Bridging Technology and Innovation: The CIO’s Role in Driving New Growth

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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

co-authored with Rob Shelton

Savvy chief information and technology officers have always known that IT capabilities could deliver more than efficient, repeatable business practices. Many CIOs and CTOs understand that a well-designed and fully leveraged technology strategy can usher in breakthroughs and competitively disruptive capabilities.

With this in mind, CIOs can focus on an important question: How can technology become an enabler for innovation?

This is a particularly sensitive point in today’s changing business world. Easy-access to technology is toppling the barriers of entry to innovation and giving rise to a new class of players who pose a threat to established companies, according to our 6th Annual Digital IQ survey. In fact, 67 percent of nearly 1,500 business and IT executives surveyed said they were concerned that the speed of technological change is a threat to their growth prospects.

Top performers, however, take a dedicated approach to innovation, and the CIO or CTO works closely with other C-level executives to deliver greater value from innovation that drives growth. For example, top-performing companies are much more likely to report that their CIOs and chief strategy officers enjoy strong working relationships, compared to other respondents in our survey.

Bridging Technology and Innovation

CIOs help bridge IT capabilities and innovation objectives in a few ways.

  • They create spaces for innovation and allow experimentation to happen. IT systems in companies are notoriously complex, rigid and laden with firewalls and security. But innovation requires experimentation and tweaking the status quo. Savvy CIOs create IT sandboxes for the innovation team to work without compromising the integrity of the company’s IT system. These sandboxes can be internal or external systems for experimentation and piloting.
  • They generate ideas and enable innovation. Sitting on top of the stacks, servers and systems, CIOs have a unique perspective on how value is delivered to clients and the way it is monetized. Leaders don’t sit back and let others innovate.They generate ideas for innovation and join in the process of exploring the best way to make them commercial realities.
  • They increase value beyond the next planned IT rollout. Enterprising CIOs look at how existing or new technology can be leveraged to drive growth through innovation and increase customer value. They work with other senior executives to define the innovation strategy and recommend ways technology can support those objectives. Also, by building stronger relationships with the marketing officer and chief strategy officer, for instance, CIOs can help identify customer trends, use technology as a lever in improving the delivery of products and services and better execute on the business plan.
  • They foster innovation from the outside-in. Many companies set up programs and incentives internally for innovative ideas. Resourceful CIOs look outside the walls of their organizations for ideas. They encourage use of crowdfunding, maker faires and open source communities to help spawn and foster new ideas.

The CIO Balancing Act

But even as CIO roles evolve towards having a stronger innovation focus, they also must manage the more routine IT tasks involved in keeping their companies agile, efficient and flexible.

Here are some things CIOs might think about as they try bring these two worlds closer together.

  • How can we rapidly prototype and use demos to show innovative ideas rather than just telling about possible concepts?
  • How can our IT platform be better used to incubate breakthrough innovation?
  • How can my team and I use data analytics to identify hidden opportunities?
  • What IT best practices can we leverage to accelerate growth?
  • How can we align IT metrics to business outcomes and integrate IT performance metrics into innovation scorecards? CIOs are already masters at using IT capabilities to deliver organizational improvements. Couldn’t they use that same know-how to drive innovation forward, too?

This post also appeared on the PwC Growth Leaders Blog

Image shared by Kevin Dooley

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