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Era of Disruption

By Thornton A. May on May 24, 2012
Thornton A. May About the author

Thornton A. May

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville.

Organizations are experiencing a frenzy of restructuring. Currently, 60 percent of the companies in the Global 2000 are replacing the leaders in their top ranks, including their CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and COOs, as well as their heads of marketing, legal and human resources. Historically, in any quarter, one can expect 10 percent to 20 percent of Global 2000 companies to take such action. At the same time, 20 percent of the Global 2000 are experimenting by creating new leadership titles, such as chief digital officer, chief customer officer and chief analytical officer/head data scientist. As those emerging titles suggest, IT and marketing will be the functions most disrupted.

CIOs seem to recognize this. During the CIO Practicum program at the University of Kentucky and the IT Value Studio series at Florida State

College at Jacksonville, researchers asked attendees to come up with a name for the era we’re about to enter. The general consensus was “the era of disruption.”

One erudite CIO went so far as to quote Valentine, a character in Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, who says: “It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing… The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”

It remains to be seen whether that happiness is widely shared. Just about every function in the enterprise is in the midst of a fundamental shift.

But the emphasis on IT and marketing is well placed. As Peter Druckerwisely observed many years ago: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

The new C-level positions are being created to handle tasks perceived as not being addressed adequately by incumbent CIOs and chief marketing officers. Michael Moon, the co-author of “Firebrands: Building Brand Loyalty in the Digital Age,” told the CIOs at the CIO Solutions Gallery at Ohio State University that we have entered a new age of marketing.

He related how a professor of branding at Harvard Business School had this fact hammered home by his 13-year-old daughter when they were on their way to an Apple store. “Dad, you don’t know anything about brands,” she told her father, the erstwhile world expert. “If you have to advertise a product, there is something wrong with it.” This is the world and the customer set that many chief marketing officers fail to understand. It is why so many companies feel the need for a chief digital officer — someone to connect with, engage and delight the current age’s always-on, digitally savvy customers.

For their part, chief analytics officers are being asked to generate insights and formulate profitable actions from externally generated social and mobile data, as well as all the data that CIOs have been gathering from the extensive and unloved systems of record deployed over the past two decades.

Chief customer officers are responsible not only for ensuring positive customer experiences, but also for shifting corporate focus, so that processes and behaviors derive from customer needs rather than internal needs.

It will be fascinating to watch how these three new C’s play with the old C’s.

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