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CIOs are promoting innovation through disruptive technology

How would your CEO react if you expressed interest in promoting innovation in your company? If the answer is “interested but passively ambivalent,” you're not alone. Unfortunately, this is very common in corporate America. The biggest victim is your company’s opportunity cost. Leading companies today are competing -- and winning -- by promoting

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disruptive innovation. Your company can quickly be left behind with a few fatal strategic decisions, such as ignoring the CIO when it comes to innovation strategy.

John Weathington

What’s the best way to get your point across? It starts with your relationship with the rest of the executive suite, especially the CEO, COO, etc. I frame IT partnership on two axes: How the CIO values himself, and how the other core C-Level decision makers -- starting with the CEO -- value the CIO.

The most common situation I see in corporate America is the “delusional” company, in which the CIO strongly believes he has a lot to contribute to the corporate strategy, but the other C-levels perceive the CIO as a service provider or an enabler -- not critical to the strategic process. Is this your case? If so, to get to a place where there’s a mutual respect and true collaboration, leverage innovation for your rite of passage.

Take the innovation initiative

Promoting innovation properly requires you to first look at it from the CEO’s perspective. As a midmarket company, you probably have one or two flagship products or services that support the company, and you’re looking to grow. Innovation is necessary, but not at the expense of the breadwinners. Your CEO is pondering how to allocate resources between the core business and innovative pursuits. He will probably enlist the collective brainpower of his top executives to make these decisions. Try to position yourself in this circle. For instance, The Proctor & Gamble Co. uses its CEO, CFO and chief technology officer to govern its strategy and innovation process.

It’s not a far stretch to consider the CIO in this equation, especially in a midmarket company. Your argument for entry should point out that these are difficult decisions to make, and without having the right information, organized and analyzed properly, the company could be making fatal choices.

Another approach is to volunteer as an innovation leader, especially if your company is promoting innovation with a more collaborative approach. Pursue information products and services (e.g., analytics) for a competitive edge.

Promote innovation through disruptive technology

As CIO, you’ll want to key in on disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation attempts to lower the barrier of entry for markets that cannot reasonably use your products now, by simplifying them and giving easier access. For instance, the cellular phone had better communication technology, lower costs, and simple and convenient devices and provided the disruptive innovation to empower the age of mobility. Consider how you can leverage the company’s information to build an innovative product or service that can be delivered to a market you currently do not serve.

Finally, make sure to deliver on your promise quickly. The key to adopting any innovation is getting it into the hands of your customer as quickly as possible -- even if it’s not perfect. Then you receive critical feedback and quickly respond and adjust if necessary. This is a distinct advantage over your traditional product development counterparts, as information products are generally swift to develop and deploy and can easily adjust to customer needs. Develop your organization to support innovation through dedicated resources that can deliver solutions with agility.

Partnering with the executive suite through innovation is both a viable career strategy and a responsible decision for your company. You can position yourself as part of the innovation brain trust, either by helping to govern and support the innovative business units or by promoting innovation in your own business unit. Once you land the responsibility, put serious thought into developing your organization to produce results through agile and customer-driven methods.

Start today! Brainstorm an innovative information product that might take your company to the next level and suggest it to your CEO. You can do nothing but help your career as well as your company.

John Weathington is president and CEO of Excellent Management Systems Inc., a San Francisco-based management consultancy. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in September 2011

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