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'Torchbearer' CIOs cozy up with customers amid convergence

Clint Boulton | March 30, 2016
CIOs who can transform their businesses and accelerate fiscal growth will help their companies fend of technology disruption and industry convergence.

"Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive."

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove memorialized those mantras 20 years ago, but they ring true today. It takes a special breed of CIO to drive change in a world where technology is enabling enterprising startups to disrupt industry incumbents, which in turn cross over to other industries, says Michael Fitzgerald, CIO advisory leader and partner of IBM Global Business Services.

In IBM’s Redefining Connections study, Fitzgerald reported that 63 percent of 1,805 CIOs surveyed worldwide ranked industry convergence as the biggest business trend on the horizon, with 50 percent bracing themselves for an influx of rivals from other industries. Some 77 percent attribute technology as the chief facilitator of the phenomenon.

“CIOs everywhere realize the barriers between formerly distinct industries are collapsing, as companies in one sector apply their expertise to others – producing new hybrids and erasing traditional industry classifications in the process,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Industry convergence, technology pose existential threats

Threats from tech companies such as Uber and Google are forcing auto-manufacturers into ride-sharing and autonomous driving. Imagine if one day Ford or General Motors turn the tables and pose a major threat to their tech rivals. For a modern-day example of industry crossover, consider General Electric, which is using software and sensors to capitalized on the emerging Internet of Things phenomenon. The industrial giant's Predix analytics software, which anticipates when turbines and other engines will fail, could become a huge software business to rival leading software vendors. CEO Marc Benioff recently opined that companies fear being "Uberized out of the world.” It’s a legitimate fear among CIOs.

That is why it takes a torchbearer – a CIO both innovative and capable of driving revenue growth -- to manage IT in a world where every company is essentially becoming a technology company. Fitzgerald says torchbearer CIOs demonstrate their ability to be innovative while showing a "superb financial track record" and the ability to grow the business. Torchbearers are transformational CIOs, with a predilection for peering around the corner, anticipating business threats and boosting profits.

Fitzgerald enumerated some of the hallmarks of a torchbearer:

Go agile and innovate in digital: Torchbearers create agile operating cultures, digitizing the front office and strengthening the IT department’s skills. They split big projects into smaller, more manageable chunks, delegate tasks to different teams and give them the freedom to get on with the job. They may regularly rotate their staff to give them experience as project managers and business analysts, easing bureaucracy within the organization. Above all, they aren't afraid to experiment, to fail fast and iterate to innovation. “The only way to stay ahead of disruptive change is to embrace it, which means being able to develop and release new products and services within weeks or even days,” Fitzgerald explains.


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