Monday, February 20, 2017

CIOs as Chief Innovation Officer: Can you Clarify the Business’s Expectation from IT via Innovation Lens?

IT leaders and digital professionals can innovate the businesses only via understanding the business via digging into its collective mindset & attitude, underlying functionalities & processes, and products/services features.

As businesses embark on the “Digital Era” of computing and managing, with the changing nature of information & technology, IT is always in the changing environment creating unexpected situations and requiring quick and appropriate responses based on the conditions. IT has to change with the faster speed and also drive the business transformation practively. The nature of the digital IT leadership needs to focus on information and innovation, and the primary role of the CIO needs to become the "Chief Innovation Officer," to not just running IT as a support center, but as the innovation engine to catalyze business growth and build the organization’s differentiated competency and long-term winning advantage.


The “I” in the CIO’s title represents more as INNOVATION: IT has so many issues to tackle, but only innovation can help reinvent the tarnished IT reputation from a cost center to a value creator, and truly change the game. IT must become the business’s innovation engine because it’s always one of the most critical ingredients in building businesses’ differentiate capabilities and improving organizational level maturity. Innovation is certainly messy but would you agree that it is a key requirement in IT given all the moving parts and strategic changes that happen in businesses. IT staff are the co-creators for business innovation. Being able to become innovative or close is being able to think, and create new things based on its own needs, true knowledge is the optimal solution. People that step out and take actions to drive disruption are needed - and often lead to new products and services that are considered innovative. IT is uniquely positioned to observe processes across the enterprise. Sometimes when one business area has a new product that can be used by another, IT leaders can connect the dots to come up with new innovative solutions. Innovation is squishy. We hear so many people say, "we need to be innovative," “or we need to create a culture of innovation.” Then, the field dwindles when the discussion comes to "how." Therefore, you shouldn’t still treat innovation as serendipity, or a random initiative, CIOs need to manage a balanced innovation portfolio in a structural way. To put simply, digital is the age of innovation, you don’t have a choice on innovation, you can choose to direct it rather than just let it happen. The ultimate innovation isn't what you do; it's what you deliver for results, how being innovative becomes the state of mind; and whether it becomes one of the crucial digital capabilities to improve business competency.


As a CIO, you need to clarify what the organization’s expectation from IT through an innovation lenses: There’s a lot of opportunities to clarify the role of IT in innovation; IT leaders should clarify the business goals from innovation management via the business perspective, IT management perspective and customers’ perspective. Are you talking about the enterprise-wide innovation via leveraging information & technology for getting the entire business to work together on new business opportunities? Or are you talking about IT internal innovation, improving things they have more control of like business processes or innovating IT function itself to improve its effectiveness and maturity? It’s important for IT to be more innovative from an outside-in customer’s lens as well. IT has both internal customers and external customers. Digital is the age of customers, focusing on customer needs should be an easier path to grow the innovation fruit. If you're going to innovate without knowledge of "evident customer needs," and then "the things that you are good at may distract you to build something which can really increase customer value and help business success for the long term. Through catching customer insight and understanding their current need or future need, IT can reinvent itself as a customer champion and see it as an opportunity to reboot IT mentality as the innovation engine.


CIOs have to strike the right balance between creativity and process; innovation and stability: IT is business, innovative IT can only happen if IT is regarded as a partner and given the role in catalyzing innovation and driving the business. Creativity is for simplicity that yields maximum results.  Most CIOs, even if they are a part of the Board, still claim that they have no influence on strategy. But in order to run IT as an innovation engine, CIOs have to become the innovative leaders and have the seat at the big table for contributing strategy making; both framing and solving critical business problems more creatively, and they should also set digital principles and policies to ensure the business's bottom line efficiency and top-line business growth. Hence, they need to equip with the power of insight via both business acumen and in-depth IT knowledge to:
(1) Understand your IT organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
(2) Understand your IT teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
(3) Gain In-depth knowledge of your business and your competitors.
(4) A razor focuses on what is good for the business, and what defines the business success.
(5) Select the right set of performance indicators to measure the innovation result effectively.


An innovative IT is an integral part of the innovative organization. Making IT department an innovation engine and profit center is one of the biggest challenges in most of the organizations because it requires strategic thinking and creativity from innovative IT leaders and digital professional to understand the business via digging into its collective mindset & attitude, underlying functionalities, and products/services features; always come out the premium solutions, overcome “We always do things like that” mentality, reinvent the corporate processes to build innovation as a differentiated digital capabilities, and manage an innovation portfolio with full spectrum in a structural way, to gain competitive advantage and differentiated competency  or the business’s long-term prosperity.

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