How can IT leaders handle disruptive technologies?

Earlier this week, I attended an event hosted by blue-chip user group The Corporate IT Forum (Tif) around the opportunities and challenges around the adoption of disruptive technologies, so here are some highlights of the debate. 
The discussion kicked off with a presentation by Tony Law, formerly a director of IT research at pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). According to Law, despite the game-changing advent of social media and Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad, disruption is not always about technology. 
However, one of the main dilemmas of the modern IT leader is identifying disruptive tools that meet customer needs while managing ‘business-as-usual’ IT. One of the delegates pointed out that the best stage to adopt such technologies would be just before they hit the mainstream, as competitive advantage can still be obtained. 
In order to acquire the skills needed to make those decisions, Law recommended senior professionals should actively reach out to user groups and read more blogs focusing on IT thought leadership and futurology and ‘scan widely’.
John Harris, Tif’s chairman and vice-president of commercial application services, IT at GSK reinforced the point that the ability to quickly spot when critical mass in adoption of a certain technology is reached, is crucial. 
Despite the challenges, Harris noted that the fast pace of evolution in technology and the increasing reliance of organisations on innovative solutions presents a real opportunity for those running IT to become ‘less fussed about dealing with wires and boxes’ and position themselves a real change agent for the business.
“New technologies are easy to track, whereas spotting disruption is not something that is so easy to predict. We have to cope with the lack of a crystal ball and learn how to harness disruption for the business” said Harris.
Talking to customers and listening to their problems was also mentioned as a key element of decision-making around when to detect and adopt disruptive technologies – even though they can be ‘miopic’ in terms of what they need, otherwise companies cannot come up with solutions for their issues. 
The session also touched on the rise of consumer of IT and changing expectations of IT-savvy business users with relation to technology and more demands around access to tools that aid collaboration – such as Twitter, instant messaging and other non-traditional instruments – and how they can bypass the technology department and buy their own solutions.  
One delegate offered the view that despite the fact organisations are still ‘unbelievably scared’ of social media, those who allow use of such tools to aid collaboration are much more productive. Given that users currently own equipment at home that is just as good – or better – than that provided at home, disaster recovery strategies in future may just entail getting users to work form home, he added.
Another attendee said that, despite fears, IT is not out of business as experts are still needed to provide the behind-the-scenes integration that organisations will still need for quite some time. That prediction was rebuffed by another CIO who said that in a near future integration will be done by third parties and IT will be a utility, bought by corporate procurement. 
“The users can do the “T” in IT – that’s what we have to always keep in mind,” said another delegate, in a phrase that summed up the evening. 
To hear John Harris’s opinions around managing disruptive technology, click here.

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