More and more CIOs are finding it difficult to find innovative technology solutions from the big established suppliers, and are having to search elsewhere.
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Mike Wright [pictured], who has very recently become the CIO at McKinsey & Company is looking towards smaller companies to fill this void.
“Most innovation is happening within the smaller organisations with specialist capabilities,” he says.
He likes to work with small companies because they have more specialist knowledge about particular technologies, and he can get answers fast. He finds he can meet with the technologists quickly, because startups are less likely to be tied up in lengthy process and bureaucracy. Also, the people he meets with work at a technical operational level rather than employees in administrative roles.
“It’s much harder to have a debate with [a larger company’s] technologist,” he says. “They need to ensure they are sensible, and don’t say anything inappropriate, which is good in some ways, but I also don’t think that’s how you find real expertise.”
Other companies looking to startups for innovation
Wright has recently become the new CIO at McKinsey and Company, after six years as global head of technology at Man Group. Following a 16-year career as a CIO, he has learnt innovation needs to be at the forefront of his mind.
Clustering CIOs and startups
One of the ways Wright has looked for innovation is previous roles is through a company called Clustre, which uses word-of-mouth referral.
While McKinsey & Company has no relationship with Clustre, Wright has used the company in the past to search for new companies to work with. He says the company has a “good pipeline of interesting companies doing genuine innovation,” which come recommended from other CIOs.
“There are good big companies, and there are crap small companies,” warns Wrights. “But as a CIO it’s hard to find great small companies.”
Wright says you can easily find the decent large companies with innovative solutions, because they come and find you, using their marketing budgets, “My assistant spends a fair chunk of their day fighting those people off,” he says. But the smaller companies, with much less money to spend on marketing and brand awareness, don’t get a look in.
Clustre coordinates forums with other CIOs who are implementing technologies. They are able to speak at breakfasts and such without vendors present, sharing ideas among peers, much like Computer Weekly’s CW500 Club. The ideas and companies Wright hears about at these events are not exclusively small companies, but this is one area where startups are recommended to him. “You can go along and meet people and find some of those people will have similar challenges to you at the moment,” he says.
One of the technologies Wright has come across is the Z-pen, which converts a user’s handwriting into a word document. “That’s a small organisation that I’m not sure I’d come across in the normal light of day,” he says.
Wright also uses analyst companies to keep on top of innovative technologies. Organisations such as Gartner, he says, are helpful at streaming relevant information.
“But Gartner and Clustre are at two ends of the spectrum,” he says.
While Gartner analyses, grades and researches technology, Clustre connects CIOs with similar problems together and says which companies they have found helpful in their solutions.
“Neither are right or wrong,” says Wright. “And in a CIO role you must keep as many options and avenues that lead to potential innovation as open as you can.”
Wright is currently on the lookout for technologies such as BYOD, which will let employees do their jobs as effectively on the road as in the office. “My job is to use technologies to help them do their day job.”
He also believes megatrends such as big data are going to change the way organisations connect with customers as individual people.
“Companies can now remember who you are,” he says. “And [big data] can help them understand the whole picture of that particular customer and allows you to bring a richer dialog.”
He also thinks the cloud will fundamentally change the economics of IT. “There are things you can do in the cloud at a fraction of the startup costs you can do in-house.”