I read an interesting article about the role of the IT organization in enterprise innovation, written by a former colleague of mine, Charles Babcock. The story, "IT Must Play a Central Role in Enterprise Innovation," spoke to many of the key challenges that both CIOs and their IT teams face in their efforts to help drive (not just support) innovation within their companies.
The story, which was based on reactions to the issue from a panel of CIOs and other industry experts at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas this week, included a quote from Nationwide Financial Services CIO Emeritus Bruce Barnes which to me captured the essence of the biggest challenge facing the potential innovative-ness of CIOs themselves: time and bandwidth.
"We become pretty heavily overwhelmed at times. We need a 48-hour day and it's not gonna happen. We're so focused on the here and now, we can't get a focus on what's next. We ought to be the John F. Kennedy looking down the road to see where we're going," says Barnes.
What I take away from Barnes' comments is that CIOs have too much on their plates, including overseeing day to day operations, making sure fires are put out, projects are hitting their deadlines and are addressing business requirements, monitoring various aspects of the IT budget, dealing with personnel issues, all while keeping up with the steady pace of C-level meetings. They simply don't have the capacity to be able to deliberate about areas of the business where innovation can be applied.
Short of bending the rules of physics and creating a longer day for themselves (not recommended), there are a few ways for CIOs to free themselves up for more contemplation.
- 1. Carve out quiet time. Some CIOs I know intentionally arrive at the workplace early - well before most staffers arrive - in order to create some quiet time for themselves. As these CIOs have shared with me, once the regular workday gets underway, too many issues and meetings arise for them to have to deal with to devote any appreciable time to deep thinking.
- 2. Delegate. Other CIOs I know have taken a hard look at themselves and their responsibilities and have intentionally delegated different activities to others. For instance, some CIOs I know have IT directors in place who are effectively their COOs - people whose job it is to make sure that fires are being extinguished, downed servers have been restored, etc. These COOs of IT make it possible for CIOs to spend more time focusing on the big picture.
- 3. Create mini R&D labs. A few CIOs I know have set up mini R&D shops within their IT organizations on a shoestring budget where a handful of cherry-picked IT staffers devote a portion of their time testing out new technologies and developing new applications (i.e. iPhone apps) that can potentially be piloted by different business units. One of the benefits for CIOs who keep a hand in these efforts is that it helps keep them close to the cutting edge of consumer technologies and identify business opportunities where they can be applied.
These are just a few ways for CIOs to break away from their daily routines and step out on the innovation front. It's important for CIOs to find ways to drive innovation within their organizations. CIOs have a unique horizontal view of the company that few if any other people do. As such, there's a lot that CIOs can contribute in this regard.
What are some other ways that CIOs can help drive enterprise innovation?