CIOs Define the Pace of Disruption

Kevin Glynn, CIO, DSC Logistics
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Kevin Glynn, CIO, DSC Logistics

As CIOs, we generally control the pace of new technology introduction within our organizations. This can be confusing to our users and colleagues who read about consumer IT innovation and may struggle to understand how consumer trends can translate to the enterprise. IT leaders are successful when we clearly describe the advantages of the new technology and the changes that will occur. Change is hard, as we all know, and, for corporations trying to make major shifts, it’s brutally hard. Our teams look to IT leaders and CIOs for guidance on what is important and where to focus.

Our challenge is to help our organizations implement new technology faster. This is a good opportunity for CIOs, perhaps the best opportunity to lead discussion across the whole corporation. We can set the pace of digital disruption. This is heady stuff for those used to being in the background, but it’s the ideal time to get out of the shadows and be visible.

It starts with developing expertise. This is our chance to constantly satisfy that curiosity that we all have–by reading, talking to vendors, going to shows and trying things for ourselves. It’s fun to try virtual reality training systems, or watch autonomous vehicles in action. This is the chance to fly a drone for more than just fun. By trying these things we gain the first-hand information we need to fit technology into our roadmap.

It’s also the time to refresh our programming knowledge, familiarity with statics and general engineering knowledge. Artificial Intelligence (AI) research starts with refreshing our statistics skills and understanding of computer architecture. We can’t be true experts, but our staff and colleagues expect a working knowledge of the issues from us. Leadership starts with self reliance; we need to get ourselves squared away and model what it means to be a true professional by studying and constantly learning. We could share our books and study links. Encourage people to bring similar material to us. Ask questions to understand.

  ​By trying these things we gain the first-hand information we need to fit technology into our roadmap  

This is a good chance to invest in our staff– the true pace setters of technology disruption in a company. There are people hungry to step up and do something interesting. These technologies are so new, it will be just as fast to develop our own teams as it would be to get consultants to advise us. If we have our teams do research, set up pilots and work on use cases, they will be thrilled that we’re counting on them for something new and cool. This doesn’t mean vendors are not important in bringing new technology into an organization; they are crucial. But, outsourcing the research and development is probably not the best way to ensure a loyal and self-sustaining team. This is the time to set an audacious goal (and also to welcome failure).

New technology will also push people out of work. We have to be sensitive to this, and get used to it. The scale of disruption is large and, if we are to be leaders of this, we have to not only manage the change for those who stay and adapt, but also help those losing their jobs–by speaking directly to those who are being disrupted, showing empathy. Don’t forget, the pace of change can be also controlled by those losing the jobs because of new technology. We have an ethical duty to the people we work with to explain what is coming, to help them understand the future and the threats.

When we’re prepared, with our teams working on pilots and early stage projects, and having addressed the disruption that’s coming, we must keep returning to the original message: new technology is here, not just in a lab, or only for Silicon Valley. The media is right-great things are upon us. When we first start talking about technology, many people will still believe it is far in the future; they don’t grasp that we have AI abilities now, or that drones can be used for many applications, and so on. We have to keep re-emphasizing the need to be digitally agile. We have to be translators, cheerleaders and pragmatists, as the situation demands, and the same audiences will need us to play those roles at different times. Again, this is where we control the pace–through effective and constant communication.

Technology disruption is a fact of life for us and we can grow as leaders by being clear. Our chance to make a difference depends not only on our ability to execute on technical projects but also on our willingness to engage and assist our colleagues. We can’t forget those losing their jobs; we will be better leaders if we manage the negative consequences as well as the positive. We are the pace setters of digital disruption in our companies.

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Patricia Morrison, EVP of Customer Support Services, & CIO, Cardinal Health [NYSE: CAH]