Leading Through Tech Disruptions: A CIO’s Perspective

Leading Through Tech Disruptions: A CIO’s Perspective


Rapid technological shifts create turbulent environments, disrupting business models and redefining competitor dynamics. Recent McKinsey research shows that the tech sector faces the highest magnitude of looming industry disruption.

As a CIO overseeing the growth of capability, I’ve found that navigating unrelenting change has become imperative. This post gathers insights from my role leading digital change alongside fellow IT leaders to highlight key strategies I recommend for anticipating disruption, mobilising responses, and ultimately steering organisations to thrive amid this oncoming volatility.

Recognising Today’s Pace of Technological Change

The sheer velocity of software and infrastructure evolutions I’ve witnessed makes even recent innovations like cloud, mobile and social media seem dated. Today, we use computers everywhere, smart automation guided by AI, and blockchain technology that spreads control and information.

And the pandemic only accelerated technology progression. 87% of organisations fast-tracked digital plans, condensing nearly a decade of transformation into months. Customer interactions shifted online, supply chains digitised, and remote workflows became standard almost overnight.

While presenting immense opportunity, the breakneck speed of technological change also multiplies business risk. The inability to keep pace technologically directly impacts a company’s competitiveness, growth, and survival. A sobering example: By 2027, the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that 90% of Fortune 500 firms will disappear due to digital disruptions.

For CIOs like myself, who are charged with fuelling organisational dexterity, recognising the unprecedented rate of change is the first step toward mastering it.

Sources of Technology Disruption

Threats emerge across the business ecosystem, from budding start-ups to established players destabilising incumbents. CIOs must scan widely across these categories when identifying and responding to disruptions:

  1. Agile Competitors

New tech companies, free from the constraints of legacy systems, quickly improve their products using the same tech you might use at home. Since they don’t have old ways of making money to worry about, these companies focus on making things better for their customers rather than just making more money.

  1. Substitute Technologies

New technologies change what people want and offer different options. For example, watching movies online made video rental stores much less popular.

  1. Cutting Out the Middleman

Selling directly to customers cuts out the middleman using websites and digital tools, making the process shorter. Insurance disruptor Lemonade bypasses brokers, achieving higher efficiencies.

  1. Demand Transformation

Shifting consumer preferences and demographics spur massive market changes. For example, many young people prefer rideshare apps to owning a car.

  1. Platform Business Models

Platforms grow quickly by using network effects and making sure everyone involved stays with them. They bring together different groups and manage the whole system’s activities.

Building Technology Sensemaking Capabilities

With threats arising across fronts, CIOs need systematic approaches for detecting, analysing and responding to emerging disruptions based on my experience:

Horizon Scanning: Continuously scour the external environment for early signals of innovation acceleration across disciplines like wearables, drones and nanotechnology.

Technology Research: Beyond surface-level buzzword awareness, deeply investigate selected disruptions to grasp applicability. Map impacts on customers, business models and society.

Startup Tracking: Learn from incubators of emerging tech-edgy startups. Identify those gaining unusual traction for potential partnership or investment.

Competitor Benchmarking: Keep tabs on rivals’ and substitutes’ digital advancements through demos and reverse engineering. Discern capability gaps.

Customer Advisory Panels: Convene advisors, segment representatives, and even critics from across demographics and industries to gauge reactions to cutting-edge concepts and use cases directly.

Hackathons: Host internal and external ideation marathons focused on disruption potentials to spur unconventional thinking and experiments.

Secondments: Encourage technical talent to rotate through academic fellowships, research alliances, startup collaborations and tech conferences to imbue entrepreneurial mindsets.

Responding Decisively Before Disruption Takes Hold

Though vital for sensemaking, scanning and researching alone don’t mitigate disruption threats. Leaders must mobilise responses balancing long-range transformation needs with urgent interval pivots through a five-pronged approach:

  1. Incubate Innovation Outposts

Detach internal teams or acquire creative spaces like labs, accelerators and incubators for unencumbered technology experimentation without interfering with daily operations.

  1. Forge Open Innovation Networks

Engage diverse external constituencies, such as academics, entrepreneurs, and hacker communities, through innovation challenges, meetups, and partnerships to access specialised perspectives.

  1. Sponsor Use Cases Demonstrating Value

Allocate resources for building minimal viable prototypes that showcase breakthrough technology’s applications and business models to secure executive endorsement.

  1. Co-Create Adaptive Architecture

Transition fragmented, obsolete infrastructure into modular, API-based technology stacks readily enhanced and reconfigured for evolving demands.

  1. Cultivate Change Leadership

Champion capability-building programs, talent exchanges and community engagement initiatives to infuse the disruptor mindsets across the company, upskilling staff to lead radical shifts.

While most transformation efforts focus on technology components, the most vital element is leading cultural change.

Directing Cultural Transformation to Assimilate Emerging Technology

From my experience, implementing disruptive technical capabilities isn’t nearly enough for business model transformations to extract value. Leaders must consciously shape cultural factors like norms, behaviours and climate to smooth adoption:

  1. Over Communicate the Case for Change

Diffuse disbelief in disruption threats by transparently conveying competitive analyses and use cases demonstrating lagging capability impacts on performance indicators like declining customer satisfaction scores.

  1. Incentivise Agility

Rethink traditional structures that value stability, such as rigid planning cycles, narrow role definitions, and adversity to change. These structures inhibit experimentation and dampen the urgency needed to keep technology current.

  1. Transfer Ownership to Cross-Functional Teams

Decentralise authority for piloting new technologies through autonomous, multi-disciplinary units aligned to value delivery exceeding organisational boundaries.

  1. Encourage Managed Risk Taking

Celebrate controlled failure of good faith technology innovation as learning opportunities versus catastrophic mistakes inviting blame. Implementing governance facilitates accountability without excessive constraints.

  1. Promote Futurists

Elevate unconventional thinkers by introducing provocative perspectives regarding unfamiliar technologies. Appoint change ambassadors across hierarchies.

  1. Democratise Ideation

Support informal innovation groups, future-oriented coffee meetings, and reverse mentoring sessions to gather ideas from young employees already deeply involved in new technology lifestyles.

While daunting, conscious culture shaping paves the route for capitalising on technological change versus being eclipsed.

Harnessing Exponential Technologies to Leapfrog Competition

Beyond simply tracking incremental innovations, exponential advances like AI and robotics will reshape industries when strategically adopted.

I’ve found that leaders can channel these forces to sustain relevance amid turbulence by synthesising and acting upon the signals. The vital step is recognising disruption potentials early when intervention significantly influences outcomes.

Established companies boast enviable advantages – data sets, customer access, capital, and institutional wisdom – which incumbents can leverage if they are attuned to market shifts. But legacy can also inhibit agility.

Ultimately, by balancing assets with cultural plasticity and disruptive technology assimilation, CIOs possess the raw materials for digital dexterity needed to guide organisations where competitors fear treading into the future.


About the Author

Giles Lindsay is a technology executive, business agility coach, and CEO of Agile Delta Consulting Limited. Giles has a track record in driving digital transformation and technological leadership. He has adeptly scaled high-performing delivery teams across various industries, from nimble startups to leading enterprises. His roles, from CTO or CIO to visionary change agent, have always centred on defining overarching technology strategies and aligning them with organisational objectives.


Giles is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (FBCS), and The Institution of Analysts & Programmers (FIAP). His leadership across the UK and global technology companies has consistently fostered innovation, growth, and adept stakeholder management. With a unique ability to demystify intricate technical concepts, he’s enabled better ways of working across organisations.


Giles’ commitment extends to the literary realm with his forthcoming book: “Clearly Agile: A Leadership Guide to Business Agility”. This comprehensive guide focuses on embracing Agile principles to effect transformative change in organisations. An ardent advocate for continuous improvement and innovation, Giles is unwaveringly dedicated to creating a business world that prioritises value, inclusivity, and societal advancement.

Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/in/gileslindsay/

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