According to CIO’s Clint Boulton, “If there’s one thing CEOs fear these days, it’s being Ubered, the dreaded code word that describes how ride-sharing startups have shaken up ground transportation.” He goes on to state that the fear is so pervasive it has its equivalent across key industries—retailers worry about getting Amazoned, real estate is afraid of the WeWork movement, hospitality is struggling with the Airbnb effect, etc.

But leaders at established organizations should take heart. As Boulton put it, cloud platforms, mobile innovations and other emerging technology “pose stiff challenges to established companies, but they also present opportunities for those willing to take risks and innovate.” He examined innovation efforts at McDonald’s, New York Life, and other large organizations and offered a number of ways for established companies to harness technology and fight back against their startup counterparts. Among them:

  • Agile delivery: Enterprises are typically used to more traditional release cycles, but that is simply no match for today’s environment. Startups tend to operate on a much more aggressive release timeline and organizations must change their approach to delivery if they want to keep up. In the case of McDonald’s, leadership restructured the operating model to agile delivery, doing away with 12 to 18 month “waterfall” cycles in favor of four to six-week sprints. This approach enabled the company to modernize a variety of offerings for the digital age, including a new point of sale (POS) and mobile app that could integrate with third-party software from delivery companies like DoorDash and GrubHub.
  • Enhancing the digital customer experience: One of the ways in which Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, and other disruptors achieved early success was by focusing on the customer experience, convenience, and ease of use. Easy enough for a nimble company to do, but how can established organizations deliver engaging digital products at speed? The IT leaders with whom Boulton spoke emphasized a phased approach, looking for small ways to deliver innovation rather than focusing on overarching initiatives. For example, New York Life has created numerous APIs that simplify a variety of tasks for members and agents alike and will ultimately support a broader push into additional self-service capabilities.

We always hear that technology has leveled the playing field, but many forget that this wisdom applies as much to established companies as it does new market entrants. In the age of digital transformation, anyone can be a disruptor. The key is using the right technology, in the right way.