Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Three Open Questions to Catalyze IT Innovation

The goals to ask open questions are to encourage thinking differently, provoke free discussions and attract the variety of answers for solving complex business problems.

In the considerably static industrial environment, many IT organizations only focus on the commodity level of services to “keep the lights on.” However, with rapid changes, fast-growing information, and continuous digital disruptions, “Doing more with innovation” is the mantra to run a high-performance digital IT organization. Here are three open questions CIOs should keep asking themselves, their teams, their business partners, to brainstorm better ways to do things, catalyze IT innovation and drive digital transformation proactively.

Why Not: Traditional IT organizations often put emphasis on “HOW” to do the work, without spending sufficient time on the big why. Very fewer IT leaders can boldly ask “WHY NOT” questions to break down that “we always do things like that” mentality and discover more innovative ways to do things. To assess IT organization maturity, the bigger strategic question is what the function of IT in a company is - a value creator, an innovation hub, or a back-office cost center? IT is the only entity in the organization supposed to understand business entirely and oversee organizational processes horizontally, IT needs to be able to provide an innovative solution or supply a differentiated solution that contributes to both top line growth and the bottom line success of the organization. The CIO should primarily be focused on the use of IT to increase sales and the use of information and technology to enhance or transform products/operations. Through asking the “WHY NOT” questions, other business functions would look to IT for better solutions, enforce IT value proposition around the competitive application of technology in a rapidly changing market. Through asking open questions such as “WHY NOT,” IT leaders show the passion about information, technology, innovation, and positive change can do for the success of the entire company, IT can explore the art of possible, lead change and digital transformation innovatively.

What If: An effective CIO’s job is to improve operations to reduce the burden on the company while trying to stay current with ever-changing technologies and fast growing information. That includes optimizing costs, improving information systems, streamlining processes and providing continually expanding business solutions. To lead boldly, an innovative CIO should be inquisitive, to keep asking thought-provoking questions, to overcome challenges and run IT as an innovation engine of the business. “WHAT IF” inquiry encourages IT teams to think “out of the box,” explore the new alternative to solve either old problems or emergent issues creatively.  More often than not, technology is the disruptive innovation to create both significant growth opportunity or to bring potential risk to businesses large or small. From IT leadership/management perspective, it takes vision-based communication for CIOs to both convince and deliver the alternative view of IT, being a profit enabler and value enhancer.  The essential to the future of CIOs should have the capabilities to deliver the vision for their business, industry, and even bigger ecosystem. and to take the organization to the next level of the business growth cycle.

How about: Traditional IT organizations sometimes practice a command & control role with a bit arrogant attitude, thus, the business partners perceive IT as the change laggard and less innovative. Often times the business crowd wrongly equate IT solutions with concerns of expensive technical difficulties and the IT crowd builds more out of its own know-how than the need of the business customers. Until each and both parties transcend to a genuine hope and belief in one another, ‘he said, she said,” argument is still on. To reinvent its reputation, IT needs to become the equal and trustful partner of the business and provide “How About” advice based on “know-how” attitude regarding the business. Information is the lifeblood of an enterprise to capture the business foresight and customer insight. Therefore, the CIO is at a unique position to convey the invaluable perspective to board or business partners, not about bits and bytes of IT, but about the full picture of business and strategy of an organization, and make innovative“How about” suggestions based on in-depth knowledge, business acumen and insightful leadership/communication skills. In fact, today's high-effective CIOs are running their own operations as if they are a business in their own right, balancing costs, scarce resources, explore innovative solutions, and maximize the return on the IT budget and investment.

The CIO's leadership penetration is about the depth of leadership influence as well as the breadth of enterprise knowledge upon understanding business as a whole. The goals of asking those open questions are to encourage thinking differently, provoke free discussions and attract the variety of answers for solving complex business problems. So, an innovative CIO can lead boldly and manage effectively to create the business advantage.


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