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The CIO's Role as Evangelist

by Dave Hannon

August 7, 2013

By Dave Hannon

There have been some interesting columns and blogs lately discussing the CIO's role in an organization and how it impacts the organization's innovation agenda. It's an important topic (as I've covered before) and one that merits even more discussion and thought.

Most recently, this blog post on the Harvard Business Review site raised a lot of interest in the topic, although I don't agree with the idea presented in the first two sentences (kitty down!) that the traditional IT organization and CIO responsibilities are going away -- I tend to think they've expanded. But the post is definitely worth a read (and the comments posted are insightful to some extent as well).

In the kickoff article to the recent SAPinsider Solutions for the Office of the CIO Report, Axel Bülow, Senior Vice President of Application Services and Acting CIO at SAP, makes the point that "it is incumbent on CIOs and IT organizations to recognize and respond to emerging market trends. In short, it’s up to the IT department to act as a role model for enabling innovation across the business." That's really hitting the nail on the head.

In today's environment, someone in an organization has to be focused on evaluating new technology to determine if it is something the organization can benefit from and if the product or technology is viable. Because it's not always clear what the impact of certain technologies will be. Tablets are a great example. And social media is another great example. In early 2010, I wrote an article for purchasing professionals suggesting they look into social media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook as ways to develop and improve business relationships with suppliers. These solutions were still new but not THAT new to business so I was sure they'd find their way into the enterprise. And quite frankly, I got blasted by a few folks with traditional IT backgrounds (one in particular) saying these technologies were only passing fads and had no place in the enterprise. (Not for nothing, but that same person now has a Twitter account, a LinkedIn group and a Google + and Facebook page, so unless you have a crystal ball, be careful what you say publicly about new technology.)

One step CIOs can make toward this new role is adjusting the way they think about the use of technology across the enterprise. Meaning, you need to be make the most of your technology investments, but not every piece of technology has to be something that every unit in your business will use. Because shadow IT is on the rise and if there's a part of your organization that wants a certain technology, they're going to get it one way or another.

A recent Harvey Nash survey found that the proportion of IT departments where 10% or more of IT spend is controlled outside the IT department has increased from 23% in 2011, to 33% in 2012, to 40% in 2013. So rather than try to maintain strict control over every piece of technology in the organizatinon, the CIO should be directing the IT organization to support and even encourage business' technology requests, not question or deny such requests as a first reaction.

By the way, the Harvey Nash survey also found that 71% of CIOs see great potential for innovation in their industry, but 69% say too little time and too few resources are currently being invested in innovation.

So if you're an IT leader, what should be on your radar today? Well, looking down the rungs in the corporate ladder might give some clues (as it did about social media back in 2010). A recent Cisco Global survey found that "business-class video" is high on the priority list of "next-generation executives."

The survey found that: "Three out of five young executives say they will rely more heavily on business-class video during the next five to 10 years...87% believe video has a significant and positive impact on an organization, citing benefits ranging from enhancing the experience of telecommuters to saving money on travel costs and even attracting top talent." This is a good example. Is video something EVERY organization should be investing in? Probably not, but looking into how your organization can use it to improve its business is definitely something that should be on the CIO's to-do list. That includes not just the technology, but the applications, infrastructure, training (please, don't forget the training!) and talent around it.

And lastly, keep your eyes open all the time. Apple didn't become Apple by looking at what their peers were giving customers, but by looking at what customers weren't getting. Treat your internal customers the same way. Look for innovative solutions to their most pressing problems and follow the innovation path from there.

See also: Lessons in Innovation: A Report From the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

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