IT leadership and the CIO

Technology has always been a great disruptive factor. Today technology is being adopted at accelerated speeds and therefore innovation needs to pick up the pace to match adoption. It is worth considering that it took more than 35 years for radio to attract 50 million listeners, but only five years for Facebook to have 600 million users. This is further amplified by the massive volumes of data being created by ubiquitous devices, smarter apps, wearables and IoT.

In my previous post we concluded that digital innovation is the way to go in order to grow our business and increase customer loyalty and retention. So how do we go about cultivating a culture of innovation and implementing these change initiatives with high degrees of organizational adoption?

To help cultivate this culture; we need the support of a network of peers because digital innovation is like ‘going west:’ we know where we want to end up but we have no idea how to get there. There will be bumps on the way but we can’t let these setbacks derail the creation of a digital innovation culture. Some of the challenges include:

  • Return on investment for digital projects is often hard to quantify up front. Traditional business cases may not be suitable to justify these digital investments. Thus, capital investment governance will need to change to adapt to the uncertainty of this Wild West, for now.
  • Experimentation should be encouraged and failures tolerated. We should encourage our staff to allocate a percentage of their time to exploring new technologies and finding use cases for them to deliver revenue growth or productivity gains
  • Make your company a digitally-savvy organization. With the consumerization of technology, it is likely that employees are already knowledgeable about emerging trends. If they are not, take the time to educate them
  • Embrace those dreaded shadow IT folks and utilize them as an extension of your IT workforce and you’ll benefit from free resources, while keeping their activities under your radar
  • With the explosion of new applications and smart devices popping up everywhere, there is an unprecedented volume of data being created and partially consumed. This explosion is causing many traditional and predictable patterns to change. Using previous experience to make predictions will not be enough. For example using historical algorithms to forecast product demand will not yield accurate results for manufacturing planning or inventory replenishment. Leverage big data and analytics to improve planning algorithms. Depending on your industry you may be able to use data feeds from social media to improve your company’s understanding of customer behaviour and adjust demand forcasting models accordingly
  • Consider who in your company should lead innovation. The CIO may be best positioned to lead but they will need executive support from the CEO and from their peers. They will need to work collaboratively and iteratively with their business partners. This may be the right inflection point to rebrand the CIO as the Chief Innovation Officer (see my post on Digital Innovation & the Changing Role of the CIO)
  • Seek out innovative ideas by engaging employees and rewarding them for their ideas. Consider crowdsourcing to collect ideas both from internal and external stakeholders. Outsource the R in R&D to your customers}
  • Examine your structure and make sure it does not stifle innovation. Connect edge-employees (customer-facing roles) with the centre of the organization where execution takes place in order to break down organizational silos
  • Help your staff be ready: rotate them in key business functions, equip them with the right emerging technology and training, foster an environment of speed, collaboration and iterative development

Now it is your turn to participate and turn this post into a discussion piece. How is your company seeking out ideas for innovation? How are employees and customers involved? Who leads the innovation initiatives in your company? What old processes are being replaced or updated?

This is the third in a series of 4 posts covering the theme of innovation and the role of CIOs in driving it. See also Digital Innovation & the Changing Role of the CIO and Putting Boundaries Around Innovation. Next we will examine how CIOs can transform their roles to lead innovation in their companies. Stay tuned for the How Does a CIO Become a Chief Innovation Officer post.

While the thoughts and opinions expressed here are my personal opinions, I credit publications from Gartner, Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company for helping me shape them.

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