How can CIOs extend the life of public corporations?

What are the coming waves of digital disruption, the impact upon businesses and the role CIOs can play in extending their company’s life?

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Alan Murray, the Chief Content Officer of Time Inc. and President of Fortune Magazine, shared last year that in 1955 the average life of public corporation was 55 years. He said next that this number had dropped to 20 years several years ago, and was now moving toward 10 years.

Think about the impact of this change upon stock portfolios and more importantly, upon careers. Take my father as an example. He worked at TRW for his entire career. The company was started in the early 1950s and was purchased in 2002 just as he retired. In the digital era, no one can be left out of the need to regularly rebalance their stock portfolio or to move their job at minimum four to five times.

Future Shock is clearly with us today. As Geoffrey Moore says in “Zone to Win,” if your company misses a wave a change that involves its business model then you and they are not likely to survive together. Even the Fed Chairman, Janet Yellen, was asked last week for her opinion on digital disruption. She said, “It can cause considerable harm to groups whose livelihood is disrupted by technological change that renders their skills less valuable or not at all valuable in the market."

My friend, Vijay Gurbaxani, likes to draw comparisons between the valuations of startups and public corporations. Think about this example that he gives: WHATSAPP has 70 employees and is valued at $22 billion, but CBS with 25,000 employees, is valued almost identically. And HP Enterprise, where I worked once, has 240,000 employees and is valued at $30 billion.

Given this data, I was eager to get CIOs take on what could be done to extend the life of public corporations. Clearly, their opinions are valuable not just to IT organizations but to everyone in the organizations that they serve. David Chou, a CIO.com contributor, said that, “The top thing for CIOs to focus upon is leading digital strategy and this starts by changing the organization culture along with the CEO.” In other words, now is the time for CIOs to partner in every level of meaning with their CEOs. They need to walk step for step with each other for their businesses to continue to succeed.

10 life-extending ideas

CIOs had 10 ideas for extending the life of their and your businesses. Each to me has the potential to change the course of an enterprise and most importantly, enable organizations to catch the next wave of business disruption. So here is the list. Let me know if any of these impact your thinking.

  1. CIOs should deliver a coherent digital transformation strategy with their CEOs.
  2. CIOs should not create a digital strategy but a business strategy for a digital world. And CIOs should be aware this strategy can change business culture, business models, and even the products and services sold by the business.
  3. CIOs should promote a culture of asking questions to drive business reinvention.
  4. CIOs should provide their businesses with the actionable, integrated data required to better understand customer and market needs.
  5. CIOs should build a vertically integrated organization that breaks down company boundaries.
  6. CIOs should promote research, business innovation, and IT’s business relevance.
  7. CIOs shouldn’t spend years building systems for yesterday’s business and subsequent years figuring out how to keep it running.
  8. CIOs should utilize lean DevOps, collaboration, automation, and measurement to deliver more responsive and agile business organizations.
  9. CIOs should defend against organization killers with strong information security, governance, risk and compliance; and disaster recovery/business continuity leadership.
  10. CIOs should become CEOs. This was a rather interesting suggestion from Joanna Young, former CIO of Michigan State University.

Parting thoughts

When Alvin Toffler published Future Shock back in 1970, he was way ahead of his time. But if you go back and study it, just about everything that he predicted is now happening. Alan Murray, in another of his Fortune columns, said that one fifth of us will be in jobs in five years that do not exist today. At the beginning of social media, my daughter would complain to me when potential employers asked for 10 years of experience in social media. Clearly, this showed how out of touch employers were. Organizations cannot afford to be out of touch as the pace of change accelerates. CIOs have a key leadership role to play with enlightened CEOs. Hopefully, the above suggestions will prove useful to you as you get ready to catch the next wave of business change. Surf’s up CIOs!

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