Inspiring innovation: 3 ways CIOs can spark digital disruption

By Jonathan Crowl

As the role of the CIO transforms, aspirational business leaders see an opportunity to inspire change that raises the entire organization to new heights.

Information has long been the primary focus of the CIO, but new business and marketplace demands are ramping up the need for a new age of CIO inspiration in hopes that some innovative thinking can better align the CIO role with other branches of the company's operations. Forward-thinking CIOs need to source and deliver game-changing inspiration to evolve teams, processes and products to ensure innovation is delivering a positive impact on core experiences and delivering business value to the organization.

CIOs are increasingly driving this change by taking on a more customer-centric focus and aligning the efforts of information technology (IT) more closely with the technology that underpins the customer experience. However, it's also important to align CIO responsibilities with the organization's business goals.

CIOs are responsible for tapping the far-ranging potential of mobile, cloud, IoT and other platforms to create exceptional experiences that serve both customers and employees. Today's companies face a constant need to innovate from within and drive technology transformation — and many see the CIO as the change agent. However, if not embraced, this responsibility could pass to others who are less equipped to deliver lasting transformation.

Here are some unexpected ways forward-thinking businesses are using data, automation and other IT investments to move their disruption in the right direction:

1. Center on the customer

According to a commissioned study from Forrester Research, 74 percent of decision-makers view developing or evolving a customer experience strategy as a high priority. Customer-centric business models are rapidly becoming the standard, putting organizations and employees in a position to design solutions and enhancements that effectively serve their intended audience. An external focus on customer benefits lets organizations place a different perspective on the technology they use and produce, ensuring it offers clear value to its target audience.

Development efforts should use design thinking to ensure the user experience is the top priority, thereby producing more engaging applications and services that will delight and inspire consumers. For example, TIG Sports accomplished this for the KLM Open golf tournament by building a mobile app that used IoT tracking to generate analytics for top players from across the entire course. In this case, mobile and IoT technologies were used to build an unprecedented user experience.

2. Move from information technology to business technology

Every company needs to understand what differentiates it from the rest of the market. What makes your company unique to the customer, and how is this reflected?

The CIO's job is to use technology investments to fully support the organization's core competencies. This means allocating IT investment funds to initiatives that offer clear, positive business outcomes. Disruption and innovation come when you are able to use this customer-centric vision to realign your priorities in ways that support the entire organization and its business goals.

American Airlines used this strategy to change how it handles customer check-ins at the airport. The company moved to the cloud to provide new, customer-friendly mobile and desktop features such as updated flight schedules, flight options for rescheduling and checked baggage. By investing in the customer experience, the company is also focusing on business outcomes and making changes that will offer tangible results while providing inspiration for change.

3. Scale your success fast

The need to support customers will drive a sea change in the technologies your team uses and produces. IBM recently surveyed 2,000 global executives about their emerging technology initiatives and found that 85 percent of global executives believe mobile services act as a catalyst to organization-wide innovation. The better use of data, collaboration tools, automation, cloud assets and open source will help the technology team deliver the change the business needs at the speed the customer demands.

CEMEX, a global leader in the building materials industry, is launching a suite of custom apps designed to create a truly mobile-led customer experience for its customers. It will do this following a "speed-to-market" approach — launching a pilot project, followed by user testing, adjusting the solutions to meet the users' needs and then scaling the apps worldwide. This is driving a transformation across a number of areas of its organization, including digital experience design, digital process reinvention, agile delivery and DevOps implementation.

Adopting development practices that span business and technology can help both sides maintain a tighter connection, encourage faster deliveries and boost responsiveness, but CIOs must also make sure skilled talent and flexible staffing models are in place to provide the right human capital to complete these projects.

If you're serious about driving this transformation at your company, focus on the following next steps:

  1. Get personal with smarter applications and services.
  2. Wise up to what customers want.
  3. Scale your success fast — there is no steady state.

Changing a business strategy is never easy, but it's worth it. You'll just need a little CIO inspiration to effectively manage this disruption.