Innovation, the New “I” in CIO

IT is becoming increasingly integral to businesses of all sectors and so, has become a more competitive arm of organizations as a result. Accordingly, there is a lot more onus on CIOs and IT leaders to offer new innovative ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

In fact, the level of competition actually calls for innovation from everybody within the IT team (to learn how you can encourage that, check out this post on Gamification), and the CIOs who both understand and act on this are more likely to be successful, and maintain that success going forward.

Simply improving current processes and increasing efficiency isn’t enough to keep up now, let alone get ahead. Surveys indicate that the world’s leading companies have already caught on to this, with 46% of Elite 100 companies prioritizing the introduction of new IT-led products or services.

Despite the example set by the world’s leading companies, overall, there is a very different story in play. Only 7% of CEOs view IT as a source of innovation and more than 42% of CIOs do not have a budget for innovations.

The problem could be rooted in ignorance, or perhaps more fairly, naivety. However, there are existing examples of CIOs unwilling to take on the burden of innovation, as the pressure to innovate could be overwhelming.

Yet there is a case to be made that IT departments are actually best placed to carry out innovation. In utilizing enterprise architecture (EA), an IT team can provide the business as a whole with a clear direction, realistic expectations and to put it simply, a better chance of success.

Chief Information Officer (of Innovation)

With a unique view of the business requirements on one hand, and available technology solutions on the other hand, the CIO is well positioned to create something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts in the spirit of innovation.

Most CIOs have a good sense of the roadmap, including the historical context (where they’ve been), their current priorities and challenges, and an idea of where they are heading. But they are not necessary skilled in enterprise architecture. A close relationship between the CIO and enterprise architecture provides visibility of the impact of new innovations on the current and future-state organization.

In this case, a CIO’s job role transcends that of “information,” and becomes something wholly more useful to the business as the Chief Innovation Officer, or Chief of Information & Innovation Officer (CIIO). The EA team the CIIO will work with are used to the problems change can cause. In fact, one of the core duties of those teams is to plan for such disruptions to nullify their impact.

Steve Jobs, a modern leader in innovation made a huge impact on the tech space and wider world before his passing. Another renowned innovator, Richard Branson boasts a more spread catalog of successful innovations, having found fortune in media, mobile and travel to name a few. These two innovators are often mentioned in tandem. As examples of what they have done for their industries and the world as a whole.

However, in this context, what these two pioneers have in common is ‘dots’. Or rather, records of them speaking about connecting them (the dots).

Both Jobs and Branson spoke of connecting dots to reveal a roadmap of the future. Think of it as a horoscope-esque approach to business, where dots are linked like stars, to reveal the best steps to take in the future (albeit with more fact and deep analysis, and less un-scientific musings from bloggers and columnists).

We can establish that the aforementioned ‘dots’ are disorganized clusters of the businesses needs, and current technologies. Making sense of the cluster and uniting the dots in original and often ingenious patterns, is the basis of innovation.

The role of enterprise architecture amongst this, is to an extent, sieve-like. The visibility of current assets that EA provides, makes it easier to determine which dots should be focused on.

The EA backed business model then, is essential to focusing innovation, acting as a pipeline to neaten the process. Doesn’t this way make sense? Especially considering the earlier notion, of just how ingrained IT is to modern business. If IT plays a key role in the business, shouldn’t a CIO be a key contributor to business discussions about new ideas? The discussions themselves are probably organized and carried out via IT systems after all…

In fact, IT is so ingrained in business now, that sourcing new ideas (as a basis for innovation) from avenues external to IT no longer makes sense. Chances are, your customers have internet access, and the systems are definitely accessible by your employees and partners.

One unified, collaborative, web-based system in which new ideas and suggestions can be submitted, with the CIIO (Information & Innovation) placed to oversee it, just makes sense.

In a publication from professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, they outlined what the role of the CIIO (CIO with innovation responsibilities) could entail.

They state “CIOs should take the following steps to proactively prepare their organizations”:

  • Create and own an innovation management plan that leverages technology to drive new sources of competitive advantage with IT at the helm. It won’t happen without IT taking the lead.

  • Engage the C-suite in discussions about innovation management and technology’s power to reach the Long Tail. Change the conversation from IT cost to IT-enabled business value creation.

  • Pilot an idea management application to channel suggestions for improving your business. Ideation is the lifeblood of innovation management; the volume of feedback and the quality of input might surprise you.

Innovation is the absolute life-blood of business. As the world moves towards the looming Internet of Things future, businesses are going to have to have these systems in place to cope.

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