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May the creative force be with IT teams in 2016

Out with the old, in with the new. Many of us will be thinking about what we will do differently in 2016. Will we tackle our jobs anew? Can we be creative?

At the Society for Information Management’s recent SIM Boston Technology Leadership Summit, three veteran CIOs were asked to talk about IT innovation — not about the buzzword but about the nuts and bolts of doing new things in IT.

The panelists’ charge from moderator Mark Staples, CIO at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, was to dig into their own experiences for the structures, practices, and leadership tactics they’ve used over the years to keep innovation alive and to help their IT teams be creative.

In their own words, here are some of the tips from the three panelists.

Brian Shield is vice president of IT, for the Boston Red Sox and before that the CIO at The Weather Channel. Ray Pawlicki, recently retired, is the former CIO at Novartis and Biogen. Steve Morin is CIO at Demandware, an e-commerce software platform vendor in Burlington, Mass. The quotes have been edited for clarity.

Innovation mind-set: Committed vs. compliant

We used to make a distinction about working in a compliant fashion and working in a committed fashion. If you are committed about something, you talk from the heart; when you are compliant about your job, you are going through the motions a little bit.

When you are working on something that you’re committed to, that is when innovation happens. You have that intellectual curiosity that pulls things through.

In my career, I spent a lot of time on trying to help make that distinction between commitment and compliance and to encourage people to work in a committed fashion. If they were not in a place where they could commit, then they needed to do raise their hand and go to their boss and say, ‘Hey, I need to do something else.’ And that is OK.  — Ray Pawlicki

Innovation structures: ‘Unconferences’ and an internal VC fund

There is an interesting balance and dichotomy between unstructured innovation and the need for structure. You want to use both. Here’s how we do it: Innovation is in our goals and a core competency for everyone. Then at the leadership level, three or four times a year, we have unconferences: The top 60 people in the company, business and IT, unstructured. The CEO might frame it up by describing some challenges facing the company, and we have an open session. Some good ideas have come from that.

 Then you also need a structured process. We have just gone through budgeting for 2016, and I am being asked to put numbers to a vehicle for innovation. We’re basically putting an internal venture capital fund — that is what we are calling it — into the budget, so if something requires some outside expertise, some technology investment, the seed money is there to fund it. — Steve Morin

 Bi-modal IT to ensure innovative and reliable IT

What is emerging now, as opposed to five or 10 years ago, is actually structuring the IT organization where you have somebody running the operations and then a separate group — whether it is a chief digital officer or head of innovation — but somebody who is taking accountability for what a pilot is, for defining how long a pilot lasts, and determining the funding for it. You have a person driving that and who has the correct title.

One of the organizations I work with as a CIO and a deputy CIO. The deputy CIO runs most of the operations and reports to the CIO. That seems to be emerging model because technology has become so core to the business.  — Ray Pawlicki

 Crowdsourcing innovation

No matter how successful you have been at your company and no matter how good your reputation is for delivering solutions, external input is always going to be valuable.

Every year [at the Weather Channel] we had a conversation — internally and externally — asking: How would you compete with our company? What would you do right now, if you started a new company to compete with our company? What would you do differently? It is sort of a fascinating exercise. All the things we are talking about — mad-scientist ideas — are frivolous unless you are aware of the business metrics and drivers around you and can align your solutions to those metrics. — Brian Shield