The path to becoming a chief innovation officer
April 22 2015 11:25 PM

By Jyoti Lalchandani/Dubai

As the role of the CIO has been re-evaluated in recent years, many notions of what the CIO’s role should evolve into have been presented. One popular train of thought is that the “I” in CIO should stand for “innovation” rather than “information”.
Indeed, a recent study of global CIOs conducted by International Data Corp (IDC) found that 69% of them expect their role to evolve to that of chief innovation officer by 2017, but with only 27% of them currently perceiving themselves in such a light, how is this journey going to happen?
Turning this aspiration into reality will require a concerted effort on the part of the CIO, particularly given the current state of IT innovation in most organisations. Those CIOs who have made attempts at leading the charge in innovation are facing their fair share of failures, with 24% of their IT innovation projects not meeting the required success criteria.
Perhaps more pertinent to the discussion is the fact that 58% of IT departments still develop and manage innovative ideas in an ad-hoc or opportunistic way, and this is an approach that will certainly have to change.
One of the core issues CIOs must sort out is defining the role they play in the innovation process of their enterprise. Once that role has been established, CIOs must begin the tough road of establishing anIT innovation process, changing the IT culture, and effectively plugging into the organisation’s existing processes, cadence, and approach to innovation.
The 3rd Platform of computing, where cloud, social, mobile, and big data/analytics come together, can certainly help in this regard, as it presents significant opportunities for driving business innovation.
As organisations mash up social, mobile, and analytics, they will be able to create new industry-specific solutions to better serve their customers and to run their operations more efficiently.
Examples of these 3rd Platform solutions include remote patient monitoring, smart buildings, smart meters, intelligent transportation systems, fleet optimisation systems, in-store retail offers, food traceability, maintenance, and field services.
And as businesses increasingly operate on the 3rd Platform, they will be able to innovate around how they engage with customers, the speed at which they deliver products and services, the reliability of their operations, and their resiliency to market changes.
So there is certainly the potential for CIOs to integrate themselves and their departments into the overall innovation process of the organisation, but they must first fine tune their own processes to make this transformation as smooth as possible.
Where most IT departments need to evolve is to have named IT personnel associated with innovation, a well-defined process for developing ideas, and a portfolio of IT innovation services they can provide to the enterprise.
Driving IT innovation requires action on multiple fronts. Some approaches are more concrete than others, such as allocating budgets for innovation, setting up innovation centres, and freeing up resources in the IT departments to focus on innovation over operations. One of the most difficult actions, however, is the creation of an innovation culture within IT.
This culture needs to start at the top, with the CIO. But innovation must be prevalent throughout the entire IT department for it to be effective. Globally, half of the CIOs interviewed by IDC instill in their teams the idea that innovation is part of everybody’s job, and this is certainly preferable to simply tasking a restricted group of IT employees with innovation.
Simply put, those stuck on the outside looking in will never view innovation as a core part of their job, making the task of infusing innovation into the very fabric of the entire department much more difficult.
Given all this, my advice for the medium term is for CIOs to name lead IT personnel associated with the innovation initiative, but ensure all members of the department are involved. There should also be an aligning of IT resources with business resources around innovation, while the ad-hoc approach currently employed by so many organisations must be consigned to history. That means implementing a process for developing ideas and drawing up a portfolio of IT innovation services that the IT department can provide to the enterprise.
To this end, it would be particularly beneficial for CIOs to identify a lead technology supplier to partner with on innovation, as such vendors offer some of the most state-of-the-art innovation centres for CIOs to leverage.
Longer term, I encourage the establishment of internal, department-wide innovation labs, while it is essential that the training and nurturing required to cultivate a true innovation culture within IT remains in perpetual motion.
If the culture exists, the results will surely follow; something CIOs must never lose sight of in the quest to become chief innovation officer.

♦ Jyoti Lalchandani is group vice president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC).

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