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Digital business in an era of disruptive innovation

Kenny MacIver — November 2015

US Federal Communications Commission CIO Dr David Bray, digital visionary Peter Hinssen and CA Technologies CEO Mike Gregoire share their insight on the impact of digital on business and society.

Since its birth, the primary focus of information technology has been on driving improvements in business efficiency — from factory automation and office productivity to ERP and computer-aided design. But, according to Peter Hinssen, business author, university lecturer and digital consultant, IT is moving to a very different — and not always comfortable — plain.

“Technology used to nice. It used to be about making things a little bit better, a little bit more efficient. But technology stopped being nice: it’s disruptive. It’s changing our business models, our consumer markets, our organizations,” he says.

From Uber to Airbnb, eBay to Alibaba, the evidence is everywhere — but the scale of the disruption still to come is not well appreciated. “We are in the early stages of how the digital revolution will change not only how we work, how we play but also how we exist together as societies globally,” observes Dr David Bray, CIO of the US Federal Communications Commission.

That new landscape is presenting a phenomenal leadership challenge to many CIOs. In Hinssen’s view, CIOs are uniquely positioned in the enterprise as they understand what is at stake and how they might guide their business counterparts in management through a sea of volatility and opportunity. “CIOs understand what the possibilities are — and the realities,” he says.

“We’ve entered a time when technology really is a very fundamental strategic weapon for any organization.”

That is not to say that many CIOs’ business colleagues aren’t proactive in their response to the digital era. Mike Gregoire, CEO of IT management software company CA Technologies, argues that until recently CEOs were particularly cautious about overspending on IT, always pushing their CIOs to do “more with less.” Now, CEOs and other CXOs are no longer waiting for an annual round of budgeting to outline their future requirements for new applications and services — instead, they are articulating their immediate demands directly to their CIOs.”

What they realize, says Hinssen, is that we’ve entered a time when “technology really is a very fundamental strategic weapon for any organization. The relationship with customers, building data-driven organizations, fundamental shifts in business models are all the result of digital technologies.”
Public sector flak

While that pace of change may be resetting the agenda in business, it is presenting a more formidable set of challenges to CIOs in the public sector, where stability and predictability are at a much higher premium.

“This raises some interesting questions about how public service agencies can adapt to the exponential changes in the world, given that they don’t have something like venture capital funds and are actually not expected to take too many risks — because failure in something like a tax system is not really an option,” says David Bray.

Whereas the motto in Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs around the world might be “fail fast and fail often,” such a freewheeling model is not going to work for public service, where certain endeavors absolutely must succeed and cannot waste taxpayer funds, he argues. However, when applied selectively and judiciously, it can inspire the kind of change that is needed.

Bray suggests that a public sector CIO coping with digital change needs to be “both a digital diplomat and a human flak jacket.” Positive change agents within the organization need to be given the permission and latitude to take risks and do dangerous experiments, while someone else (the CIO) protects them from the inevitable flak. That’s one way, he says, “we can ensure the public sector can gain the expertise [needed] to adjust to exponential times

Illustration: Studio Tonne

First published
November 2015
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About: Big Thinkers of 2015
Insights from technology chiefs Dr David Bray, Mike Gregoire, Sonja Chirico Indrebø and David Bulman, plus business authors and thought leaders Peter Hinssen and Dr Martin Schulz.

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