‘I’ is for Innovation

Daniel Burrus, in a recent HBR Blog post, talks about how the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is becoming obsolete and we must move from “protecting and defending the status quo to embracing and extending new innovative capabilities.” In his post he suggests that we need to become Chief Innovation Officers. Burrus goes on to say that is our responsibility to move away from simply looking at keeping the lights on and cost containment to thinking about how we can transform the way to do business.
This article hit a chord with me as we are preparing our 2014-15 budgets and looking at a cost containment exercise, due to the challenges faced in publicly funded Higher Education. In parallel, I recently saw a Gartner paper that talked about cost containment strategies and how IT can contribute to savings. The traditional approach would be to think about IT as a cost centre, but given that IT is normally less than 5% of the overall operating budget, making cuts here tends to give small savings. What would be more effective, would be to look at how we can drive savings through the use of technologies. If we can generate savings across the entire organization by changing the way we do business, then we can create an impact.
In essence, this is about driving innovation through changes in our business practices and the technology tools that we use. The challenge in making this happen is ensuring that IT has a seat at the table and the credibility to deliver. In HE many of us struggle with this, and the result can be significant shadow IT that sometimes has the appearance of being more response and effective. I am sure everyone has heard a story about how the central IT department messed up a project and because of that should never ever be trusted again. Projects can be complex, expectations can be wide ranging and outcomes may not always fully understood. On top of this we don’t really like change and don’t always support projects the way they need to be supported, whether that is right at the top or down in the trenches. Burrus does highlight that we need to go beyond change, and think about transforming what we do.
At Queen’s we have started to talk more about IT@Queen’s, rather than simply ITS (the central IT department) and this opens a whole new discussion. When we start wearing our institutional hats, so much more becomes possible. If we really want to be transformative we need to look at defining our core competencies and focusing on our value add at all levels within our organization, while embracing new things things like Software and Hardware as a Service. Here at Queen’s we have already moved 50,000 student accounts to Office 365 and have moved some of our Learning Management Systems to SaaS. As Burrus points out IT is “quickly becoming an integrated collection of intelligent services that are on demand, on the move, and on any device.”
The CIO has a significant role in articulating and delivering this innovation/transformation to the C-suite. The CIO possibly has a unique perspective in this forum and the subsequent responsibility that comes with that. As an organization we need to evolve to the point were we are not pre-occupied with keeping the lights on, but instead we are looking ahead to what may be and embracing the transformation that entails. Not easy to do, but it is the only way that we will survive.

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