Transitioning to Chief Innovation Officer
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Transitioning to Chief Innovation Officer

By Jag Randhawa, VP/CIO, CAMICO Mutual Insurance

Jag Randhawa, VP/CIO, CAMICO Mutual Insurance

There has never been a better time to be a Chief Information Officer (CIO).Technology has matured from back office automation to becoming an integral part of most company’s product offerings.

Leveraging technology to grow the business is becoming an increasingly popular topic at the Board of Directors meetings. Savvy CEOs and directors know the value that technology adds to building a better business, improving operations, increasing customer satisfaction, and building competitive advantages. With so many eyes on technology, we are finally reaching an inflection point where technology and CIOs are getting the attention they deserve. But the key question remains: are CIOs leveraging this golden opportunity?

I have seen a really positive shift in importance of information technology and the need for strategic technology leaders. Companies are looking for ways to leverage technology to create competitive advantages. CEOs and board members expect their technology leaders to introduce new technologies and innovations that help them create competitive advantages for the business. It is now time for CIOs to shift gears from operations to innovation, and to replace that age old “information” with “innovation” in the CIO title.

“It is now time for CIOs to shift gears from operations to innovation, and to replace that age old “information” with “innovation” in the CIO title”

I know that CIOs are often fighting fires. The number of projects CIOs work on at any given point in time does not leave much room for any additional responsibilities. But if you want to up your game and increase the strategic value of the CIO role, you have no choice but to put on the Chief Innovation Officer hat. Don’t worry; this article will help you get started and ease the pain of uncertainty. I will give you a proven formula to jump-start your innovation efforts. I will show you how to start a grassroots innovation program and grow it.

Strategic Focus

The very first step in starting the innovation journey is to understand that innovation is not about inventing new things, but rather creating value for customers. As Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt puts it, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” The secret to innovation is doing things that add value for customers, and doing lots of those things. These activities do not have to encompass grand transformational ideas, but rather, they can be a collection of hundreds of big and small ideas that collectively create a compelling value. Ideas are the raw currency of innovation. Here’s my simple formula for innovation:

Innovation = Ideas + Execution + Adoption

To be innovative, you have to execute lots of little ideas that add value to customers. Often, it is not a grand idea that makes a company innovative, but rather a collection of hundreds and sometimes thousands of little ideas. Your goal is to lead an innovation program to collect and execute a large number of ideas that create value for customers. It takes significant momentum to switch a customer from one product to another, and what tips the scale for any given customer will not always be what tips it for another. So instead of fixating on a single grand idea, think of many little ideas. The key is to focus on value creation, which could be speed, operational efficiencies, cost saving, customer service, ease of use, and a host of other factors that makes your customers want to do business with you.

MASTER Innovation Program

Your focus for the innovation program should be to generate lots of ideas. To start a grassroots ideation process, you can follow the simple six-step process for a MASTER innovation program that I outline below. The essence of the program is to start a bottom-up innovation program in which employees submit ideas. Employees are much closer to the day-to-day business operations and know many of the operational deficiencies. They interact with customers and know their pain points. Best of all, they also have ideas to solve these problems. In the absence of such a program, employees rarely get any opportunities to voice these ideas. The comprehensive structure of the MASTER innovation program empowers and encourages employees to submit and develop ideas.

MASTER is an acronym for Mobilize, Amass, Support, Triage, Execute, and Recognize. Those words outline the six steps involved in creating the innovation.

1. Mobilize—Create a mission and vision for the program. Identify the most appropriate areas for innovation that are relevant to your business. Identify what kinds of ideas you are looking for, who can participate, and what will happen once an idea is submitted.

2. Amass—Deploy an easily accessible tool for collecting ideas. Many excellent ideation software tools are available in the marketplace.

3. Support—Support and encourage employees through various means, including seed money, time to experiment, ongoing encouragement, and fostering a solution mindset.

4. Triage—Create a committee that will be responsible for screening and prioritizing ideas. This committee should meet on a regular basis to check on the status of submitted ideas and help employees articulate their ideas.

5. Execute—Develop an overarching approach to implementing ideas. Decide who is going to work on implementing ideas and make sure to allocate time, resources, and a budget to implement ideas.

6. Recognize—Recognize employees for their ideas, efforts, and contributions. I recommend creating a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. You can also gamify the rewards and create a point system to show the progress and top innovators.

The MASTER innovation program is very scalable. You can start it on the organizational level, department level, or on a specific initiative or project. You can read more details about each step in my book The Bright Idea Box. I recommend that CIOs start at their department level and then extend it to the entire organization. That is how I started the program and by doing so, I found it easier to implement because, by comparison, large cultural transformational initiatives tend to meet a lot of skepticism.

Technology dominates our lives, so it is no surprise that many of these value creation ideas tend to be technology-driven. No one understands both the technology and the business better than the CIO. In my view, CIOs are best positioned to take on this role.

I often hear from CEOs that they cannot wait for someone to take the lead in creating an innovation program in their company. Now it is simply a matter of whether that person is you or someone else. Will you lead the innovation charter or report to someone who does?

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