How CIOs Can Learn to Think Like Entrepreneurs

To be an entrepreneurial CIO, you’ll need to experiment and think about your business in new ways. For example, have you thought about exploiting big data to offer an information service?

Pundits say one of the roles CIOs must play is entrepreneur. But what does it mean to be an entrepreneurial CIO?

To figure that out, the Society for Information Management's Advanced Practices Council invited a successful entrepreneur--Bryan Mistele, CEO and co-founder of Inrix--to a recent meeting. Seven years ago, Inrix was merely a dream. Today, it's a leading global provider of traffic information and services, helping drivers avoid major traffic delays. It has the largest traffic-information network in the world. Customers include Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Garmin and Apple.

Here's what CIOs can learn from Mistele's entrepreneurial work.

Think about customer needs in new ways. Historically, traffic data was collected from roads through magnetic coils in the pavement. They are costly to build and maintain, and supply only a limited amount of information on a limited number of roadways. To achieve Inrix's scope and reach, Mistele thought beyond that network of coils to find other sources of traffic data.

How might you think differently about your company's products and services? Could you create an information service? For example, Medtronic saw that its implantable pacemaker could also collect data and transmit it to physicians and clinical staff.

Build ecosystems with business partners. From the beginning, Mistele sought ways to get incumbent businesses to complement and extend Inrix's capabilities. He obtained traffic data from commercial vehicles (such as taxis and delivery trucks) already equipped with GPS devices. He also negotiated a swap with digital mapping company Tele Atlas: Inrix gave Tele Atlas traffic data and, in exchange, got 12 blue-chip customers, $1.5 million in revenue and a 50-person sales force. Last year, Inrix acquired a competitor, gaining 200 customers in 30 countries.

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