by Maryfran Johnson

CIOs Need to Focus on Competitive Threats

Mar 28, 20142 mins
Car TechCIO

Today's executives can boast about their companies' tech prowess, but they also need to keep an eye on archrivals and new competitors, says Maryfran Johnson.

Nothing delivers a rush of business adrenaline like the appearance of a new competitor. When Google bought Nest a few months ago, for example, every CEO with a stake in “smart home” products or the residential energy business took immediate notice.

When FedEx CEO Fred Smith was quizzed about the possibility of competing with his enormous transportation network by using drones to deliver packages, he dismissed the idea as “almost amusing.”

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Yet as Managing Editor Kim S. Nash points out in her cover story (“Battle of the Archrivals”), some of the most effective competitive moves happening today in social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies weren’t on anyone’s threat horizon until recently.

Given that reality, we wondered how and where IT was making a difference in three of the fiercest corporate rivalries: Home Depot vs. Lowe’s, Ford vs. General Motors, FedEx vs. UPS. “Technology boasts permeate the marketing and investment strategies for these companies,” Nash writes.

The chairman of Ford tells investors about the company’s commitment to “being the automotive leaders in wireless communication technology.” The CEO of Home Depot describes experiments with video kiosks and mobile technology to Wall Street analysts. UPS shows off its mastery of data analytics by creating metrics for evaluating top college basketball teams as part of its NCAA sponsorship. (“The masses might not understand logistics, but they do get March Madness,” Nash notes.)

Thanks to the reader-friendly layout created by our Art Director Terri Haas, it’s easy to make side-by-side comparisons of this trio of archrivals. At a glance, you can see how each company stacks up in its business challenges, CIO qualifications, IT bragging rights and plans for the future.

Senior executives–particularly CIOs, I would argue–should “habitually study other companies to pick up new ideas and stay motivated to compete,” suggests corporate psychologist Jim Taylor. “When one company wins, another loses.”

And despite the FedEx CEO’s amusement at the thought of Amazon as a future rival, e-commerce companies are camped much closer to the customer front lines than delivery firms, says analyst R “Ray” Wang of Constellation Research. “This is about trying to anticipate demand as close as you can to the purchase cycle,” he says. “If you shape the demand, which Amazon does, you know exactly what the reality is.”

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