There has been a lot of talk about the innovation agenda for Australia. So much so that you’d think innovation is something new. But it’s not. Only now with the cloud, mobility and the threat of digital disruption, has the role of technology in innovation become increasingly important. Plus there’s a mandate for the CIO to drive it.
The role of IT has changed from providing technology solutions to now driving business outcomes and strategy through the use of technology. Business leaders are looking to understand where IT can lead the organisation, and it’s up to the CIO to harness it all and drive that change. A recent article in CIO Magazine even suggests IT be rebranded ‘innovation technology’ to reflect this transformation.
Defining innovation under the CIO
CIOs shouldn’t get caught up in the hype surrounding innovation – assuming the role of innovator is just part of the latest paradigm shift in an ever-changing field. A recent article in Fierce CIO states, “If you think about what IT folks are traditionally trained in, we’re pretty awesome at process, we’re pretty awesome at execution, we’ve learned to keep the lights on, we’ve learned to keep costs down. Now the game is really, ‘how do I keep the costs down and increase user satisfaction?’ The only way to do that is through innovation.”
And, as a CIO ‘jury’ in a recent ZDNet article discussed, innovation comes in many forms – it all depends on the organisation and the particular challenges that organisation is facing. Where one company may need to innovate on sourcing talent to meet business objectives, another may be under intense cost pressure.
A non-innovative CIO would respond to this by cutting costs at the expense of cutting value, while an innovative CIO would figure out how to cut costs and add value at the same time. As one CIO said, “One can innovate in managing staff, communication and relationship development within the organisation, and even keeping the lights on. These can all be accomplished with new and more effective means and ends”.
In fact, small innovation applied to everyday tasks may be the next new thing. A high profile example of such routine innovation is Toyota, which implemented a process known as ‘Kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous improvement’. Kaizen forgoes large-scale pre-planning and extensive projects in favour of making small changes that improve productivity using machines and computing power.
Without the revolutionary breakthrough-style innovations that are standard today, Toyota has managed to become one of the auto industry’s most profitable companies. The difference is that Toyota’s innovations have focused on process rather than on product, and on the factory floor rather than on the showroom. While the innovations are harder to see, they are just as impactful.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs also practised ‘ordinary innovation’. Many of Jobs’ most profound innovations, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, were based on existing technologies available to everyone, which he linked together with exquisite designs and sophisticated marketing. Through reinvention, he was able to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
As the resident IT experts, there’s an opportunity for CIOs to lead technology-driven innovation in their organisations. But it’s important for CIOs to understand that not all innovations have to be revolutionary. There are countless sources of innovation all around you – it’s just a matter of thinking inventively and being open to new ways of doing things to drive efficiencies in the business.