Making Innovation an IT Imperative

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Just last week, IT Business Edge's Susan Hall wrote a post about how CIOs are a natural choice to take the lead on innovation initiatives. She cited a PriceWaterhouseCoopers article that mentioned some of the advantages enjoyed by CIOs, including a view of the entire business at a process level, a methodical approach to systems and process design, and the kind of technical know-how that can help make the innovation process more consistent and predictable.


An article on the HP-sponsored Input Output site features some similar viewpoints. Tom Koulopoulos, CEO of the strategy and innovation consultancy Delphi Group, reiterates the idea that IT is usually the only group that crosses and connects information silos and other areas of organizations. John Pipino, CIO at innovation consultancy the Doblin Group, says IT's expertise with outlines, story boards, wire frames, prototypes, proofs of concept, testing cycles and pilots can add valuable discipline to innovation projects.


But both Pipino and Koulopoulos say IT is often hampered by its reputation as a function that hinders, rather than helps, innovation efforts. Several of the experts interviewed in the article suggest that if IT wants to participate in innovation initiatives, it must first become more familiar not just with internal processes, but with how a company makes money and serves its customers.


I've written several times about the need for IT to get out of the back office, recently sharing an InformationWeek article that included what I thought was a great quote from Vail Resorts CIO Robert Urwiler. He recently worked closely with his company's CEO on creating a Web and smartphone application called EpicMix that lets resort guests see how many vertical feet they ski in a day, share details of slope time with friends on Facebook and disclose their location in real time on the mountain, among other things. Urwiler said:

We really do have to change our position from thinking of ourselves being pure internal service providers and order takers to people who are on the outside looking in like a customer and asking, "What would you want?"

For IT organizations that don't already have it, developing this kind of a reputation will take time. The article suggests that CIOs start by encouraging their IT organizations to approach projects by asking what Jatin DeSai, CEO of the management and innovation consultancy the DeSai Group, calls "the four whys":

  • Why should something be done?
  • Why now?
  • Why that way?
  • Why not this path vs. that path?


The article also recommends defining what innovation means to your organization and determining ways to measure it. Educate the IT team to ensure they know what is expected of them, and make innovation progress a part of their regular performance reviews, establishing a reward fund if the budget allows.