What CIOs today are doing to make innovation an imperative in their organizations.
Recently I had the privilege to participate in a panel discussion with several IT leaders on the growing need for CIOs to infuse IT with innovation and deliver better services to the business securely and cost-effectively. The discussion proved many efforts are under way across enterprise IT shops, but it also revealed that IT’s efforts to become the true innovation engine for the business is no small undertaking.
The panel discussion, “The Innovation Imperative: Closing the IT Gap to Meet Demand and Accelerate Success,” covered many facets of today’s CIO dilemma: embrace new technologies, support legacy systems and secure it all while keeping end users happy.
No small feat to say the least, according to panelists Ken Piddington, Chief Information Officer for Global Partners, LP, a leader in the storage, distribution and marketing of energy products; Myrna Soto, Senior Vice President and Chief Infrastructure and Information Security Officer with Comcast, one of the world’s leading media, entertainment and communications companies; and Harry Butler, Director of Infrastructure at Elbit Systems of America, a leading aerospace defense services company. Chris Garibaldi, principal with Deloitte Consulting, also participated in the panel discussion.
“There is the demand to be more innovative, to be able to compete with the competitors as the market moves in technology – and it’s not just getting into new technologies. It’s also taking advantage of the existing technologies you had used tactically before and now the need to bubble up at a strategic level,” Garibaldi says. “Getting visibility into all that tactical data and using that to take a strategic advantage for your business.”
Comcast’s Soto described her company’s efforts to commit capacity and resources to innovative efforts. “We’ve dedicated a significant amount of resources, what we call our idea factory, where we have the opportunity to look at new products and services,” she says.
Global Partners’ Piddington expects the IT department to be more customer-facing than ever and looks to the team to think like an end user. That means pulling staff off of some daily duties to experiment and understand how technologies could work better.
“We try to foster innovation through actual resource planning and budgets, getting people time to get away from running the business tasks and focusing on playtime, if you will, to sit and experiment with new technologies, learn how to use existing technologies better, and finding ways to create more innovative solutions for our customers,” Piddington says.
Elbit’s Butler says though his role is more tactical than strategic, his CIO fosters an environment in which anyone can propose an innovative approach to an existing problem or a new service for customers.
“We’ve got people at the manufacturing level putting in suggestions on how they would improve something, and it doesn’t have to be something within their own process,” Butler explains. “We have the upper level management looking at things they want to do, we’re getting bottom-fed stuff, and somewhere in the middle it all bubbles out and we figure what we can do with the resources we have.”
Resources can be an issue when working toward innovation, as some studies point to flat IT spending. Yet other data suggests there is an increase in technology spending – which means the investment in innovation is happening outside of IT. Deloitte’s Garibaldi says for IT leaders to avoid losing technology investment control they must get in front of the problem, strategically choosing those projects that can be optimized for success and abandon those not serving IT, the business or the end users.
“It’s to do what you can, understand your capacity and then consume that in what you can do. Do a few things well as opposed to try and do everything poorly,” Garibaldi says. “You need visibility into your organization, you need to know what you’re capable of doing and then what adjustments you need to make to do those few strategic things well. Get those out of the way so that you can move on to the next set and the next set.”
IT today needs to operate existing technologies more efficiently, free up resources for innovation and deliver new services faster, better and cheaper. If CIOs focus on accelerating, transforming and securing technology efforts for the business, they will meet demands for innovation and ensure customers don’t find someone else who can.