The CIO as Chief (Disruptive) Innovation Officer

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Successful CIOs have learned to align IT with business strategy. The same holds true for innovation. Top CIOs pay close attention to how the business defines innovation and then align IT to strategy to match those definitions.

Doing so removes a lot of the hurdles that can arise when CIOs and IT teams are attempting to execute on business-critical IT projects where innovation is involved.

But there’s another role that the CIO can play in both fostering and even leading the innovation charge. This is where the CIO can serve as a disruptive innovator.

Disruptive innovation is all around us. We see it on a daily basis with consumer-led services such as Uber and Airbnb. Startups with disruptive business models have emerged in nearly all industries, including financial services (consider Smart Money Capital Management, a computer-assisted financial management company which invests in exchange-traded funds and charges clients relatively low asset-based fees).

Meanwhile, in healthcare, which continues to undergo a radical transformation, companies such as Butterfly Network have emerged that provide novel approaches to leveraging connected cloud capabilities with diagnostic and therapeutic imaging platforms.

What’s equally exciting – and terrifying – about disruptive innovation is that it’s open to all players. When we think about disruptive innovators, it’s often companies such as iTunes and Twitter. But disruptive innovation can also be driven by established companies. For instance, Apple has an edginess to it, but its biggest innovations such as the iPod and the iPad have all been invented in the last 15 years. Not bad for a company that started in a garage in 1976.

While Netflix hasn’t been around nearly as long (founded in 1997), the company reinvented itself after it initially disrupted the retail home movie and video game rental industry with its mail-order business only to introduce streaming 10 years later.

Because of their view across the organization, CIOs are uniquely positioned to identify opportunities to drive disruptive innovation and digital transformation. But as we discussed before, this requires the CIO to view innovation from the business’s perspective.

Consider the rampant use of smartphones and mobile devices by consumers. A recent study of U.S. consumers by Bank of America reveals that 89% of Americans check their smartphones at least a few times a day while 36% admit they are constantly checking and using their devices.

Think of the opportunities this presents for companies across a range of industries to strengthen engagement with customers and provide the types of mobile services that consumers would want. A CIO for a hospitality or travel company could help identify the potential for creating a mobile app or a mobile web site that could make it easier for customers to book a hotel room or a flight, check existing reservations, and drive other transactions using their mobile devices.

CIOs can also draw upon their unique view of the enterprise to help identify opportunities for applying disruptive innovation. A CIO for a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company could identify how an emerging technology could be used to gather, analyze, and act on consumer feedback quickly to determine the viability of a new product being market tested faster than its competitors are able to. A CIO for an automotive manufacturer may identify an opportunity to create a new service for customers based on connected car data that’s continually transmitted back to the company.

“When we talk about innovation from a CIO’s perspective, I think the ‘I’ in CIO is innovation,” said Vic Bhagat, EVP, Enterprise Business Solutions & CIO at EMC in an HMG Strategy video. “We have to figure out how to co-innovate for solutions and even product. We have to solve a business problem. We first have to listen where the business is headed. What are they trying to? Where are they trying to grow? What market are they trying to penetrate? What market are they trying to capture? And how can IT innovate the right solutions to help the business to accelerate — and deliver?”

Key Takeaways

  • CIOs must pay close attention to how the business defines innovation and then align IT to strategy to match those definitions.
  • The CIO must also understand where the business is headed, the markets it is trying to penetrate and capture, and then work with the business to identify solutions to achieve those goals.
  • Thanks to their unique view across the enterprise, the CIO can serve as a disruptive innovator.
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