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The I in CIO stands for “innovation”



During a recent discussion on one of the LinkedIn forums, I asked members about upcoming trends and key areas of focus important to them and other CIOs. Leading the responses: innovation. This was unsurprising, as smart IT leaders always keep an eye on helping their organizations thrive and generate greater value—especially during a recession; as markets become more competitive, the need for innovation grows stronger.


How does a CIO create a culture of creativity and innovation when the rest of the business is busy keeping the lights on? How does a CIO get buy-in from business when most attempts to do so are challenged from the top? As the financial crisis looms large, how does a CIO create opportunities to get more funding to try out new concepts, ideas and innovations for business?


The next few years will be driven by corporate innovation. Companies that innovate faster and come out with newer ways of cutting costs, increasing revenues and market share, and enhancing customer experience, will stand ahead of competition. In some sectors such as telecom, we need more and faster innovations. The crisis that has arisen out of price wars and falling profits is creating fertile ground for innovation. Though the opinion among experts will always be divided as to whether innovation thrives in a crisis situation or not, in my view crisis promotes innovative culture.


My experience tells that whenever there is a revolution at the bottom, change flows from the top. In many organizations, innovative culture flows from the top and some will see it happen the other way round. It is easier and quicker if innovation flows from the top, while it requires tremendous energy and patience to make it flow from the bottom. If a CIO has decided to create a culture of innovation, he or she has to explore all options and be prepared for the long-drawn battle.


Most experts believe that the sustenance of a creative culture can happen only through effective rewards and recognition. Some experts feel that the environment itself helps contribute to creativity and innovation. So we hear of some corporate houses providing an environment that is conducive for people to be creative. In my view, rewards and recognition motivate people, and the framework of innovation contributes to it. 


CIOs may face challenge from various entities that do not align with the concept due to fear of failure, organizational politics or myriad other roadblocks. At times, organizational culture creates barriers in innovation and creativity.


CIOs have the opportunity of leveraging technology to rollout portals and platforms across the organization using tools. Usually, these platforms are built around collaboration and this has to be a part of a well-thought-out strategy to use technology to move toward a collaborative culture of creativity and innovation. These tools are also available off-the-shelf and sometimes can be hosted in the cloud. They come with excellent features of ranking the idea, allow for collaborating on thoughts to refine the ideas further, and let everyone rate or even bid for ideas. 


But the tool itself cannot work unless there is a framework in place. CIOs can take a lead in creating the framework around the tool to make ideas work. Mostly, in my experience, the front-end of creativity leading to generation of ideas works fine, however, the backend gets clogged by delays and non-availability of key resources to take ideas to execution. This is where a pull, rather than a push, approach is more effective in the form of a carrot embedded in the framework. 


Being closer to technology and business, CIOs can also think of outsourcing innovation or partnering for innovation. It could be your existing IT partner who can help in joint value creation or you can find people who are ready to partner for innovation with you for various reasons. Outsourcing can be a threat to innovation but also an opportunity, if handled properly. For organizations that do not have the core competency to innovate or do not have the time and focus to spend on innovation, outsourcing may bring wonderful results, provided it is handled properly. 


The CFO could be another challenge for the CIO, especially when the flow of money is tight. This is where a CIO needs to be more innovative in his/her thinking process. Passion alone cannot drive initiatives toward success. Leveraging partnerships or exploring the low-hanging fruits first to convert them into something valuable and generate funds for the initiatives can work wonders. This also helps in dealing with perceptions and resistance. 


In my view, as we integrate business and technology, CIOs are uniquely positioned to make breakthrough innovations for business and transform themselves as Creativity and Innovation Officers. 


Related links

Blog: How IT can benefit from strategic outsourcing

Article: Leader or laggard: How do you rate?


Currently a partner at CIO Specialist Advisory LLP, DD Mishra has more than 19 years of experience in IT. He has played key roles, including IT governance and outsourcing, program and portfolio management, consultancy, presales and delivery for various customers in the UK, India and Singapore and has experience from both the buyer side and seller side. He is a member of the Discover Performance community's IT Strategy & Performance LinkedIn group.


This blog was first posted on and is being reposted with prior permission.

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