CIOs, Take the Lead on Innovation

Susan Hall

A couple of months ago, my colleague Ann All wrote about what she calls the uber-myth: that innovation spontaneously happens. The problem isn't generating ideas, but carrying them out. She wrote about some advice on how to tackle the "execution issue."


I wrote about the view of Susan Cramm, founder and president of IT coaching firm Valuedance, that IT can drive innovation in a supporting role. But in a lengthy piece, PricewaterhouseCoopers says CIOs have a unique opportunity here by taking the lead:

The CIO's knowledge of the entire business at a process level and his or her methodical approach to systems and process design create a unique ability to help move innovation away from being an ad hoc, hit-or-miss activity. And the CIO has the technology knowledge and the enabling platforms to give the innovation process the same advantages that technology brings to any enterprise process: consistency, efficiency, speed, deeper insight, and more predictable execution.
As businesses look increasingly to revenue growth and ask the CIO to be more strategic, the CIO has the potential to do more than identify and add supporting technology for various initiatives. He or she can help design the end-to-end innovation process that leads to a better business in the first place, and then enable it as well.


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I've written about the more strategic role of the CIO, which offshore IT and software development company HCL has called "the reincarnate CIO." When I interviewed Krishnan Chatterjee, HCL's chief marketing officer, in January, he used the example of a home furnishings company in which IT had created a new line of business with an iPad app that allows customers to see how different furniture would look in their own rooms.


That PricewaterhouseCoopers article lays out how to go about structuring the innovation process.


Meanwhile, Andy Mulholland, in the CTO blog at Capgemini, sees real problems with the provide-technology-and-get-out-of-the-way role for IT. He writes:

Most organizations are looking at a very dangerous situation where even if they turn a blind eye to edge-based activities by business managers around opportunities that don't need to be integrated to, or delivered from, core enterprise IT, there are still two obvious big issues that will inevitably end up damaging the enterprise.
  • The first is that a successful move won't be recognized and rapidly implemented in other areas or that unsuccessful ideas will be repeated, wasting time and money.
  • The second deals with the need for integration with, and visibility of, processes to understand exactly how the enterprise functions and delivers on its policies. If the CIO doesn't know who's doing what and its impact, how, for example, can the company ensure it's meeting its compliance obligations?


Though he acknowledges this enters the realm of the CFO - and we continue to see instances of the CFO taking over IT - Mulholland nevertheless see this as the job of the CIO to step up and clarify who owns and uses data and to ensure core policies and integrations are maintained. In answer to this, Capgemini has come up with what it calls "innovation by a managed set of services."


In this story, based on a survey by Gartner and the Financial Executives Research Foundation, we shouldn't be surprised to find backing for more CFO involvement in IT.


But the PricewaterhouseCoopers article puts innovation squarely in the CIO's court. It says:

No other enterprise unit typically has the expertise to help digitize and rationalize business processes across functional boundaries and the competencies to source and deploy the technologies that need to be brought together to weave the siloed processes into an effective whole. If the CIO organization has a reputation for creating step-change improvements in the execution of key business processes, that's all the better.

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