The CIO’s role in future proofing a business through disruption

Sundi Balu, Chief Information Officer, Global Enterprise and Services, Telstra

You are an established incumbent business at risk of being outperformed by a startup competitor with a completely new business model. How do you counter that, and future proof your organization?

According to Sundi Balu, Chief Information Officer for Telstra’s Global Enterprise and Services business, the answer is to deliberately and consciously disrupt your business model and your established culture to kick-start your organization’s transformation.

“This is how many leading organizations are responding, and responding successfully,” said Mr. Balu, citing the example of General Electric which looked to build a more collaborative culture by turning to crowdsourcing to overcome engineering challenges. By tapping an online community of engineers and designers across the world for a nominal sum, GE found a way to produce jet engine brackets which weigh less and could help save millions of dollars in fuel costs each year.

“Almost every industry is being disrupted and if a company thinks it won’t happen to them, they probably need to reassess the environment in which they operate.”

A research report commissioned by Telstra and executed by Tech Research Asia, titled Disruption, digital transformation and effective technology strategy”, found that 73% of businesses said they were being subject to disruption. The survey of 1,000 multinational corporations found that four in 10 companies said they were exposed to a more competitive market today, compared with two years ago. Three in five respondents said they were consciously seeking to disrupt current or new markets.

CIO role shifting amid digital disruption

The era of digital disruption has transformed the traditional role of the CIO. Instead of being focused largely on technology, as they were in the past, Mr. Balu said CIOs need to be more strategic, and more connected with business outcomes and reputation. “Today’s IT is more ‘asset light’ and strategically deployed than in the past, while the CIO’s role is more about configuring infrastructure and services from third-party providers than building and managing large systems in-house,” he explained.

This was underlined in the Telstra research, where CIOs said they were putting a priority on moving their infrastructure to a managed environment, allowing their IT team to concentrate on business growth and innovation.

For today’s CIO, success is about enabling technologies such as cloud and mobile to deliver what Mr. Balu described as “satisfying an innate demand for exceptional customer experiences.”

Building a culture of disruption

The digital era presents challenges for CIOs as they are no longer driving transformation through technology alone. Instead, they need to collaborate with other areas of the business, such as marketing and finance, to support their technology investments while helping to nurture a culture of innovation. The goal is to embrace disruption internally before external disruption impacts the business.

“Transformation must start with the right mindset, and leadership skills are critical to achieving this,” said Mr. Balu. “Many organizations are not prepared for this and only realize too late.”