For CIOs, innovation is less about finding the right technology and more about applying innovative thinking and having a strong understanding of the business. It’s no longer about putting out fires so much as providing a vision for the organization, seeing the big picture and staying on top of emerging trends. CIOs are a diverse group, and applying the skills of leadership can vary depending on the personality of the leader. Yet, lessons can be learned from all kinds of different situations. Here are seven different examples of applying innovating thinking from seven CIOs.
1. Plan for the “what ifs.”
CIOs can’t even begin to think about innovation until the infrastructure is first in place. Terrence Verity, CIO of Seneca College, says running an educational institution is no different than running any kind of business – it has to be up and running seven-by-24-by-365. “There can’t be even 10 seconds of downtime,” he said. “IT gets to build a lot of great systems,” giving as an example “a Web-based appointment book” for students that allows them to book time with job counsellors. Verity says CIOs should first plan for the “what ifs,” meaning deciding which systems are absolutely critical and which have to be brought back (online) as soon as possible.
2. Look at the big picture but don’t try to do everything.
John Newell, director of IT for M&M Meats warns about the perils of taking on too much. Newell has been in the job for eight years and is responsible for all aspects of IT for M&M’s head office, two regional offices and 420 franchised stores across Canada. Supply chain management technology, for example, has enormous potential to save money and increase efficiency but Newell recognizes upfront how complex these systems can be. “We (CIOs) like to control things,” but there are only so many things you can control, and in a supply chain, so many things can fluctuate wildly from market pricing to changes in consumer demand. “Sometimes we expect way too much from technology” says Newell. “There are limits to what you can do.”
3. Use business metrics.
IT is not just an “enabler,” it’s a strategic contributor to the business, says Andrew Dillane, CIO of CNC Global. CIOs should spend more time educating their teams about the business and the industry, so they’re focused on business results. “Being more like the business means measuring yourself like the rest of the business does.” For Dillane, metrics like uptime are becoming a thing of the past, since nothing less than 100 per cent uptime is acceptable. For true alignment, the IT team must use the same metrics as the rest of the business, such as customer satisfaction.
4. Be a part of the senior management team.
At Pacific Blue Cross, the CIO is part of a seven-person senior management team, which jointly develops strategy. CIO Catherine Boivie is required to have a high-level understanding of technology, but an even deeper understanding of the business – and be an excellent communicator in order to relay how IT will contribute to the business. “Every project has to show how it will contribute to the organization’s overall goals, and is measured by the management team in business terms through a balanced scorecard approach,” she says.
5. Become an “IT broker.”
Amidst all the recent negative headlines, General Motors is recognizing the need for change across its global operations and that extends into IT. Jon Bartol, GM Canada’s CIO, says the challenge at GM is to streamlining some 7,000 disparate IT systems, working across numerous regions and product lines to enforce global standards and achieve better economies of scale. He envisions the role of CIO as a “change leader” evolving from the “IT caretaker” model of the past. The CIO is an “intelligent business and IT broker” which involves measuring change and being able to understand the level of change through technology.
6. Understand the business.
Ted Maulucci, CIO at real estate developer Tridel Corp. is passionate about process improvement and explains why: “If we don’t own the land and we don’t own the business, then what do we own? We own a process that allows us to convert a piece of land into a finished product that allows us to create a lifestyle for people. Our whole core value is our ability to execute a process and to execute it well. That’s why I feel the passion.” Maulucci says CIOs must begin with business processes. “First understand what you are doing and analyze it to take out the inefficiency. Then bring in as many people as you can, using as many technologies as possible.”
7. Don’t stand still.
Keep up to date with emerging trends by getting out in the industry and networking with peers. It’s not always necessary to be a trailblazer, but some emerging trends can cut costs or make the business more effective. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, for example, has connected its program delivery system to its finance system through Web services using a service-oriented architecture. ACOA has about 20 different programs, and by loosely coupling them, it’s able to change a program without affecting its finance system. “In the past we were trying to build these monolithic program delivery solutions,” said Ronald Surette, CIO of ACOA. “But now, because we can connect one module to another module, it gives us a lot more flexibility.” As a result, it has reduced its development costs, while increasing its ability to respond to program delivery changes.