3 ways to take charge of disruption

Technology leaders have an opportunity to be more influential and demonstrate the value and capabilities of their existing organizations. To do this, they’ll need to get disruptive.

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The CDO title is probably the most frequently used title other than CIO or CTO to describe an “evolved” technology executive. The “D” in the CDO means different things based on the needs and objectives of the organization and the scope of responsibilities. For example, the chief digital officer is often focused on leading digitization and customer engagement efforts, while the chief data officer is responsible for managing and monetizing the vast array of data a company has collected and archived. My personal favorite is the chief disruption officer, responsible for disrupting existing processes and business models and for co-creating new business opportunities.

The emergence of these roles signals an opportunity for technology leaders to be more influential and demonstrate the value and capabilities of their existing organizations. Whether an enterprise has one or many executives leading corporate technology and digital initiatives can vary for a host of reasons, including business context and operating model, existing competency and skills, and other industry and competitive dynamics. For example, Deloitte’s 2018 global CIO survey found that organizations with $10 billion or more in revenue are more than twice as likely to have a chief digital officer as companies with revenues of $1 billion or less in revenue. But what’s more important is that, irrespective of title, the role of a technology leader today is often not merely managing the technology but also transforming organizational mindset and practices, reshaping the business, and enabling business innovation through technology — that is, being disruptive.  

Two-thirds of the respondents to the global CIO survey expect the primary responsibility for technology leaders in three years will be driving change and co-creating business solutions. As technology leaders embark on this journey, they will likely realize that new approaches are required if they are going to succeed. Here are three ways to take charge of disruption.

Look ahead audaciously

Without a clear mandate for change and executive support, even the most disruptive leaders can fail. The global CIO survey found that on average, CIOs spend 18 percent of the technology budget on building new business capabilities. However, for organizations we call digital vanguards—those with a clear business mandate—that percentage increases to about 25 percent. And they’re looking ahead audaciously, anticipating that almost a third of their budgets will be spent on innovation in the next three years. This budget shift will likely require radical reinvention of technology capabilities and organization and operating models to support these investments.

Take a new approach to talent

Rather than developing talent for years based on specific career paths or job competencies, disruptive leaders are curating talent by providing them with a breadth of experiences and training. They’re creating fluid organizational structures and agile work environments and putting people in situations where they have to rapidly acquire knowledge and expertise. Finally, these leaders recognize that the best way to engage high performers can be to offer opportunities to continue to learn new skills. One CIO developed a three-year, multimillion-dollar reskilling program in which 80 percent of the current staff will go through some training. Recognizing this is not a one-time effort, he plans to offer every technology employee two weeks of training of their choice every year, even if it’s not associated with their current work. 

Employ nonfinancial metrics  

With the shift to agile teams, product mindset and minimum viable product, measures such as quality, velocity, customer experience and business value have become more important. These measures are hard to gather and quantify but are often great predictors of future trajectory and allow for quick course corrections. Continuous measurement, transparency and customer orientation can keep the organization focused on ensuring progress against key nonfinancial metrics over time. One CIO created a menu of nonfinancial metrics for executive stakeholders and asked them to select those they would like to see consistently. The CIO was able to create a custom dashboard that allows each stakeholder to see real-time progress on these indicators.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 digital issue of CIO magazine.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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