by James Canton

The 7 strategies of the future-ready CIO

Nov 21, 2016
CIOIT Leadership

CIOs must learn to embrace and predict the future.

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As the election is over and radical change is in the air, I thought it would be an excellent time to get CIOs ready for the next quantum leaps on the horizon.

I have had a long career forecasting, for right or wrong, tech trends that shape the future of CIOs and their enterprises. In all fairness, tech disruptions (and my forecasts) have not always been popular because innovation changes the fundamental game of business. The reality is no one likes change. Yet we are defined by change. And our effectiveness is based on how out in front of change we are, how best we can predict change before it hurts us.

Ecosystems, talent networks, distribution platforms, product development and business models have all been in flux over the past decade. Organizations continue to mirror radical changes that are altering the enterprise in fundamental ways. Uber succeeds without owning cars or a transportation system. Amazon has no brick-and-mortar stores yet is the retail leader. Facebook sells no software and leverages the connectivity as an asset. Google makes software and gives it away to drive business for predictive and personalized search advertising.

The most valuable companies in the world have at their core, their DNA, a digital process that leverages mobile, data and network effects. Their value is in marketing connectivity as an asset class. This is a new game still emerging.

Innovation is forcing changes in the very nature of business sustainability. The life cycle of the CIO has been influenced by the abrupt changes in the marketplace. CIOs are the change agents of innovation. Or maybe the Adapters in Charge is a better title. They have to make it work. This onslaught of continual innovation change is likely to increase not decrease as we step into the future of one to three years from now. Hold on. This could be a rough ride.

So the question I pose is this: Are you future-ready? Are you ready to meet the challenges of a complex and accelerated future that is increasingly about how to deal with a sea of data, moving with agility, the kinetic nature of networked services, machine learning, globalized customers, digital savvy employees, shifting supply chains, hyper-competition and talent scarcity?

Wow is this going to be fun.

The CIO is right smack in the middle of a transformation in the global economy brought by digital innovation that is in the early stages. We just invented the computer, turned on the internet, mapped DNA, invented electric cars and — well that’s just for starters. Is there any doubt that we live in an era of extreme change? Consider these and numerous other innovations that didn’t exist a decade ago: smartphones, 3D printers, wearables and social media. Being a future-ready CIO is essential to survival.

A CIO’s ability to adapt, learn fast, embrace innovation, build an innovation culture and fuse innovation with business modeling is critical to his or her future success. The challenge is immense to keep pace with the innovation that is realigning the world. This is the future-ready CIO.

How fast you adapt to change, innovate boldly and embrace transformative business practices will determine your success as a CIO. It is certainly not the era of “business as usual.” Learn fast, fail fast, and keep moving.

Well, first a brief look back in time. I first mentioned the disruptive changes I had seen coming with the internet to retail and investment banks. My banking clients pleaded with me not to be so bullish on how or why consumers would want to get access to their financial data online. This was a radical idea in 1998. Imagine that.

Then the insurance industry heard from me on the financial supply chain crashing due to the digital revolution that was going to change the pricing model. Not popular.

Then there were the legacy IT holdouts who refused to believe in mobile commerce. Apps versus brittle code? Cloud over desktops? What happened to storage? Come on folks.

The telcos held fast to POT a bit too long and resisted VoIP and, well, we know how that turned out. The web ate the telephone. VoIP rules. And mobile everything drives business.

Then there was that forecast about digital tech, hybrids and electric cars that would change the future of the auto market, driven by eco-consumers who took climate change seriously. Nobody was buying that 25 years ago. Detroit was not happy. I still love you, big oil.

Like the telcos, banks and retail giants, the auto companies learned to adapt, over time, to digital transformation. Perhaps not fast enough, but adapt they did. The new engines of innovation were consuming yesterday’s business models, making way for a future where adaptation and innovation are the new rules. Welcome to the extreme future.

Today, CIOs are on the front lines of another wave of tech changes brought by the cloud, analytics, big data, mobile, virtual reality, machine intelligence and the internet of things. More change, more opportunity.

The next future wave of disruptive innovations may come from quantum computing, evolutionary networking or neuromorphic chips, virtual reality and 6G communications.

CIOs have to become future-ready to adapt, learn and embrace emerging innovations, and to prepare for the next disruptions around the corner.

The best CIOs are on the front lines of innovation, change and business transformation. The escalating importance of the role of the CIO to lead change — not just to respond to change but to shape the future of the enterprise — is a fundamental strategic competency that more CEOs should appreciate. More on that another time.

Not all enterprises get this. And not all CIOs get this. That’s why I wrote this blog to convey some ideas about becoming more future-ready sooner and faster.

The following seven strategies of future-ready CIOs may be useful for dealing with whatever challenges may come:

1. Hyper-competition is the new norm. Expect it.

2. What does the market leader in your space do to boldly shape the future of your industry? Do that now.

3. Disrupt your organization first before your competition disrupts you.

4. Adapt faster to change. Learn new skills that matter.

5. Build an innovative culture that rewards people for being innovative. Yes, pay them, promote them, acknowledge them more. A lot more.

6. Use data to become a predictive organization. What do your customers want tomorrow? Have you asked?

7. Customers are driving change — learn to sense, leverage and get out in front of this reality. What do they see that you don’t?

Becoming future-ready — adapting, learning, innovating and collaborating faster — is essential to your success and survival. Forecasting what the competition is going to do, what customers want and even what your organization and employees should do, now, to get ready for the future will increasingly become a competitive advantage. We live in a time of complex and accelerated change buffeted by disruptions. Innovation faster than Moore’s Law is the now. This is the new reality.

Preparing to thrive in this new reality by looking ahead, anticipating change and becoming future-ready will be essential to your success and your career.