Allies and enemies in a VUCA world

This is a guest post by José Delameilleure & Ludo Van den Kerckhove from Across Technology, covering our recent international event CIO CITY’14.

CIOCITYday1-DreKraak“VUCA is not a new concept at all. Fighter pilots have dealt with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity for decades already,” claimed former Dutch fighter pilot Dré Kraak during his dinner keynote at CIOcity (Brussels, 10-11 June). The VUCA world and how to deal with it as a corporation, was the ‘fil rouge’ in many a presentation. The answer to VUCA: flexibility, agility and partnerships.

“When I flew an F16 in Bosnia and Kosovo, we never knew what was coming when we took off. Would we be attacked? By what means? By how many other planes? We had no clue, but we had one mission: bring the plane in safely by the end of the flight. Now how VUCA is that?” The same principles apply to the business world: markets are changing so quickly there is no way of predicting what will happen next. The only thing you know as a business leader is you don’t want to crash. Now in charge of purchasing at the Dutch armed forces, De Kraak is still operating as if he were in mortal combat. He sees vendors who are trying to work with the army as enemies he wants to get down on their knees, seeking out their weak spots and exploiting those.

A someCIOCITYday2-PatrickArlequeeuwwhat less hostile approach to partnerships was echoed by many other speakers at the event. According to P&G’s Patrick Arlequeeuw, “80 per cent of what you need, already exists somewhere.” P&G of course has been one of the proponents of open innovation for a long time. This spirit of innovation and collaboration is also reflected in the role the IT-department plays at P&G, helping to “continually transform the way business is done at P&G.” That’s why the department is called GBS, short for ‘global business services’, and not IT. And that is also why their approach to shared services is a lasting example.

Open innovation is of course not without risks. According to Oxford professor David M. Upton, “the world is becoming ever more open and connected, hence you import external insiders.” The security policies of organizations are not yet adapted to this type of partnership, as they still operate on the “us and them” principle. Inside is good, outside is the enemy. Organizations will have to throw off this cold war syndrome to tackle risk, governance and information security.

CIOCITYday2-PeterHinssenOur own Peter Hinssen (president Across Technology) reflected on what VUCA means for the internal organization of a company. Giving the audience an insight on the topic of his forthcoming book ‘The Network Always Wins’, he urges organizations to become connected companies, where information flows freely and where the internal clock speed of on organization works in sync with the clock speed of the external world. A crucial aspect of success for the CIO is to work together with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Both their roles are evolving, the marketer using data rather than gut feeling, and the CIO reaching out and working agile together with the external world.

Forrester’s Nigel Fenwick also highlighted the partnership between CMO and CIO, as both roles need to advise the CEO, helping him build a digital vision and assisting in the transformation strategy by use of analytics. According to research, only one out of five CEOs currently sets a clear digital vision and has the in-house capabilities to execute it.

Agility and flexibility lies at the basis of the research paper that the CIONET European Research Paper of the Year Election. The research performed for the winning paper built a framework in which websites automatically adapt to the cultural imperatives of website design when used in different countries. This approach takes ‘responsive design’ one step further yet.

Is there one clear answer to the threats posed by a VUCA world? No there is not, and as Nils Fonstad (Insead) stated, agility depends on your platforms and processes, and above all: organizations need a digital culture and digital leaders. There’s no reason why this leadership role could not be fulfilled by the CIO. After all, we can’t predict the future, but we can create it.

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