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Channeling disruption in the age of the cloud

Thirty years ago, the disruptive shift from mainframes to the personal computer created new opportunities for many start-up software companies.

Today, we are in the midst of the next sea change and as this new wave of disruption begins to swell, Autodesk, like many others, is setting its sights on the cloud. This new platform is bringing about a paradigm shift in a number of industries from manufacturing to architecture and civil infrastructure.

As companies begin to think about how this technology could improve their operations, there is a unique opportunity for CIOs to break out of their common role as “chief optimizer” and move into the role of “lead transformer.” Essentially this means looking beyond how to drive efficiency out of a company’s existing investments, and working closely with other departments to create and implement new viable solutions that maximise the value gained from this inevitable disruption.

A multitude of opportunities

While the cloud provides a powerful new technology platform, it is really a confluence of disruptive technologies that are creating a multitude of new possibilities for all types of companies. Smartphones and tablets are empowering an increasingly mobile workforce; social networking is creating new ways to collaborate with contributors and stakeholders on projects; and big data is giving companies better insight into their customers and operations than was ever possible before.

In the world of design and engineering, a combination of these technologies with cloud at the core is allowing Autodesk to give its customers better access to their designs from anywhere, and at any time; to facilitate valuable heavy-compute operations like simulation, which previously may have required a prohibitive amount of capital investment; and to enable collaboration in more productive and social ways.

Many of the company’s customers are already experiencing the positive impact of these new possibilities. Over the last year, nearly 15 million of them have accessed the cloud to do things they couldn’t do before. In its first month, the Autodesk Simulation 360 trial registered more than 10,000 simulation jobs. Also, since the introduction of the social media-inspired Design Feed feature in AutoCAD WS, a cloud-based CAD editor, sharing of files and information among users has increased by 30%.

The cloud and this confluence of new technologies have created opportunities to revolutionise the way things are designed, manufactured and built. But as companies look into the potential benefits of new disruptive technology they must stay primarily focused on addressing their challenges, rather than focusing on the technology itself. This is where a CIO’s skillset can offer immense value to engineering teams and other technical departments.

Creating a cohesive solution

Over the last three decades, it has been most common for software vendors like Autodesk to work primarily with their customers’ engineering departments; however, as mobile devices and the cloud are more deeply embedded in companies’ workflows, the involvement of their CIOs will become increasingly important.

At the most basic level, this will be because this paradigm shift moves design and engineering software squarely in the wheelhouse of the CIO, who has enterprise-wide responsibility for global devices, IP protections, security and the productivity of the workforce.

Delving deeper than this, a CIO’s knowledge base and broad perspective are invaluable as companies explore how they can channel disruptive technologies to tackle existing challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. To do this successfully, it’s not as much as about the individual technologies as it is about the innovation of putting them together in a way that delivers the most value to the company. A CIO’s ability to synthesize technologies into an effective solution is a key asset in this case.

This solution must then also tie seamlessly into the company’s existing systems. With a holistic view of the company’s ecosystem, CIOs can identify potential issues that may not come into view of individual departments who are solely focused on the benefits of new technology to their immediate workflows. Identifying these concerns in the early phases of new technology adoption can prevent companies from making investments that won’t ever reach their full potential.

Furthermore, CIOs are well-positioned to survey the marketplace for all available solutions, and they are more likely than individual departments to comparison shop and drive for the best deal with regards to cost, terms and conditions, flexibility, security, etc. While this process has the potential to slow down the implementation of new workflows, over the long term it helps to ensure that the company invests in high-value, cohesive solutions that fit as seamlessly as possible into the existing ecosystem.

Last, CIOs are experienced at implementing new technologies in a way that minimizes the negative impact on productivity. They can use this experience in change management to limit the amount of unproductive disruption caused by the adoption of valuable disruptive technologies.

Carving out your path to disruption

Disruptive technologies powered by the cloud are transforming the way we work and live.

Companies will leverage the resulting paradigm shifts at their own pace, but I strongly encourage all CIOs to get involved when the time comes. We have the knowledge and perspective required to create innovative cohesive solutions that fit into the existing ecosystem, and we understand how to implement these new solutions while minimizing productivity loss. The value a CIO can deliver in the role of “lead transformer” is immeasurable, and this opportunity only comes along once in a sea change.

About the author:

Jeff Brzycki is Chief Information Officer at Autodesk, a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. Brzycki’s career in the IT industry spans 25 years and includes executive level roles at Silicon Graphics, VERITAS, Symantec and VeriSign. He recently oversaw several significant transformations in the way Autodesk’s IT team delivers services internally, including the adoption of the Agile methodology across all IT development teams and the shift to enterprise-wide internal cloud services.