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How leading CIOs tackle business disruption

Clint Boulton | Sept. 16, 2016
CIOs share their advice for dealing with corporate upheaval in its many forms, including both intentional and unforeseen events.

The deal, which closed in July 2015, taught him that it is crucial for leaders to be honest and straightforward with their employees. Ducking questions invites doubt and can cause employees to lose focus on what's important. "I have to be transparent," Benson said. "If I don't know something, I'm going to tell you I don't know. I will tell my folks what I know and don't know and what I can't say. I don't want them to overthink."

Donagh Herlihy, CIO of Bloomin’ Brands.

Donagh Herlihy, CIO of Bloomin’ Brands.

When businesses are disrupted, leaders should conduct a thorough post mortem, said Donagh Herlihy, CIO of Bloomin’ Brands, whose restaurant chains include Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill. Asking what happened, how and why it happened are the keys to preventing a similar event in the future. As the CIO at cosmetics retailer Avon until 2014, Herlihy said the bribery scandal in China “sideswiped” the company and led to an executive purge and a spin-off of the company’s North American business. And it provided a lesson, much like a cybersecurity incident might, he said.

Digital disruptions require innovation

Herlihy is contemplating a different sort of upheaval today. On-demand delivery is becoming a major force, thanks to Uber Eats, Amazon Prime and others such as Alphabet and Chipotle, which are testing drone deliveries of burritos at Virginia Tech. While it may be awhile before drones are dropping off Outback steaks, Herlihy acknowledges that Bloomin’ is testing delivery. “It’s positive upheaval but we need to lean in and we are in this space,” Herlihy said. "You don't want to disrupt the core business but sometimes you have to accept a certain level of disruption."

Bloomin’ has created a digital innovation lab, led by a former CMO, to explore such digital services. The team includes corporate managers, digital analytics specialists and employees familiar with how the 1,500 stores under Bloomin’ Brands’ umbrella operate. He’s also a fan of having corporate employees work in restaurants, which he says builds empathy and accountability, as well as a better partnership between the corporate managers store operations staff.

At Southwest, Sloan is facing his own digital disruption. Consumers wantself-service technology solutions that help reduce the friction for which airports are notorious. They have come to expect speedier check-in and baggage handling, which require investments in technologies such as beacons, RFID tags and mobile software. Technology planning cycles that used to take weeks and months have been whittled down to days or hours. "We can't keep pace with the level of creativity and invention taking place right now," Sloan says. "It's a race to be as competitive with other airlines as it ever has been," Sloan said.


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