CIOs and the Road to Innovation

By Kalpana Maniar, President& CIO, Edelweiss Financial Services

CIOs are under increasing pressure to play a role in technology-driven business transformation and innovation. The expectation from their role covers efficiently servicing the business as usual and embracing new innovative capabilities. The role becomes extremely challenging when the existing business is growing and there are new businesses being setup. To add to the complexity is the fast evolving technology landscape. 

Innovation requires the ability to experiment and follow the mantra “fail fast fail cheap”. Here are few ideas for CIOs on using internal and external innovation methodologies.

Engaging with Start-ups
Just depending on internal innovation ideas becomes limited at times. Many CIOs are working with start-ups as a part of their innovation strategy. This gives access to external innovation teams which are thinking differently, experimenting with new ideas and hungry for success. Start-ups with cutting edge ideas can help achieve competitive differentiation. 

The agility and nimbleness provided by start-ups brings quick wins though there are many cultural, structural, behavioural and process-related differences they have with a formal corporate set-up. Large corporate find it difficult to understand start-ups and start-ups don’t understand corporate functioning at times. Working with start-ups requires the enterprise technology team to challenge existing culture, structures and processes.

There are start-ups that are associated with or supported by established infrastructure, platform and service providers. Partnership with these start-ups provides a distinct advantage of quick experimentation and possibility of scale-up when needed. 
It is worthwhile to create a visible, single access point for start-ups with clarity on process and next steps. CIO’s ability to co-create agile solutions with start-ups can bring competitive advantage for business. 
Accelerator programs are a promising way for large companies to better understand and leverage emerging technologies. Starting an accelerator program is a strategic decision that allows an enterprise to stay relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing economy. It provides exposure to start-ups, provides opportunity to engage with them and stay close to upcoming trends and innovation. The exposure through the accelerator often provides an opportunity to close deals for the venture capital arm.

Many companies hold competitions inviting start-ups to address specific business challenges or technology needs. This encourages innovative solution to be  industry tested.

Students’ engagement programs
Few companies use programs that encourage students to put their heads together and work on big ideas that are of value to business by creating engagement platform for students from management and engineering colleges. Students are invited to propose new technology solutions that could positively and measurably impact businesses. This works as a mutually beneficial initiative as the students benefit through industry exposure and reward structure and the company benefits by solving business problems through innovative ideas and solutions. 

Internal innovation platform
The concept of crowd sourcing of ideas from within the company as well as customers and partners is gaining ground. This can be done by using Innovation management platform/ portal that facilitates capturing of ideas which goes through a funnel, idea assessment that can be done through collaborative communication & social networking and idea status tracking. There is a great deal of value to be drawn from collective wisdom. Many companies are using crowd sourcing to rapidly drive innovation, improve products, bring efficiency, cost reduction and increase customer satisfaction. There can be deluge of ideas that need to be sifted through to arrive at meaningful and relevant ideas. There are several open innovation platforms that can be leveraged effectively to manage the innovation ideas and pipeline. One needs to also have analytics in place to benefit from the information collected. Introduction of gamification can incentivise and help unlock the collaboration potential.

Rewarding Innovation
Companies viewing employees as a major source of innovation need to build mechanism to encourage the innovation culture. Rewarding and recognising innovation helps sustain and grow innovation. The key is to figure out how you encourage employees to come of their business as usual and comfort zone to generate creative ideas. Employees need to believe that their ideas matter and that something will be done out of an idea that is feasible and provides value.

It is important to consistently acknowledge those who contribute ideas, knowledge, and time. Organisation should disseminate success stories concerning invention of a successful new product or approach so as inspire that behaviour. It is observed that innovation becomes self-rewarding because being perceived as an expert by peers and management matters. Forward looking organisations expect CIOs to play the role of Chief Innovation officers. In order for an organisation to be truly cutting edge, everyone in the company should be encouraged to innovate. Innovation is far too important to be left to few people. CIO is best suited to play the role of a catalyst and change agent by providing enablement to a larger team to participate in the innovation journey and build a sustaining culture of innovation.

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