CIOs Can Drive Innovation by Taking a Supporting Role

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IT Fireworks Fly

Enterprise IT is rife with conflicts that have the potential to set off fireworks on any day of the year.

When I interviewed Krishnan Chatterjee, chief marketing officer for offshore IT and software development company HCL back in January, he referred to CIOs as "a rather beleaguered lot." He was referring to the loss of control brought by software-as-a-service and mobile devices while also being expected to drive new growth for the business.


That's just the point, according to several articles on the CIO role I've read recently. Capgemini Global CTO Andy Mulholland points out the role was created in an effort to centralize and control the use of technology within the enterprise. But now it's all about decentralized, agile responses to business opportunities, even small ones. He goes on to explain four areas of the "what" the CIO must support: infrastructure, integration, intelligence and innovation.


In her post, "Blowing up the IT Department" at FIN, Susan Cramm, founder and president of IT coaching firm Valuedance, draws a distinction between enterprise IT and innovative IT:

... with innovative IT, business units and their teams become responsible for satisfying their day-to-day needs on their own. Instead of waiting for IT to buy a phone or computer, they purchase one from an approved vendor. Rather than wait for IT to design and develop a new report or change the work flow or business logic in an existing system, they use a tool kit provided by IT to do so.
IT shifts to more of a support role. It empowers business unit self-sufficiency by providing education, coaching, tools and rules, which allow for individuals to meet their needs in a way that protects the overall needs of the enterprise (for example, ensuring accurate and safe data, integrating business processes and promoting collaboration).

She concedes that's difficult to achieve. IT doesn't want to cede control and business leaders don't want to assume it. She advocates developing IT-savvy business leaders who are clearly held accountable for using technology to reach business goals. She says it should be written into their job descriptions and be part of the hiring process. She also says this benefits the IT department:

It is a "win" for the IT department because it will elevate IT's role, and impact on the business, by dramatically increasing the capacity for innovation.

Brady Corp. CIO Bentley Curran mentions such an IT role in this InformationWeek piece, "How the cloud changes what IT pros do." The company, which manufactures products such as specialty labels and precision die-cut materials, has a Salesforce.com specialist in Europe and one in Asia to help business units better take advantage of the software and to solve problems. That's what my colleague Ann All was talking about in her post about getting out of the back office. Says Curran:

They live and breathe in the business all day long.

Eric Knorr at InfoWorld also advocates empowering business users in his post, "How to be a modern CIO." His other advice:


  • Become a technology strategist, rather than someone who "keeps the joint running."
  • Build a service catalog. Embrace commoditization when you can. Ann has written about how a service catalog can help illustrate IT's value to the business and serve as a hedge against outsourcing.
  • Cultivate your developers. Want to jump on a new business opportunity? Create a development culture to deliver apps with all due speed.
  • Practice postmodern security. We have resources in our IT Downloads center to help with that.