Andi Mann, author of The Innovative CIO, on how CIOs can enable business partners to pull innovation from technology on their own by democratizing information.

Guest blog by Andi Mann, VP of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies, excerpted from the book, The Innovative CIO: How IT Leaders Can Drive Business Transformation,which he co-authored with George Watt and Peter Matthews.

The Innovative CIO takes an approach that enables other business areas to “pull” innovation from technology. This approach is more consultative, more cooperative, more timely, and more aligned both to real-time business needs and to real-time technology innovations. It also equalizes the power to say “no” to new ideas—and the power to say “yes.”

So, how does the business know which services to pull? How do business leaders find out about the new technologies that might be available to them? To promote business pull of technology, one key starting point is the democratization of knowledge. 

Business leaders are limited in their ability to apply new technologies to business innovation by the limits of what they know about the technologies available. They can only innovate within the "realm of what is known”—those technologies that they already understand.

But for them there is a vast "world of unknowns”—new technologies they have never even heard of, and which they would not even know well enough to ask about. Such business leaders simply cannot pull technology innovation into their business needs when they do not have the knowledge of what is possible.

Expose Business Leaders to the Latest Technology

This is where technology leaders such as the innovative CIO need to be more proactive. By breaking down the barriers to knowledge of new technology opportunities, the innovative CIO not only can allow but also positively encourage business leaders to innovate with technology themselves. You can help teach business leaders about technology, expose them to new opportunities, and be their trusted advisor. 

For example, periodically brief your peers in the business—from the C-level down—on new and upcoming technologies to help them form a starting point for potential innovation opportunities. Initiate regular innovation or technology workshops with your business peers. Look at implementing the innovation funnel as one of the ways of articulating technology potential on a regular basis, talking with business leaders about the status of entries in the funnel.

This approach also addresses those CEOs who are inveterate headline readers, and who, left to their own devices, are prone to “management by magazine.” They see a headline about a new technology, or some new capability in which a competitor has invested, and start asking what their company is doing to catch up. This is exacerbated when there is little communication between them and the CIO.

Encourage your team to also take up this commitment to regular communications with their business peers. Remember that great new ideas can come from anywhere, not just from senior managers.

Acting as a trusted advisor to the rest of the C-team, the innovative CIO can provide technology awareness. And by extension, the entire IT department can help to nurture technology adoption by the whole organization.

You and your team are ideally positioned to work actively with business peers to explain to them the latest ideas, the newest technologies, upcoming capabilities, and potential opportunities—all with the purpose of enabling them to see and understand for themselves how these technologies can drive business innovation. Do not just teach, lecture, and inform—workshop together with your peers and their reports to drive innovation as a team.

Consider holding such workshops on both a regular and ad hoc basis. You can certainly plan such sessions ahead of time to cover relatively slow-burning technology changes, such as virtualization or cloud computing. But for explosive opportunities like the newest device release or the latest social networking development, a rapid response and immediate briefing may be a better and timelier way to keep your business peers informed.

Incorporate formal knowledge management (KM) systems to make the sharing of knowledge institutional, rather than a gating function in itself. You can buy extensive KM systems off the shelf, but they do not need to be overly complex or expensive. Start with something very simple, even just a shared notebook on a shared drive or a common folder for filing documents and pages on new technologies.

For just a little more complexity, you can have a much better system. Install a common innovation wiki, using one of many different open source wikis, allowing both IT and business users to collaborate on sharing knowledge about new technologies, what they could be used for, and which part of the business could benefit.

Extend a basic wiki with a collaboration service, or include other tools to foster innovation such as project management, content management, instant messaging, or resource management. You may evolve this service to a sophisticated system that connects and aligns business with IT through realtime business-connected ideation; knowledge; portfolio; project; and service management systems that include all of these capabilities and more.

This new approach to a democratization of information will help you to establish knowledge sharing about new technologies and new opportunities as a corporate-wide value, not just an individual value.

Beyond Democratization of Knowledge

IT must also act as part of the business, to be considered as part of the business. For example, as the technology leader and trusted advisor to the business, you need to actively consider the business interest of new technology innovations and whether IT should “own” these, or whether IT can better enable business users to own the technology themselves. The old school approach, of course, was that IT owned (and therefore controlled) all the new technology. The new world of consumerization now enables business users to directly select and deploy technology themselves, both from internal and external sources.

For example, business users can go out and buy their own tablets and start using them for work right away. Perhaps more impactfully, they can also “pull” innovation directly from third-party cloud service providers, such as sales managers signing up their teams to use online CRM and SFA systems, marketing managers signing up their teams to use web-based marketing services, or finance managers deciding to migrate the company accounts to a pay-by-use financial management service.

In an old school approach, the CIO may have taken steps, even draconian ones, to retake control of technology adoption and stamp out this “rogue IT” that threatens the standardized process. In the new school approach, this is entirely unacceptable.

Support Rogue IT

To achieve the status as trusted advisor, the innovative CIO must take a more balanced and business-centric approach. In some cases, this will mean doing more than merely tacitly condoning such rogue IT, but explicitly supporting it, and even actively encouraging it. Active interest in integrating and supporting new technologies, such as consumer devices, will also generate goodwill and add to the likelihood that you will be seen as a trusted advisor.

This is not to say that rogue IT does not create problems, especially with security, privacy, cost, and efficiency. However, it is the role of the new school CIO to focus on and resolve those problems, rather than stamp out these rogue practices entirely. For example, try encouraging business users toward one cloud service over another to stabilize budgets or leverage purchasing power, or implement tools or processes that prevent unauthorized data use and/or leakage when using cloud services or consumer devices. The key is to figure out what business users are doing, why they are doing it, and how you can help, rather than simply reacting and shutting it down.

The innovative CIO therefore must also be intimately aware of and driven toward real business goals. The whole business (IT included) must work together to take advantage of new technologies in a way that makes sense in context of the overall business goals. IT must also learn about the business goals—what really matters, where the priorities are, and where the problems are.


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