How CTOs Can Innovate Through Disruption in 2020 - InformationWeek

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7/1/2020
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How CTOs Can Innovate Through Disruption in 2020

CTOs and other IT leaders need to invest in innovation to emerge from the current COVID-19 crisis ready for the next opportunities.

Are you ready for 2021's opportunities? Are you ready for the new business models that will emerge once the COVID-19 coronavirus is behind us? What strategic technology moves will your organization make today to invest in the innovation to bring your enterprise out of the current crisis, stronger and better?

CTOs and other senior technology leaders should now be focusing on these key questions as we enter the second half of 2020. Sure, it was critically important to pivot instantly to enable working from home in the first half of this year. Yes, there's still work to be done improving the systems that enable employees to work from home, especially since organizations are making many of these arrangements permanent. However, the strategic longer term moves that senior leaders make today are what will help their organizations emerge stronger on the other side of this crisis.

Image: Sergey Nivens - stock.adobe.com
Image: Sergey Nivens - stock.adobe.com

CTOs are at risk now of focusing solely on short-term needs when it is equally important to plan for technology and innovation initiatives to help their organizations come out of the crisis and meet post-coronavirus challenges, according to a new report from Gartner, How CTOs Should Lead in Times of Disruptions and Uncertain.

Read all our coverage on how IT leaders are responding to the conditions caused by the pandemic.

Disruption is nothing new for technology leaders. In Gartner's survey of IT leaders, conducted in early 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic struck, 90% said they had faced a "turn" or disruption in the last 4 years, and 100% said they face ongoing disruption and uncertainty. The current crisis may just be the biggest test of the resiliency they have developed in response to those challenges.

"We are hearing from a lot of clients about innovation budgets being slashed, but it's really important not to throw innovation out the window," said Gartner senior principal analyst Samantha Searle, one of the report's authors, who spoke to InformationWeek. "Innovation techniques are well-suited to reducing uncertainty. This is critical in a crisis."

The impact of the crisis on your technology budget is likely dependent on your industry, Searle said. For instance, technology and financial companies tend to be farther ahead of other companies when it comes to response to the crisis and consideration of investments for the future.

Other businesses, such as retail and hospitality, just now may be considering how to reopen. These organizations are still focused on fulfilling the initial needs around ensuring employees and customers are safe. In response to the short-term crisis, CTOs and other IT leaders were likely to focus on things like customer and employee safety, employee productivity, supply chain stabilization, and providing the optimal customer experience. But the innovation pipeline is also a crucial component.

Innovation doesn't necessarily have to cost a lot of money. Budgets are tight, after all. Searle suggests incremental innovations and cost optimizations, gaining efficiencies where they are achievable.

Consider whether you've already made some investments in AI, chatbots, or other platforms. Those are tools that you can use to improve customer experience during the ongoing crisis or even assist with better decision making as you navigate to the future.

Remember, investments will pay off on the other side. For instance, companies that thought more about employing customer safety measures are the ones that will come out better in terms of brand reputation.

In a retail environment, for instance, an innovation for employee and customer safety might be replacing touch type with voice interactions.

Searle said that the crisis has also altered acceptance of technologies that may not have been desirable in the past. For instance, before the pandemic people generally preferred seeing a doctor face-to-face rather than via a telemedicine appointment.

"That's an example of where societal acceptance of the technology has changed a lot," she said.

Another example that was not quite ready for prime time as the crisis hit is the idea of drones and autonomous vehicles making deliveries of groceries, take-out orders, and other orders. However, those are technologies that companies can continue to invest in for the longer term benefits.

Another key action CTOs and other IT leaders should take is trendspotting, Searle said. Trends can be around emerging technologies such as AI, but they can also be economic or political, too. The current pandemic is an example that disruption is the new order, and that just focusing on emerging technology as the only perceived catalyst of disruption has been a a misstep by many organizations, according to Searle. She recommends that organizations use trendspotting efforts to assemble a big picture of trends that will impact technology strategic decisions as your organization begins to rebuild and renew.

In terms of challenges in the next 6 months, CTOs remain focused on the near term. In an online poll during a recent webinar, Searle asked CTOs just that question. The biggest percentage said that their challenge was improving customer experience at 31%. Other challenges were maintaining employee productivity (28%), infrastructure resilience (22%), supply chain stability (8%), and combatting security attacks (8%).

Searle also asked the CTO webinar audience what their biggest opportunity was in the next 6 months. CTOs said innovating to drive new business models (36%), digitalizing customer experience (20%), innovating to reduce costs (18%), innovating to support the current business model (12%), and innovating to make IT more effective (10%).

"Thrive at the end of the crisis by identifying which new technologies, digital products, and/or services and digital consumer experiences to invest in and innovate with to be prepared to thrive in the long term in the post-COVID-19 world," Searle writes in the report.

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, ... View Full Bio

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