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MIT's CIO conference takes on the viability of IT innovation

What struck me at this year’s MIT CIO conference was the argument over what constitutes IT innovation and, as some speakers put it, whether IT is even capable of being innovative.

Innovation happens at the edge of an organization, with rebellious workers willing to go against the status quo, said an executive with a large IT consulting firm. That doesn’t exactly fit the modus operandi of IT, he said. Venture capital firms interested in investing in startups tend to avoid companies spending a lot on IT, he said in furthering his point, because they don’t believe IT equates to innovation.

IT does not result in innovation, said a vendor CEO on another panel, and pointed to an anecdotal number based on his dealings with corporations that “98% of organizations don’t see innovation in IT.”

I could go on with examples from other vendors (perhaps with their own agendas) explaining how IT is not innovative, though in large part through no fault of its own: Many CIOs still are mandated to cut costs. That’s not exactly a spur to innovation, although some would argue that indeed it is.

The point is that plenty of IT innovation — or maybe we should say business innovation through IT — is under way. Take, for example, the winner of this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium innovation award: Marco Orellana, CIO at Chile’s Codelco, currently the world’s largest copper mining company.

Orellana set out to make the life of his workers easier. So, he helped create Digital Codelco, a system that automated a lot of the functions the miners really didn’t want to do. The idea was to allow them to spend less time in the mines — remote controls for the mines’ trucks is one example.

The idea is that innovative CIOs are in touch not just with the CEO or the C-suite, but also with the needs and desires of everyday workers in the company.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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