Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Three Tips for CIO as Chief Innovation Officer

CIOs generally have a greater opportunity to stand out and take a lead in driving innovation across their companies.

Modern CIOs have many personas indicated in the magic “I” of CIO title, Chief Innovation Officer is one of the most pertinent roles, because so much business innovation these days is enabled by technology, a good CIO with their finger on the pulse of technological advancement or information insight can provide many ideas on how new tech and abundance of info could create fresh business opportunities. CIOs are uniquely positioned to drive business innovation because of their vantage point in digital transformation. But how can CIO build a solid innovation agenda, and play such a new role more effectively?

1.    Understand Innovation through the Lens of Business

First of all, CIO should build credibility by delivering on IT commitments and by adding value to strategy and operations, participate strategy discussions as any other C-Level executives would (Too often CIOs act like they don't belong at the table and actually get perplexed when they don't get opportunities to engage in strategic discussions).

  • IT is business innovation catalyst: Innovation can be categorized as empowered innovation (creative disruption), sustainable innovation (the better version of product/service) or efficiency innovation (process improvement). IT can drive all sort of innovation, proactively pushing ideas on how to leverage technology to drive revenue growth, increase business productivity,  flexibility, and agility.
  • CIOs are "Chief Innovation Officers": CIOs generally have a greater opportunity to stand out and take a lead in driving innovation across their companies. Though every executive should make their voice heard on this front, have an opportunity and responsibility to participate in the innovation dialog and to come up with innovative ideas, most of the functions can make process innovation within their division,  IT, on the other hand, has much more of an opportunity to enable incremental top-line and bottom-line value across the business, not just within IT.
  • It takes vision, empathy, and understanding to drive innovation effort: More often than not, specific examples are required to clarify the value potential. This is especially true if you are looking at new sources of value that haven't been tapped before. The issue many IT departments have is they think innovation is implementing the latest and greatest technology rather than using advances in technology or existing technology differently to provide innovative solutions for business now and in the future.
  • Running IT as an innovation engine: Develop a deep understanding of the business value chain, competitive landscape, processes and enterprise architecture, revenue models, P&L drivers, and balance sheet strengths and constraints. In many organizations, IT is the custodian of solutions and data assets that can be applied in new and different ways to generate massive business value that far exceeds what other functions can incrementally bring to the table.
  • Empowerment from the senior leadership team is crucial: Forward-looking organizations should empower CIOs as Chief Innovation officers. But just because CIOs COULD play this role (and should), doesn't mean that they're given the chance to do so within their organization. Do business leaders look to CIOs for innovative ideas? Or do they only see the CIO as a person who executes other staffers' innovative ideas?

2.    Cultivate a Culture of Innovation

CIO is in a good position when the company requires the innovation culture like part of your DNA.

  • Innovation is not just about technology, it's about people, culture,  partnership, processes, etc: Isn't that what innovation is all about: do it better, differentiate yourself from your completion, run, grow and transform the business. So educate the IT team on the business and encourage them to engage with business counterparts in a value-oriented manner. Building an environment where the only thing you get fired for is not asking hard questions. Often the most disruptive person is the one you want to harness. That person is not being malicious - if they were, the disruptions would be covert. Instead, channel energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. 
  • The notion of "Reward success and failure": The logic here is that you reward people for trying new actions, and double reward them for successes. If you punish failure, you shut down innovation immediately. Make the effort a "lessons learned" exercise to share. However, this entire process area needs some oversight to make it not be a major business disruption. There are ways to manage these actions effectively and to your benefit.
  • Engage talent in innovation driven conversations: If you can get the typically IT staff with "social influencer," to engage in open dialog with the business people, sharing ideas and learning, you can accomplish wonderful things. It's wise to make these sort of informal conversations a regular habit, instead of waiting for a formal meeting to trumpet opinions.                                                                             

3.    Develop Processes to Manage a Healthy Innovation Life Cycle 

IT should be proactively generating ideas and then working with business partners to take those ideas forward. IT plays an innovation role as more of a proactive influencer. It is important to take advantage of the IT vantage point to surface ideas proactively, but it is even more important to work with business stakeholders to make sure they jointly own the idea before proceeding. The alternative is to lose their trust. 

  • The CIO must take the time to understand the innovation processes: identify the best companies in the sector, look also at sectors that use technology to create value. In the end, he/she will have a lot of ideas that have to be developed and discussed with process owners. If you try to implement those "breakthrough" without the process owner on your side, you will create a lot of enemies.     
  • The CIO could be the perfect role to help manage innovation with disciplines and the right tools (such as collaborative platform, analytics tools., etc) at the organizational scope. CIOs are also in a unique position to align process, technology, and people, from generating ideas on applying technology and data assets to drive value, the oversight is needed in managing innovation lifecycle. Also, share those ideas with business colleagues in a non-threatening manner that will resonate with them. 
  • Innovation is not always equal to the latest gadget: It's completely natural for CIOs and other technical pros to be eager to deploy new tech toys - whether that toy is a slick new smartphone or a solid-state drive. However, sometimes CIOs need to resist this urge and focus instead on how to creatively use the business's current IT tools to squeeze extra value out of them. 
In summary, first things first, what CIOs can do to foster innovation, is marketing capabilities & opportunities within the company. There are a lot of people that just do not understand what IT can do for them, and how IT can make their lives better, easier, etc. while improving the bottom line. That requires engagement with the business, and more listening, while at the same time, opening eyes to the possibilities. Only does the CIO become Chief Innovation Officer, he or she can make a bigger influence on business transformation.


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