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Disruptive environments: a new outlook?

20170731_Aikman01At the moment in IT, we’re talking a great deal about disruptive technology; and usually, we’re not being complimentary about it.

All technology is disruptive

This baffles me, because “disruptive technology” isn’t new.  Think about it – all new technology is disruptive.  Imagine what it must’ve been like when the wheel was invented….  Indeed, the technological innovations of the industrial revolution were so disruptive that they changed the entire landscape; the distribution of the nation’s population; and how society itself worked. 

So I believe we need a shift of perspective in IT.  We need to stop banging on about disruptive technology and start thinking instead from the perspective of disruptive environments that need innovative technology.

Instead of responding reactively – and often negatively – to incoming disruptive technology, we need to start scanning the horizon for the disruptive environments in which our businesses are operating or will operate in future. 

Disruptive environments

What do I mean by disruptive environments? They’re factors external to the business that will cause the business to change – for example:

  • Major change environments, such as mergers and acquisitions, divestment, restructuring, Joint Ventures, new partnering and consortium structures
  • New regulation or legislation imposed on our sector
  • Market sea-changes, where a type of business withers quickly or expands rapidly – often, both situations can arise for the same organisation simultaneously, such as the contraction and corresponding expansion as high street retail moves online
  • Politically-imposed change, such as the mama and papa of ‘em all, Brexit

I believe that IT typically reacts negatively to changes coming from the outside.  Changes we can’t control are always perceived a threat and never an opportunity.  IT also typically reacts slowly – we adopt a wait-and-see position, refusing to take any action until the problem-statement has been set in stone.  I suspect this comes from how software suppliers have conditioned us over the years – we’ve been taught to play it safe and wait patiently for the next upgrade.

Harnessing external change to emerging innovation

Myself, I love a juicy disruptive environment:  it can be seat-of-the-pants scary and therefore very exhilarating. But it doesn’t have to be teeth-curlingly risky if the CIO takes a long-term, externally focused perspective.

The CIO of the future will have to be permanently facing out of the window for the next disruptive environment(s) coming the company’s way.  Not just those that will definitely impact on the organisation – but any that might. The CIO will need a strategy that anticipates the likely external disruptions and mitigates the impact – using both existing and new technologies.  Moreover, the really switched-on CIO will not only be in the business of risk-mitigation: he/she will see disruptive environments as opportunities.  They’ll be perceived as a chance to use emerging technology to reform; to get the firm’s offer to market quicker, better, smarter, more often; and as opportunities to harness together external change and internal innovation to make more money.

I’m told that in marketing, in the 1970s, it was cool to say, “There are no problems, only opportunities”.  I think we’re now coming round to that way of thinking.

Windows and Outlook 2018?

So what am I saying?  I think we need a windows upgrade.  We just get up, walk over to the window, look outside and search the landscape for what’s coming our way…


Widgets Magazine
About Mark Aikman 4 Articles
Listed in the CIO 100 for 2017, Mark is a Technology Leader working with Global companies, IT operations and leadership of highly complex change and digital transformation programmes. He has an innovative and contemporary approach to leadership and partnership, and is passionate about delivering successful business outcomes using technology rejuvenations. His background spans many verticals such as FMCG, Finance & Insurance, Oil & Gas and Telecommunications, leading major operations and transformations at North Group, BP, T-Mobile and the Cadbury Schweppes organisations.
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