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Digital innovation hinges on strong leadership, collaboration

The biggest challenge to digital innovation has nothing to do with technology, according to Derek Roos. Instead, it's establishing a culture that embraces -- and is celebrated for -- creative thinking and collaboration.

Roos, the CEO and co-founder of Boston-based Mendix, a cloud platform that enables IT to rapidly build applications, said the key to creating that kind of a culture boils down to the decisions made and the actions taken by the leaders at the very top of the organization.

SearchCIO's senior news writer Nicole Laskowski caught up with Roos at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium where he was a featured speaker on a digital innovation portfolio management panel, and he talked about why CIOs should think of themselves as relationship managers as well as technology leaders for their organizations. 

What are the challenges for managing digital innovation?

Derek Roos: One of the biggest challenges when it comes to digital innovation is, I think, the cultural aspects; building the applications -- that's the easy part. [The challenge] is how you change the organization to be more innovative, more creative, and how you involve people from other parts of the organization outside of IT to be part of that process. The necessary ingredient to deal with that is strong leadership. Without that, not much will happen.

When you say "strong leadership," who are you referring to?

Celebrating success is an easy but an often forgotten element of changing culture and becoming more innovative in the process.

Roos: The CEO. It has to start there. If the company is on a digital mission and a transformation journey, it has to come from the top -- maybe even the board. The CIO is a key driver of that strategy on a day-to-day basis, but it has to be carried out by the CEO.

Digital innovation isn't an IT-only project. How can CIOs go about building internal/external partnerships?

Roos: Innovation happens when you take somebody with a good idea and somebody with the technical skills and know-how to take it to the next level -- so bridging those worlds is absolutely important. What that means for CIOs is that their role is changing from all things IT to more of a consultant to the business, but also a broker of relationships. Assuming that most ideas will come from places other than the innovation team or the executive team, how do you build that bridge? The CIO is one of the leaders -- and maybe the leader -- that needs to facilitate that conversation and look for that collaboration.

Do you have any practical tips on how CIOs can build those bridges?

Roos: It comes back to internal PR and making sure people understand that ideas will be taken seriously and will be evaluated and will be taken into production -- and when that happens, those moments will be celebrated. Celebrating success is an easy but an often forgotten element of changing culture and becoming more innovative in the process.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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2016 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: The digital CIO has arrived

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