Richard Tworek
Richard Tworek has a proven track record of innovating, leading, and bringing to market highly successful communications and software products...
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Richard Tworek | March 02, 2015 |


Is Innovation the CIO's 'Old Horse'?

Is Innovation the CIO's 'Old Horse'? IT can rid its image of being slow and outdated using this six-step lightweight framework for innovation and quick hit results.

IT can rid its image of being slow and outdated using this six-step lightweight framework for innovation and quick hit results.

Innovation is the old horse lines of business trot out to blame the CIO for not staying relevant and strategic and to justify going out and doing their own thing, be that in implementing communications infrastructure or engaging with various SaaS providers. But IT has good reason for wanting formal processes, not the least of which are security, quality of service, and cost effectiveness. Somehow IT needs to find a way to be an innovator and a gatekeeper, providing rapid strategic value while mitigating risk and reducing basic service costs.

Unfortunately, many CIOs are failing in these efforts, as reported last week in Wall Street Journal's CIO Journal blog. News editor Tom Loftus wrote:

    According to a recent survey from McKinsey & Co., many CIOs are blowing it.

    "The business is focused on one part, and overwhelmingly, IT is focused on another part," Naufal Khan, managing partner in McKinsey's Chicago office and an author of the report, tells CIO Journal. For all the talk of alignment between business and IT, the survey finds doubt over the ability of CIOs to shift from running IT as a services organization to driving business growth. One telling statistic: only 35% of executives said that IT facilitates their company's entry into new markets, down from 57% in 2012.

Insight gleaned from CEB's 2014 IT Budget Benchmarking Survey of 900 CIOs supports this data. As mentioned in a CEB blog, the survey found:

    IT spending outside of corporate IT will continue: Finance, HR, Marketing, and Operations are the functions that allocate the largest percentage of their budget to technology business leaders increasingly experimenting and own technology projects to meet their objectives.

We see an increased demand not only for responsive enterprise applications through advances in consumer technology, but also for mobile apps and mobile apps that behave like consumer apps... intuitive, easy to navigate, and just work. In response, CEB found that respondents allocated 17% of the IT project budget to customer interface investments (up from 15% last year) and the role of user-experience designer will become mainstream by the end of 2015.

Following WSJ's recent 2015 CIO Network conference, panelists came out with these recommendations for CIOs:

    • Be a change agent
    • Focus on value differentiation -- value vs. cost
    • Turn risk into opportunity
    • Create a business-centric vision

I think what we really need to ask is the best way to involve IT as a strategic partner with business units, leveraging existing and new assets to foster and drive innovation. Many times the thought is to embrace Agile development processes. The challenge with Agile, however, is that it takes a while for training, finding the right project, stumble upon implementation and, ultimately, it ends up a modified Agile approach.

What I've learned over the years is that the process doesn't have to be cumbersome and all-encompassing to lead to innovation and business relevance. I believe there is a much simpler and faster way to introduce innovation as a business/IT partnership and not distract IT from day-to-day operational needs. The approach provides quick hit results -- return on investment (ROI) in less than 180 days -- while the CIO and the IT team tackle business unit issues by introducing problem-solving techniques and innovation.

For this approach or any other problem-solving or innovation techniques to work, the IT organization must establish relevance by having an effective and well-run infrastructure. Without this, the CIO will never become a trusted partner in the innovation process.

My approach to innovation and quick hit results comprises a six-step lightweight framework complete with feedback loops for process improvement and to provide learning opportunities for IT staff.

Step 1: Criteria/Lens Development
As the first step, create a steering group by partnering with a business unit to determine what areas could use innovative technical thinking to drive business impact. Many times the need is straightforward, the problem is easily solvable -- with a simple app or a website update, for example -- and the outcome is dramatic ROI.


During this stage, it is critical that the process of setting criteria and focus areas doesn't break down to a simple list of new reports or system performance complaints. To ward this off, the group must engage in a brainstorming session with business unit leaders (not too many) on areas that could use improvement. This session establishes success criteria and the lens that provides the focus areas for IT/business unit teams to gather and synthesize information.

Ideally each team should be no larger than two to three people. The steering group gets feedback from the field on a regular basis and provides direction for additional focus.

The goal here is not to suggest massive enterprise-wide monolithic solutions, but to discover areas where productivity gains can be had with a little help. The purpose of the steering committee is also to judge which project or projects should move forward based on the "Focus" results from Step 3, below.

Click to the next page for steps 2 through 6


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