Technology is the most disruptive force in the business world today. It transforms everything that it touches, creating new opportunities while at the same time threatening incumbents and late-adopters.
Futurist Peter Diamandis describes the technology paradox in the following way: “Entrepreneurs will create more wealth in the next decade, than we have in the entire past century. We’ll also experience the reinvention of every industry. Understanding how to navigate accelerating technological change is essential for every leader. The problem with such dazzling change is that most people fear the future, rather than being excited by it. And fear is a terrible mindset from which to create and leverage the opportunities ahead.”
InterimExecs recently held a webinar with Chief Information Officers (CIOs) David Mitchelhill and Kevin Malover about how you should be thinking about technology and your business strategy as we enter 2020. Among the topics discussed were ways to navigate disruption to stay competitive, the value of outside viewpoints in technology, when to pursue new technology versus maximizing current assets, and balancing the fear of change with the fear of falling behind.
Embrace the Chaos
The webinar began with David breaking down a quote that one might expect from a Zen master, rather than a technology expert: “All is chaos.”
“Well, the simple thing is that anything we do, any form of work anywhere in the world is surrounded by change,” said David. “Nothing is immutable. Technology is in change, business is in change, the world is in change, and therefore you have to accept that chaos. And if you don’t accept that chaos and the ability to assimilate chaos, and deal with it, then you’re going to fail.”
Kevin added that the antidote to chaos is preparedness. “How are you going to deal with it?” said Kevin. “What’s your strategic process that you’re going to follow to make sure that you’re not just being chaotic yourself?”
Both CIOs agreed that, in the face of chaos, agility is crucial—and that interim executives can help navigate change initiatives by questioning a company’s status quo, strategy, and planning.
“In this chaotic environment, you need to be really, really agile. There’s a strong argument for bringing in talent from places like InterimExecs as needed,” said Kevin.
What’s Your Business Strategy and Where Does IT Fit?
The pressure to embrace new technologies can lead businesses into a trap. Rather than getting the most out of what they already have, they chase after what their competitor has. But as Kevin and David pointed out, technological “shiny objects” are not a substitute for good decision-making.
“People fear the new, but they feel like there’s some safety in going and rushing into the new because then they won’t be falling behind,” said Kevin. “There’s something to be said for making sure you leverage the heck out of what you already have, rather than giving up and abandoning it to embrace something new that maybe isn’t as well proven in the industry yet.”
“They don’t value what they’ve got quite often because their competitor has something brand new and wonderful,” said David. “But actually, what they don’t realize is that more than likely the competitor has a much better eye on the business goal, the future of the company, than they do, and that’s usually the cause of failure.”
“People ask, ‘What’s your IT strategy?’” said Kevin. “Well, that’s the wrong question really. The question should be, ‘What’s your business strategy and how’s IT going to enable that?’”
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton Christensen, the author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail,” introduced the concept of “disruption” to the business world. The book is a detailed study of how, across industries, what worked for a company in the past can actually become obstacles to its future success.
“I’ve had discussions with companies over many, many years, where they say, ‘We spent a fortune on our legacy system over the last 20 years. We’re really used to it and we like it,’” said David. “The realization that the world has changed is quite often a very difficult thing for companies to accept.”
“It’s difficult when your value chain that has been massively successful in the past is under siege,” said Kevin. “It’s hard to disrupt your own space. You can do it, but you have to creatively destroy what you valued so much in the past before somebody else does it for you.”
They discussed how companies such as Fidelity and LendingTree added value by self-cannibalizing their legacy technology systems, while major players like Microsoft and the British auto industry miscalculated on industry changes and saw competitors eclipse them. And they explained how, as technological change quickens, the stakes of complacency get higher.
“The movement of technology today, the velocity, is immense,” said David. “Companies that we consider mainstream at the moment could be forgotten in 18 to 24 months.”
The Value of Outside CIO Help
When asked if he had one piece of advice for companies and their 2020 planning, David drew inspiration from an unexpected source: Donald Rumsfeld.
“The biggest danger for them is not those things they know or the things they don’t know,” said David. “The big danger is the things they don’t know they don’t know.”
“I think it’s irresistible for companies when they go to choose a new CIO to pick within their vertical,” said Kevin. “But when you make the decision to stay within the vertical when you’re looking for a new CIO or a leader of any sort, you’re bringing in somebody who knows how to do what you’ve always done. I would advocate for outside eyeballs on things periodically.”
Hiring an outside technology consultant or interim executive can give companies the fresh perspective they need to transform themselves. However, as David noted, making changes usually involves facing some uncomfortable truths.
“One of the first things about an interim is he’s going to tell you the truth,” said David. “He’s not there to make your life comfortable. He’s there to make it less safe, if anything. Being a consultant or an interim, you can tell them the truth without worrying about your future position within the company.”
“There are risks associated with bringing someone in from a different domain or a different vertical,” said Kevin. “But I think there’s also offsetting value if you’re really interested in doing things differently and moving forward.”
Learn more about how IT can support your business strategy with Interim CIO help: