Disruption is a two-way street. Industry observers often point to the havoc being created by companies such as Amazon, Google, and Uber and how each of these companies are turning the tables on established industries.

Still, there are also incredible opportunities for traditional companies to unleash disruptive innovation within their respective industries. Or even outside of them. Consider how Apple continues to push further into healthcare and is gearing up to take on Netflix and Amazon in entertainment.

Your company doesn’t need to be an Apple or an Uber or an Airbnb to grab disruption by the horns. CIOs for companies in industries ranging from financial services to manufacturing to pharmaceuticals can enable their organizations to leverage existing and emerging technologies and spearhead innovation that delivers new forms of value to customers and shareholders.

One of the ways that the CIO can help enable disruptive innovation is by frequently communicating with the C-suite on these topics. Organizational leaders are all too aware of the competitive threats that industry rivals and emerging companies pose.

Sharing examples of digital disruption that the enterprise can bring to bear can help keep the C-suite informed while revealing opportunities for the company to stay ahead of the digital curve and obtain a competitive advantage in delivering products and to external customers.

Of course, communicating opportunities to drive digital disruption and executing on these opportunities effectively can be two different things. Established organizations that are successful at carrying out digital transformation are able to recognize and act on cultural barriers that can impede progress.

Thanks to their unique horizontal view across lines of business and organizational functions, the CIO can work with business unit leaders to help identify bottlenecks and offer recommendations to address these challenges. Ultimately, a CIO is gauged by the value he or she brings to the enterprise. This includes being able to draw on their distinctive perspective to identify and remove blockades that are impeding the organization’s progress.

CIOs can also act as change agents to drive disruption from the executive ranks. For instance, many boards play an active role in IT oversight. While most are focused on internal controls and risk, there are opportunities for the CIO to work more closely with boards and executive teams to create innovation committees to identify and evaluate opportunities for disruption and investment.

As I point out in my book The Big Shift in IT Leadership from a discussion I had with my friend Dr. Ashwin Ballal, Vice President and CIO at KLA-Tencor, a global leader in the manufacture of process control and yield management products for the semiconductor industry, the IT organization is uniquely positioned to offer guidance and support on innovation that’s designed to grow the business and create value.

“We have the broadest view of the enterprise,” said Ashwin. “We can see what’s happening in the different lines of business and we understand how they operate. From our vantage point, we can see the possibilities for new business products and services.”

I completely agree. Forward-thinking CIOs are able to combine their technology expertise with their business acumen to drive real value for the enterprise. 

Key Takeaways

  • Disruption is a two-way street. It’s not just created by new market entrants such as Uber but is also open to established companies across all industries.
  • One of the ways that the CIO can help enable disruptive innovation is by brainstorming with the C-suite and the board on opportunities for digital disruption.
  • The CIO can draw on his or her unique horizontal view of the enterprise to help line of business leaders identify and remove blockades that are impeding the organization’s progress.