Bigger isn’t necessarily better, and across a range of industries, CIOs are choosing to work with modest sized startups over tech giants in order to achieve their business objectives.
Some of the reasons named by CIOs include the greater potential for fresh ideas and talent, and a greater understanding of new technologies. For medium-sized companies, startups often offer the clear benefit of being more responsive and adaptable than larger incumbents. Individual projects may simply be more suited to working with startups.
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CIO UK spoke to 12 leading UK CIOs and digital experts on how they are collaborating with startups. Read on to discover how CIOs at Oxfam, AstraZeneca and Williams F1 Team, among others, are working with startups to achieve their business goals.
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May 23, 2018
2. Sharon Cooper - CDO, BMJ
Sharon Cooper, CDO of BMJ, comments on how established companies can help smaller startups to evolve. “I worked alongside our director of strategy on an approach to collaborative partnerships with startups, utilising our core brand strengths to facilitate growth for the startup.”
Working with startups can be especially beneficial to companies that lack a grand scale. “We utilise a significant amount of open source software, which has reduced our reliance on large third-party suppliers, who often do not have the time to provide the levels of support that SMEs such as ourselves need. We are probably more aligned with a startup in terms of our tech stack than a traditional company.”
Cooper says that when it comes to selecting companies to work with, values can be more important than how established a company is. “When working with all of our suppliers we look for an alignment in terms of culture and values. We are a very values-driven organisation, which makes us focused on efficiency, effectiveness and the value of any service we buy. But we also look to the wider values of the organisation, what it stands for, how its staff are treated and how they treat each other. We’ve sought to build partnerships with our key suppliers, where they can understand what drives us as an organisation.”
3. David Smoley - CIO, AstraZeneca
David Smoley, CIO at AstraZeneca since April, 2013, says, “Finally, we are really starting to tap into the startup community. We are working with many companies that didn’t exist five years ago, who typically have developed their products with only cloud, mobile and usability in mind.”
He notes the incredible value the company has gained from working with technology startups. “With the advances in cloud computing, this has enabled our business to tap into new approaches, such as deep learning for drug repositioning, machine learning for patient stratification, image recognition for digital pathology, advanced data compression for genomics, lightning-quick databases for mobile apps, smart wrangling tools for clinical data, new social channels for teams, influencer identification across social media and new IoT sensors alerting us to anomalies in our lab equipment before they break.” But there is still room for further partnerships with startup companies and innovators. "There are many other areas and learning from approaches that our R&D colleagues have explored in the past few years,” says Smoley, “we are starting to explore opportunities to engage both inside and outside AstraZeneca using open innovation challenges."
8. Fatima Zada - Director of Technology and Innovation, Harvey Nichols
Fatima Zada, Director of Technology and Innovation at Harvey Nichols since January, 2015, says, “I am a great believer in collaborating with vendors as an extension of my own team, as well as identifying key strategic partners who would be part of delivering our roadmap.”
She points out the difference between working with new and existing partners. “With existing suppliers, we constantly have to ensure they are growing their product and services to be aligned with our strategy,” she says. “For new partners we ensure we go via an RFI/RFP process, allowing us to assess their vision and flexibility around client growth.” Zada acknowledges the fresher ideas that can emerge from startup companies compared to larger brands. “I am very fond of engaging with startups to come up with innovative ideas based on their nimble and risk-taking culture,” she says.
11. Chris Zissis - CIO, EMEA, JLL
Chris Zissis, CIO at JLL since April, 2013, notes the corporate property management and development company’s interest in working with both larger companies and startups.
"The big traditional players have very clearly defined commercial frameworks," says Zissis. "They are preferred suppliers to us - we have long-standing relationships.” Among them, JLL works closely with Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, NTT, Google and Verizon.
However, Zissis is also open to working with smaller tech startups. In fact in 2016, JLL partnered with Berlin-based machine learning and artificial intelligence startup Leverton, to accelerate automation of JLL’s lease management operations and digitising of key processes. "That entire paradigm is very different when it comes to startups,” he says. “Leverton has been a great learning curve for us and also a very good proposition in terms of what we are achieving and trying to achieve, but it was really hard work to get there.” But he advocates erring on the side of caution when choosing to partner with startups. "[You also have to consider]...do startups really have the capability to do what they say they can?"