Rather than looking back, Walmart has embraced digital and created a strong online shopping marketplace and gone head-to-head with Amazon in home delivery. Now the company is using AI and the potential of personal shopping to continue to compete against Amazon and other online retailers.

Rather than looking back or turning away from technologies like AI, it’s critical to commit to the R&D. How might AI change our business model and/or our customers’ experience? How might it improve our service capabilities? Our products? Our engagement? Doing the research doesn’t mean that you need to scrap your core business. It’s not about changing what you do. It’s about transforming how you do what you do and not missing key opportunities to advance.

Tip 3: Break old rules

Whether you’re a financial firm teaming up with competitors to build a startup venture or a local business daring to take your services global, creativity counts in the marketplace. The businesses I see succeeding today, are those willing to throw out the old rule books and try different paths forward.

Remember when Netflix was a mail order DVD rental firm? What if they had decided to only play by the rules of DVD technology? My advice to business leaders is forget the rules you followed to get to where you are. The marketplace is constantly shifting and resorting itself and any business has to be ready to do the same.

Again, Walmart: They could have turned a blind eye on Amazon and focused only on in-store sales rather than going head-to-head with the digital behemoth. Plenty of retailers did, but not Walmart. With its winning e-commerce model and market-leading mobile shopping app, Walmart is now as fierce a competitor across the digital retail space as it is in the physical space. Are you ready to go outside your lane and compete in new ways?

Remember, being on edge isn’t all bad

The speed of tech change has businesses on edge, but it’s important to remember that the edge isn’t all bad. Everyone wants to work with and for companies who are pushing innovation. It’s okay to be uncomfortable as long as you use that discomfort to push you to a new place. Don’t stand still in the uneasiness. Stay positive. Break rules and don’t look back.