View from the Bridge

The C-Double I-O

by Avery Cloud, Advisor

Chief Innovation Information Officer—as far as I know, the title doesn’t exist, but maybe it should. Can the traditional Chief Information Officer also serve as the organization’s Innovation leader? To answer that question it is helpful to know the definition, purpose, and place of innovation in an organization. Simply put, innovation is doing something new that brings value to the organization. I like to think of it as avoiding insanity—doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. I believe innovation is the best vessel to move healthcare organizations out of rivers of red ink into reservoirs of black ink, and make them better at meeting customer expectations.

A couple of quotes from the late Steve Jobs, president of Apple, are worth noting.

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

Mr. Jobs’ ideas are shared by many of the great and growing organizations of our times. Cost cutting, belt tightening, and fiscal conservativism are all legitimate and important tools in business, and they have their place. But many great leaders appropriately question whether they can cut their way to greatness. Doubting it as an effective strategy, they turn to innovation. So if innovation is an important path to organizational greatness, can the CIO become the Pied Piper of innovation?
Quoting Steve Jobs again, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” A leader in what, or follower in what? The answer does not lie only in technology. Innovation is about more than the work of silicon chips.

If CIOs focus narrowly on IT related innovation they are running with blinders on and unable to see opportunities in company processes, policies, procedures, politics, legal, marketing, organizational structure, and other areas for innovation. But, you might say, as CIO I am not responsible for any of these functions. Well, you don’t have to be. You simply need to put yourself into partnership with the people who run these areas and develop a joint program to make your company’s products and services better than the competition’s.

CIOs have to become an influencer so they can lead their team into using powerful innovation methods; methods such as “painstorming” – a derivation of brainstorming. It is an ideation process that involves finding where your customers are experiencing pain, and then seeking innovations in process, workflow, policy, technology, and so on, that eliminate your customer’s pain points. Painstorming and other innovation techniques ensure the focus is not just on the creative use of the latest software and hardware, but rather on ways to change the business that might require information technology support. Technology both supports products and services and creates brand new ones.

The CIO must determine which of these roles information technology needs to play for a given problem. To be a leader in innovation and IT CIOs must become as conversant in innovation principles as they are in ITIL. Who knows? If CIOs perform this role well enough, the idea of the C-Double I-O may catch on.

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