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Innovation remains a top priority for CIOs and now, the International Organization for Standardization, better known as ISO, is offering guidance on how to get that innovation work done.
ISO 56000 for innovation
The nonprofit organization rolled out its ISO 56000 standards, aiming to give business executives a framework for making innovation part of any enterprise. That guidance could be particularly useful for CIOs who, according to various studies, still struggle to be as innovative as they want.
"Most organizations would like to be better at innovation than they are. That means a number of things: They want more ideas and they want a pipeline of both incremental ideas and bigger ideas. They want to think more broadly and differently. Or they're working on the pace of innovation; it might be slow and they want to scale things more quickly," said Jackie Fenn, a vice president and analyst with Gartner and a fellow emeritus with the firm's CIO Research Group.
"But what we really hear is that they want a culture of innovation," she continued. "They say it can't be just people locked in a room somewhere -- rather, they want to have an environment where they value people's ideas and show they value people's creativity."
What is ISO 56000
To that end, the ISO 56000 series presents a new framework for innovation, laying out the fundamentals, structures and support that ISO leaders say is needed within an enterprise to create and sustain innovation.
More specifically, the series provides guidance for organizations to understand and respond to changing conditions, to pursue new opportunities and to apply the knowledge and creativity of people within the organization and in collaboration with external interested parties, said Alice de Casanove, chairwoman of the ISO 56000 standard series and innovation director at Airbus.
ISO, which started work on these standards in 2013, started publishing its guidelines last year. The ISO 56002 guide for Innovation management system and ISO 56003 Tools and methods for innovation partnership were published in 2019. ISO released its Innovation management -- Fundamentals and vocabulary in February 2020. Four additional parts of the series are forthcoming.
The committee developed the innovation standards so that they'd be applicable to organizations of all types and sizes, de Casanove said.
"All leaders want to move from serendipity to a structured approach to innovation management," she explained, noting that the committee similarly developed these ISO 56000 innovation standards to be applicable across functional areas, including the C-suite, the R&D teams and the IT department.
The standards are intended to help organizations establish the leadership, internal culture and support required to successfully make innovation an ongoing activity that produces results -- rather than leaving it to pockets of work or to chance inspiration.
"It's to provide guidance. It's not to create a new project. Our goal is to really help the organization take advantage of our knowledge," she added.
Unlike other ISO standards, this innovation framework currently does not have a certification process whereby organizations can demonstrate through an audit that they've implemented the framework.
With that in mind, and considering that the standards are new, experts said it's hard to determine whether organizations across the board will find success if they implement the framework.
And while ISO officials are promoting the series as a useful tool for enterprise executives seeking to boost their innovation prowess, some business leaders caution against seeing the ISO 56000 series as being a panacea for all the challenges that CIOs and their C-suite colleagues face as they try to transform their organizations.
"I would find it off to judge a company whether it's compliant on an innovation standard," said Joseph Tobolski, CTO at the digital consultancy Nerdery.
Tobolski acknowledged that the ISO 56000 innovation series could offer enterprise leaders insights into how to develop an innovation culture, but he said market-related metrics would ultimately determine whether an organization is successful at the task.
"The market will answer that question for them," he said. "Are they delighting customers in a useful way? Increasing revenue? Increasing market share? Doing something different that adds value to customers and to the ecosystem? If they're doing that, at that point who cares if they're following a standard. They're getting innovation done."
What IS0 56000 is used for
ISO leaders expect executives and their teams can use these new standards to embed innovation into their organizations, de Casanove and others said. Moreover, they said that the ISO guidance is needed because many organizations haven't yet built the innovation culture they need to keep pace with rapidly evolving market conditions.
"Where people have very much gone wrong in the past decade is thinking that innovation begins in the laboratory," said innovation specialist Peter Merrill, president of the management consulting firm Quest and a member of an ISO 56000 working group.
"Innovation in truth starts in the marketplace," he added. "And people are now seeing that innovation starts in the marketplace with an unmet need, with something people want to do that they can't do or something they want to do more easily."
Organizations need to be able to continually meet those needs, Merrill explained, or they'll be put out of business by others who do. Executives know that, he said, yet still struggle in this area.
"One of the most frequent questions I get is: 'How can I get a culture of innovation?' And I say that's the wrong question. The right question is 'How do I create a culture of creativity that will coexist with the execution culture I already have?'"
He said the ISO standards can help them do that by cultivating the ability to innovate on an ongoing basis as part of their overall operations -- and not separate from it.
"People need to become serial innovators, so they have to think about their organizations from a systems perspective," said Merrill, author of the forthcoming book ISO 56000 – Building an Innovation Management System: Bring creativity and curiosity into your QMS.