Qualcomm CIO, Norm Fjeldheim's strategies for bringing innovations from outside the company into his IT org.

 

By Norm Fjeldheim, SVP & CIO, Qualcomm

One of the challenges facing most CIOs is fostering creativity and innovation within the IT organization while, at the same time, staying in tune with innovation that is happening outside of the company, across high tech and all industries (what Martha Heller refers to as ‘Bringing the Outside In’).

For our organization, I’ve always tried to have IT be an early adopter of new technology, and to be creative in solving problems. But that gets tough as the IT organization gets larger, and the pressures of day to day operations and projects consume time and energy. Often times there is insufficient bandwidth or leftover resources to think strategically and creatively, let alone pay attention to innovation that’s occurring outside our company.

To counter that, and to ensure that I am fostering creativity and innovation in the IT department as best I can, I’ve been using a few different approaches.

Tapping the Venture Capital Firms

Last year I took my entire leadership team, and a few of our architects to visit several venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. We sat through presentations by quite a few of their portfolio companies, 20-30 minutes each. It was kind of like ‘speed dating’ with start-ups.

We returned from our trip with a number of start-up companies to follow up with, but the most valuable part for me was the dialog and debate the presentations sparked among my team. We had some very lively discussions, and these opened up a number of my team members (and myself) to new ideas and new ways of doing things. It was very beneficial in my view since the debates continued long after the visits were over and spilled over to other topics.

“It’s helped (leaders in my IT organization) understand that being creative and taking risks is something I want them to do, and that I reward”

 

Leading Edge High-Tech Companies

Another way I’m trying to drive creativity and new thinking is by visiting leading edge companies with my team. Visiting companies like SalesForce.com and Amazon has helped us see that there are different, and potentially better ways to do things.

Some of the best trips are "skip-level visits." None of my senior team is along. Rather, it has been the folks two or three levels down from me in the organization, who are often some of the key decision makers for our technology roadmap.

The opportunity for these folks to interact with each other, with their peers at these leading edge companies, and with me has been extremely beneficial to the organization. It’s a great development opportunity for the future leaders of our organization and it’s helped them understand that being creative and taking risks is something I want them to do, and that I reward.

And it’s been a lot of fun for me to participate in the debates!

Current Key Suppliers

It’s important to stay connected with the established suppliers as well. I try to do some sort of Executive Briefing with our key suppliers every 12-18 months. I find that often our partners are creating (or acquiring) new technologies and products that I am unaware of, and in new areas from their core product lines.

But it’s just as important, maybe even more so, to constantly evaluate alternatives to our existing suppliers. It’s easy to get trapped in the ‘one throat to choke’ model, but always fostering competitive technical environment for suppliers is healthy for the organization. And it helps quite a bit when it’s time to negotiate pricing.

These are the primary approaches I’ve used to expose the IT organization to external ideas, which have been very well received. But it’s important to focus internally as well.

Project Team Presentations

I like to have our project teams present various new technologies and solutions they are developing to me, and to my senior leadership team. Providing more junior people in our organization a chance to present what they are working on is a great learning opportunity for them, and another way to show that being creative and a risk-taker is something that gets recognized and rewarded.

For me personally, I find I spend more time networking than I used to, mostly via the various Advisory Boards that I am on, and CIO Peer groups I belong to. I go to fewer conferences than I used to, and I am very selective on the ones I do attend. Mostly I go to smaller conferences that have ample opportunities to meet and get to know other CIOs that I can learn from. Developing strong relationships with forward thinking CIOs and other business leaders is a great way to hear about new ideas and trends, and to learn about the pros and cons of each.

These are some ideas that have worked for me and for our organization, but everyone needs to find what works for them. I am a big believer in the theory that 'one size does not fit all.' Every CIO should develop their own style and approach for their particular organization.

About Norm Fjeldheim

Norm Feldheim, CIO, QualcommNorm Fjeldheim serves as senior vice president and chief information officer of Qualcomm Incorporated. In this role, Fjeldheim oversees all aspects of Qualcomm’s information technology for all of the Company’s diverse business units. In addition to his IT responsibilities, Fjeldheim is also responsible for Corporate Procurement, and the Technical Publications and Configuration Management organizations. Since joining Qualcomm in 1987, he has served as manager, director and vice president of information technology. He has been instrumental in the creation and implementation of systems to support Qualcomm’s growing and diverse corporate needs. In addition, his tenure has seen the development and support of many of Qualcomm’s growing domestic and international business systems. Fjeldheim and the IT department have guided the selection and implementation of technology to link Qualcomm’s corporate sites across six continents. Under his leadership, Qualcomm IT has received a variety of honors. The department has been honored by Computerworld Magazine as one of the 100 Best Places to Work in IT for the last 8 years.

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