Jason Hiner: IT is ingrained in every facet of the modern corporation. From marketing to receivables, there are systems in place that IT developed or currently maintains. This deep integration with business units makes the CIO one of the few corporate officers with comprehensive knowledge of the entire organization's processes and practices. Yet not all CIOs take advantage of that knowledge to identify and promote innovative strategies.
I'm Jason Hiner, and today on Sanity Savers for IT Executives, I'll explain five ways CIOs can use their unique position and knowledge to drive innovation -- and to ensure that they get a seat at the executive table.
1. Become a student of your company
To develop insights that can deliver maximum benefit to the organization, you should acquire a robust understanding of the company s markets, products, challenges, and opportunities. This will give you a base knowledge that you need to effectively relate and communicate to the rest of the executives.
You want to arm yourself with this knowledge so that you can TRULY appreciate and discuss the CEO's strategic objectives as well as anyone in the company, including the CEO himself.
This will also allow you to couch the technical details of IT projects in terms of the company s products and markets, RATHER than evoking blank stares as you explain the latest and greatest technical wizardry.
2. Talk strategy, not "solutions"
We're obsessed with "solutions" in IT, from vendors pitching products that will generate a massive ROI to enterprise systems that promise the world once you commit to a multi-year implementation. But of course, there are no magic bullets, and talk of "solutions" furthers the stereotype of the CIO as a naive techie.
Instead, combine your macro-level knowledge of the company with your detailed process knowledge to uncover hidden value. Identifying high-value data buried in corporate data warehouses that can stimulate faster decision-making with little to no investment is an example strategic thinking. Pitching the latest server equipment is not.
3. Embrace the business
It's always amusing to hear IT folks talk about "the business" as if it were some mythical demon, or the enemy of IT.
IT is a business unit like any other, and it should collaborate with the other business units to further the objectives of the company.
Now, embracing the business does NOT mean you blindly follow orders and bow to the whims of your executive counterparts. Instead, you should partner with them to help accelerate the execution of company objectives. The day that no one in your IT shop refers to "the business" or the customer when talking about their peers outside IT is the day IT can take its place as a corporate innovation engine.
4. Find your Sony Walkman
Sony revolutionized the music industry with the Walkman portable music player by developing a product nobody knew they needed. By looking at how people were using music, and the available technology, Sony created a revolutionary product that is the grandfather of today's digital music players such as the iPod.
Rather than merely providing what people are clamoring for from IT, step back from the daily grind and look for answers to questions no one has yet been able to articulate. Responding in a timely fashion to every request is nice, but fixing the problems no one knew they had is transformational.
5. Don't forget the maintenance crew
Building an innovative culture within IT is a noble and worthwhile effort, but success itself presents a risk. Innovators often leave a trail of destruction in their wake, leaping to the next challenge before the current task is complete and abandoning new systems or processes before they are fully established.
Fortunately, most IT shops are well-versed in a culture of providing care and feeding to newly established systems. Make sure you extend these practices to new processes and that your maintainers are not forgotten amidst the sound and fury of the innovators.
With a focus on innovation based on a comprehensive knowledge of the company and its business processes, CIOs can offer strategies that consider the greater good of the company and not the latest and greatest technology. An IT organization that succeeds in the five areas we've discussed here is truly a competitive weapon for its company -- and the CIO who presides over THAT type of IT department is an invaluable asset.
For additional thoughts on this topic, see Patrick Gray's article "Innovation: The CIO's secret weapon."
I'm Jason Hiner, and this has been an episode of Sanity Savers for IT Executives. For more, go to sanity.techrepublic.com or e-mail us at email@example.com. For those of you on Twitter, you can find me at twitter.com/jasonhiner.
Thanks for watching. See you next time.