Obtaining buy-in for the CIO’s innovation agenda

Connecting technology to strategy

By Dejan Slokar
Innovation is an area of focus I hear about from many of the Chief Information Officers I work with today, with a particular emphasis on technology.

And because technology is in many ways synonymous with innovation, it’s hardly surprising that CIOs say they are willing to boldly go beyond the status quo to the leading edge of innovation. There’s just one problem.

While CIOs may view themselves as swashbuckling leaders at technology’s forefront, the reality is far different. According to Deloitte’s 2014 survey of more than 900 CIOs, 73% of CIOs ranked themselves as “risk tolerant” – but 60% report they “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with innovative actions such as investing in emerging technologies or partnering with external entities. Almost half dedicated less than 10% of their budgets to innovation.  
Some outside factors limit CIOs at times, but they know betting on innovation offers little certainty. For every killer app that’s been introduced, there’s a career-killing (or at least career-hobbling) mistake that’s also been made. What is certain is that if CIOs can’t handle innovation, they probably won’t last very long in their roles.

It’s true that CIOs will continue to prioritize “keeping the lights on,” since nobody’s happy when email or websites go down – not to mention managing very real threats such as cyber-attacks. However, CIOs must also prepare for the future by anticipating the disruptive potential of emerging technologies.

Just imagine. What if, at the dawn of the digital age, the world’s postal services set out to dominate email exchange servers or online shopping superstores? Needless to say, history could have unfolded very differently.

Today’s innovation conversation has shifted. It’s now expected that CIOs implement programs to add business value and sustain innovation over the long term. Arming themselves with data will make obtaining C-suite and Board buy-in easier. A few simple steps that can smooth the way for an ambitious and, more importantly, informed CIO innovation program include:

  • Alignment – Confirm what innovation means to you and your business stakeholders, what areas of business are more suitable targets then others and what risks are you willing to take to enable innovation.
  • Level setting – Moon shots may happen but they are few and far between. Realistically assess how innovative your company is at present and what your next reasonable target looks like but be open to leap frogging
  • Visionary thinking – Don’t limit yourself to benchmarking your business against direct competitors, different geographies and other sectors. While this is essential in understanding where your business is, it disguises adopting good practices as innovation. Truly valuable innovation comes from creating market advantages beyond what others could have envisioned and realized.
  • Agile analytics – Use a small analytics program to predict and communicate where the best investment opportunities lie within the organization.

CIOs expect analytics can provide the actionable insights and innovation path leaders demand. But while innovating, they must go beyond connecting with CXOs and the board on tech issues only. Rather, focus on broad business strategy and the entire organization’s needs. Otherwise, sponsorship can waver and the innovation becomes an expensive experiment rather than a sustainable tool for generating value.

My experience in the oil patch provides a great example of using analytics to inform business decisions. Firms spend billions of dollars finding, retrieving, refining and selling oil and gas. Yet while there’s significant investment focused on data capture, comparatively little value is realized from the information generated by the hunt for all those hydrocarbons. Today’s oil and gas sector’s information collection is too often: 

  • Lacking an enterprise-wide plan
  • Not sanctioned through appropriate policies and standards
  • Trapped in organizational siloes
  • Using outdated practices

An innovation strategy informed by analytics can have transformational effects on a business and a disruptive effect on the industry. Reducing waste (i.e. resources and money), bolstering worker safety, complying with regulators and better understanding your customer represent areas where analytics can have tremendous impact and ignite innovation.

Fundamentally, an analytics strategy is about setting the stage to being more innovative with capture and use of data and information. The resulting ability to monitor and measure impacts of your innovation initiatives will help provide transparency, build momentum and accelerate realization of business value.

While you can ignite this cycle through externally-driven innovation, such an approach can really only help you start your journey. Developing truly long-term, sustainable innovation programs requires organizations to engage and employ their own human capital as well. This should include: 

  • Structured programs for strategic thinking and continuous improvement
  • Educating employees about the innovation process
  • Shared rewards and motivations for successful innovation

Download the full report for a more in-depth exploration of initiatives that could help CIOs develop a successful innovation agenda. You can also use our interactive online benchmarking tool to see how your organization stacks up against our global survey results.

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