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The CIO as Innovator

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CIO as innovatorIn previous posts I examined how CIOs are expected to play more of a leadership role in the business, especially with regards to data and analytics. In this post, I explore how CIOs can make a bigger impact on the organisation, by embracing, furthering and implementing innovation.

I came across an article on the Informatica blog that gave a really great quote on the importance of innovation – stating that according to Geoffrey Moore; “without innovation, offerings become more and more like each other. They commoditise”. This rings very true in the modern organisation operating in the contemporary marketplace. If we don’t innovate, our products and service quickly become very similar to our competitors’, which mean we compete mostly on price differentiation. That is a pretty weak value proposition.

From the above statement, we can concur that without innovation, organisations may get stuck in their ‘own ways’, stagnate and never move forward. I will bet some of you may even have experienced this, even to great levels of frustration. The problem this causes as a result, is that the organisation may often find itself lagging behind its competitors, especially in the faster moving and more innovative industries.

So to reiterate from previous posts, while a “modern” CIO can bring leadership, value and insight into the organisation, a more recent challenge is to bring a new level of innovation into the business strategy too, and to turn it into a positive impact.

But so, how can a CIO bring innovation into the organisation, and even more, channel it to become a positive impact? Well the article referenced above gives some great tips, which I elaborate on here:

  1. Get closer to your business partners – In many organisations the IT department have become disconnected or disjointed from the rest of the business. The CIO, however, should make sure that all aspects of the business are connected and that all teams have an idea of what each department is doing for the business. By knowing the relative contribution of each business function, and what information they require not only to manage, but also innovate, the CIO can steer the information delivery components of his function to innovatively create and provide such information – potentially even at new speeds and at new insightful levels of detail.
  2. Develop internal design partners – CIOs should look to engage with a set of design partners who can guarantee that he “builds” the right products for the organisation – especially from an informational point of view. You often do not have to employ additional personnel to get this right, but rather engage and channel the energies of a small set of creatine and innovative people already in the organisation. If you ask around, you’ll quickly identify some business analysts and business users that have great ideas how the informational aspects of the organisation can be revamped, e.g. in areas like data sourcing, dashboard design, the use of analytical insights, and so forth.
  3. Enable the related individuals to innovate – The CIO must ensure that the entire team encourages and motivates one another to push through and facilitate a competitive advantage. Additionally, the CIO must ensure that the rest of the business does not forget about the IT department, as often the stress of keeping the (systems) lights on fall entirely on the IT department, and when that happens they do not really feature in any innovation discussions. As a CIO you should manage your team structures so that you have separate innovation, general development, data warehousing / BI / analytics, as well application/systems maintenance teams.
  4. Architect for Innovation – As we know, change presents itself to business all the time and with that the businesses needs to change too. This requires an architecture built for agility that will assist a company with change in a smooth and manageable way. However, this ability to adapt to change must be architected and designed into the organisation’s IT solutions and systems – for example in the form of SOA architectures, agile implementation approaches, rapid and flexible release cycles, and so forth. CIOs should undertake brainstorm sessions with the entire team to discuss their thoughts on where they think the business needs the most attention, or to determine where IT can play a bigger role in the innovation process. Some organisations create so-called sandbox environments where data and advanced analysts are encouraged to discover new patterns in data and experiment with different prediction and other analytical models.
  5. Look for unsettling innovations – I know this point may sound confusing, but I believe that if organisations get closer to their customers, they will be able to spot any sudden disorderly innovations in the business. IT has to enable such solutions, or at least keep up with system development to support such innovations. As such, CIOs should set aside a portion of their IT budget to make sure that they maximise innovation and cope with systems change and innovation in the best way that they can within their organisation.
  6. Make use of analytics – This point is very important to me, as it supports my own assertion that businesses should look at business and advanced analytics for areas where the IT department, and especially the data warehousing / BI / analytics team could offer their assistance to enable and support innovation in many areas of the business. Once innovation is initiated, BI and analytics can help to ensure the smooth monitoring and on-going improvement of these processes. See my post on the CIO as the uber-data scientist for more details.

It is essential for a CIO to encourage and to manage his or her team to be more innovative – firstly within the IT capability, but also in supporting innovation in the business. That way the organisation can set themselves apart from their competitors and by using information more innovatively they can also measure and manage themselves to stay ahead of the game. At the top end of the analytics spectrum, data scientists can use information to innovate new business strategies.

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