Nick's Notes

Optics

I’m in the middle of writing up our 2014 Horizons inquiry report. As I’ve mentioned before in these blogs that this year it’s all about Innovation, which both leads on from the previous topics and chimes with what Chief Executives want from their CIOs.

One data point relates to what CIOs perceive to be the major barrier to being innovative. 40% of respondents said the most significant barrier was the lack of resources or funds to invest in Innovation.

I have recently found myself frequently telling people they are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I’ve been saying this so many times and in so many circumstances recently that I’ve decided to ration myself, to no more than once per day. This blog is today’s indulgence.

The problem with corporate IT is that it isn’t consumer IT. With ERP systems there has grown up a culture of slow steady controlled change. This is for good reason – pre-ERP systems, usually written in house, were rubbish by and large. ERP settled that down, but 10-20 years ago the pace of business change was much slower than it is today, and the level of knowledge of IT much less in the general population. Yet that way of working has persisted.

Tom Peters said “nothing innovative ever comes from a fully funded R&D department”. I think he’s still right. 40% of the people we surveyed disagree. The threat of substitution for the CIO has never been greater – the Chief Digital Officer gets to do the sexy bits of the role; the Chief Analytics Officer gets to interpret information to drive the business strategy and the CTO gets to run the services.

So looking through the wrong end of the telescope shows Innovation as a slow moving major project, fully funded and with lots of people assigned to it. It has a spec, milestones and stage gates. The CEO has switched off by now, as has the CMO. So they circumvent the CIO and get on with it.

Looking through the telescope the right way shows Innovation as a state of mind, a collaborative exercise across the whole company which is rapid and demonstrably creating real value for the organisation. It’s just the way things are done – in line with the culture of the organisation. The CIO can add great value as part of that team, if they adopt the right mindset.

The role of the CIO is to synthesise the old and the new, and rapidly and accurately ensure that the existing systems support new initiatives on a timescale required by business colleagues.

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