Cox, now an author and strategic advisor to CIOs and CEOs is also a columnist for Techworld’s sister title CIO UK and a judge on the title’s CIO 100, a power list of the most transformative CIOs in or from the UK.

In 2014 Cox penned the book Disrupt IT where he sets out a new model for CIOs to transform the way they operate organisations.

Ian Cox
Ian Cox

In his latest column for Techworld's sister publication CIO UK Cox tackles the issue of how startups can secure their first paying client – typically a CIO in major business or large public sector organisations. Cox outlines how securing the first paying client “often leaves small businesses and start-ups in a catch-22 situation; to be considered as a credible vendor they need to have some reference clients but how do they get that first client without references?”

Cox, as a former CIO also sees the other side of the coin: “Potential clients also face a dilemma of their own as many CIOs are prevented from contracting with a startup by procurement rules that require reference sites, copies of accounts, financial guarantees, etc.”

With the world economy still in a difficult position following the credit crisis Cox admits many CIOs “are just reluctant to take a risk on an unproven product or vendor, particularly in organisations where failure is not accepted and is likely to damage the CIO’s reputation.” In his CIO column Cox goes on to remind the CIO community that organisations – admittedly those with a healthy bank balance – have successfully engaged with startups.

“Coca Cola has a mentoring programme through which it provides technology startups with advice and guidance on how to market their businesses to investors and customers.

“During 2014 GE Healthcare opened a Health Innovation Village at its Finnish headquarters in Helsinki, which houses over 20 health tech start-ups operating in the fields of wireless technologies, sensors, apps and cloud services,” Cox writes. Closer to home Cox heralds the achievements of UK based CIOs Paul Coby at retailer John Lewis and Andrew Jordan of NBC Universal.

“In Disrupt IT I explain how external engagement is an important activity; customers, partners, technology vendors, startups, analysts and academic institutions are all potential sources of information, ideas and insight as to how technology may be applied within the organisation to drive revenue and value,” Cox says, adding how important it is for CIO to “look beyond” existing suppliers and those in their market.

“It is unlikely that a radical idea or solution will come from a supplier that already works with a number of the main players within a market. Startups on the other hand are not constrained. They are free to try to new things, create new models and be flexible about the direction their product takes. It is no coincidence therefore that many of the recent examples of markets being disrupted involve a startup that has used technology to better meet customer needs,” Cox said.

Cox says CIOs must think creatively about the resources they have available and how these could be used for mutual benefit to the startup and the organisation the CIO represents. The CIO columnist suggest making key personnel available for meetings or supplying insight, sharing data or taking part in a pilot programme.

“I would encourage all CIOs to take an hour or two out of their diary every month just to meet with a startup. Use it as an opportunity to learn from them, pick their brains and see what ideas they can give you. And during these meetings think about what you can offer them in return and be open to potential partnerships or less formal collaborations. Because the next startup you meet might just have something that will make a significant difference to your business.”

Ian Cox has a column on CIO UK here and you can download his book Disrupt IT from here.