As CIOs, we all know digital disruption is happening at a rampant rate. The challenge we face is moving it from theory to reality. An executive at a client company recently posed the following questions to me: “How do you actually innovate and defend against this digital disruption without blowing up the budget? How do you really do that?”

For me, there are definitely a few steps that take this often discussed CIO requirement from the abstract to the concrete:

Are you close to your customers?
Everyone has customers of some kind, including B2B. Do you know where the pain points are in your customer experience? Where the opportunities are to innovate? You’ve got to understand this dynamic and the best way to start that is with customer journey mapping.  Follow it up by  keeping this “conversation” going by leading or staying involved in a regular customer testing and feedback effort or program. Above all, get out and talk to customers!

Can you innovate on your own mainstream platforms, quick and dirty?
If you can’t innovate easily on your major internal platforms — weeks or days, not months for moderately/small-sized innovations — digital disruptors and likely your direct competitors both have a significant leg up on you. This year alone, we’ve launched 35 small-to-medium, innovative improvements to our business by taking advantage of our SaaS platform. Business moves too fast to wait for months.

Do you use the same tools that startups use to go fast?
Everyone knows that you can spin up servers on the cheap via Amazon Web Services or the like, but have you thought of turning to WordPress or Wix to build that non-critical website you needed to get out there quickly for $150?, Or is that something you’d never consider?

How about crowdsourced design / development to build up a proof of concept within days? I talked about crowdsourcing in my last blog, but let’s get real specific here. If you haven’t heard of Topcoder and its member community of 800,000+, it’s time to check tools like these out and use them to deliver value to your customers and employees quickly.

Do you have an official program to innovate and try new things with your customers & clients?
Innovation — real, methodical, and deliberate innovation — stands a much better chance of succeeding if it’s part of a C-Level mandate and part of a real, established program. More and more companies have a “Labs” program, and more and more of those companies are exposing those lab experiments to their customers. Check out Zappos Labs, Capital One Labs, & Walmart Labs to name a few. And coming soon, our clients will see Forrester Labs in their browsers!

Do you partner with small innovative companies?
Think partnering with startups is only for small companies? Check out Coca Cola’s “The Bridge” program. It is aggressively seeking out the next startup that will give it the edge over their competition. And that’s the key — every CIO has access to the big, established solutions out there, but in the age of the customer, you have to think as much like a venture capitalist as you do an operator, constantly looking anywhere you can for the competitive edge. I work directly with several VC firms to learn more and keep my “pipeline” of cutting-edge companies flowing.

Finally, take a look at our upcoming Forrester Tech Mixer, scheduled for 10/14 at our headquarters in Cambridge, MA. We’re proactively bringing cutting edge companies to us (and our clients) to help us gain the edge. Are you a Forrester client and interested in attending, or a company interested in participating? Visit the site to learn more and how to reach out to us.

Oh and p.s, we built that site with for $150 ;^)