Business Management

Introducing the Chief Disruption Officer

This is a contributed piece by Andrew Brinded,  Senior Regional Director at Nutanix

Disruption: it’s certainly a word of the times. We talk incessantly about disruptive technology, disruptive companies and living in an era of disruptive change. It’s hardly surprising then that the newest position to take a seat in the corporate boardroom is that of the Chief Disruption Officer.

While the role of Chief Information Officer was a significant step forward, with enterprises acknolwledging the fact that IT needed to be represented at C-level, we have moved on through Chief Data Officers and Chief Innovation Officers, to a place where disruption is on the lips of recruitment teams everywhere.  

While the job titles with “Data” and “Innovation” in their middle are still very relevant today, the most forward-thinking organisations are wondering if they go far enough. In an era where business is changing so rapidly through technology, is innovating alone enough? Now is the to time to disrupt.

As Chief Disruption Officers (CDOs) become a more frequent sight, it’s essential to understand what they do. In a nutshell, they are the ones whose responsibility it is to rock the boat and shake the status quo. While your product or service might be booming, with record sales across the globe, if it has hit its peak, it’s time to make a change. In steps the CDO to shake things up.

This might sound nonsensical, but consider what might have happened if private taxi companies had employed a CDO? Might they have foreseen the Uber model and got there first? Moreover, will Uber fail if they don’t lead the pack in driverless taxis when the technology becomes available? Look at mobile phones. Nokia and BlackBerry may have retained their leadership in that market if they had invested in the same technology behind the iPhone and others which now own that space. If the CDO gets there first, others won’t and your business remains the disruptor, not the disrupted.

It’s happening everywhere. Not always recognised as the most dynamic of environments, the datacentre is currently enjoying its own period of disruption. The long-standing backbone of the datacentre - legacy three-tier IT infrastructure - is rapidly losing ground to cloud and hyperconverged infrastructure, because they’re simpler, faster, allow scalability and free up IT teams to focus on the business at hand. But, even those competitors can’t sit still; they need to look beyond what they are doing and find ways to increase automation and work effortlessly with the public cloud.

Some organisations recognise the need and have hired a CDO. UK-based alternative payment and banking company Contis Group recently appointed a CDO whose role is to ‘map current and future customer needs across the sector; compare them with existing Contis and competitor offerings; and identify ways to disrupt the marketplace’. Similarly, French multinational hotel group AccorHotels hired Thinault Viort, a serial entrepreneur, to take the role of Chief Disruption and Growth Officer.

However, some organisations are proving reluctant to budge over and make a little more room at the table. When considering a CIO, it’s easy to see the benefits of creating a role that manages a company’s IT strategy. Making the case for a CDO can be a bit tricker. As well as being an overused buzzword, ‘disruption’ has negative connotations. Employees are generally reluctant to change, and having someone whose role is dedicated solely to that might lead to a stressful and unpredictable environment.

It’s easy too to simply keep ‘business as usual’ while business is good. It takes a lot of energy and risk to be the first to shake up that model, particularly when it has worked so far. The simple fact is that change can’t be controlled and it’s happening faster than ever before. Tools exist now that can help startups grow rapidly – crowdfunding, inexpensive marketing and advertising through social media, and utilising ‘anything-as-a-service’ to seem big while still small, for example. Investors are also more willing to invest in high-potential, high-risk startups. This means startups can capitalise and capture the market from right underneath you before you have a chance.

To put it quite bluntly, if you’re not first, you can easily end up last. The risks of being caught snoozing in a world moving at breakneck speed, don’t bear thinking about. New eras call for new leadership roles, and the Chief Disruption Officer could be the person to keep your organisation at the top.


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