5 ways the CIO can drive business innovation

Published on August 6, 2018

The new chief information officer’s job description is transformative.

An organisation’s approach to technology, or a failure to embrace and exploit it innovatively, has very real competitive consequences. The disruptive force of digital is largely responsible for the demise of more than 50 per cent of the businesses featuring in the Fortune 500 from the year 2000. This has had a massive impact on the business role of IT and more specifically, the role of the CIO.

Creating platforms that support continuous innovation while maintaining current operational systems and protecting existing revenue streams is never easy. It requires vision, human and capital resources, partners and process.

As Unilever CIO Jane Moran says, “In a big organisation such as Unilever, the challenge for a CIO is to find the right balance between building the new technology required to support the evolving needs of the business, whilst at the same time managing legacy systems that still perform a valuable function.”

Getting this balance right is specific to every organisation but a few universal factors underpin innovation success:

A relentless focus on the customer experience

Trainline CTO Mark Holt blends predictive analytics and crowdsourcing to model seat availability (26,000 people enter data every day) and has also created a rail price movement predictor, a journey predictor and a UK rail journey planner.  This has taken predictive analytics out of tech into marketing, finance and HR and from there into the hands of customers.

Understanding the tools and processes your colleagues need

Juan Perez, Chief Information & Engineering Officer at UPS, told the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Florida that executives and other staff in the logistics giant work shifts as drivers to understand the process.

“If you want to innovate, it’s important to be close to what you do,” Perez says.

Whether it is the agile delivery of new tools, products and services, or simply getting the right devices quickly into the hands of the right people at right time, detailed knowledge of business requirements is essential.

Sharing your technology vision with the business

David Henderson, Director of Technology and Operations at media and broadcasting company Global says, “We use technology evangelists to educate non-tech colleagues on the ‘art of the possible’ and a culture that challenges the team to dare to try what has never been tried before. The result is a tech-savvy business and a well-respected technology team, integral to (our) growth.”

“Moving to the cloud’ is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Adam Evans, Rackspace’s Director of Professional Services in EMEA.

“Deploying individual applications or workloads onto AWS, Azure or Google is one thing but working effectively as an agile business in the cloud is a strategic, company-wide undertaking that takes time. It’s as much about creating a new organisational mindset and reshaping operational practices as it is about technology.

“To bridge the gap between expectation and reality – and build a foundation for ongoing success – businesses need to start with open eyes: an honest end-to-end assessment of their digital maturity, including any skills gaps, data management and compliance issues, cultural idiosyncrasies and communications strategies.”

Ensure complete cross-functional engagement

Supporting continuous innovation starts with a detailed understanding of the requirements, processes, priorities and aspirations of the whole organisation and its individual business units. CIOs might understand the power of emerging technologies, but they must also share a technology vision that the whole organisation, from the boardroom to the shop floor, can buy in to.

If the CIO gets this right they can connect people and be a catalyst; bring people together and share best practices, share lessons learned and accelerate the digital transformation of the organisation. It is a challenge, but the rewards for success are enormous.

Written in association with Rackspace, published by CIO. 

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