Monday, November 07, 2011

A new CIO : The Chief Innovation Officer

Innovation is the wellspring of excellence and excellence is the arrowhead of quality. Organization excellence, the reward of organizational commitment to total quality is the hallmark of the most innovative, productive model organizations across industry verticals from not-for-profit entities (including government agencies, aid organizations, public institutions such as schools, medical facilities and research organizations) to for-profit organizations or commercial entities.

For more than a century, technology, particularly information related technology has provided the fuel that helped drive innovation across various organizations from improvements in vote-counting to medical advances and of course to the many innovations in pedagogy and research. Technology has simplified and expanded the reach of admissions offices and has served as the critical glue for retention, early assessment, creativity in the classroom and a key tool for many other functions in the education space.

The interconnection between technology, quality, excellence and innovation is leading many organizations to rethink their information technology strategy and operation into an innovation generating strategy. While organizations transitioned into a role of chief information officer at the beginning of this century; where the chief information officer’s role was the oversight of technology deployment enterprise-wide and the assurance that such deployments are in alignment with organization’s mission, an increasing number of chief information officers are being tasked with an innovation portfolio in recognition of the outsized contribution technology could make in corporate agility and innovation.

Innovation varies across organization (intra or inter), but increasingly, leading organizations are concluding that innovation often stems from or can be contributed to by the alignment of technology with corporate mission. Many organizations, including the State of Maryland are beginning to carve out a innovation roles and title such as Chief Innovation Officer, Directory of Technology and Innovation, Chief Medical Innovation Officer, Director of Corporate Performance and Innovation etc. But the title in itself does not define the role, rather it is a recognition of a the need to have a corporate arrowhead for innovation. Indeed, the role of a chief innovation officer needs to be defined and clarified, as that of the chief information officer was in the late 1990s and the Chief Information Security Officer was in the mid- 2000. Here is a description of what the role of chief innovation officer is in an organization.

Like all other executive positions, a chief innovation officer is an agent of the chief executive officer whose job is to help execute the vision of the CEO. In an increasingly networked, global and competitive world, a chief innovation officer’s role would be to help identify resources, tools and opportunities to maintain the sustainability of the organization. This process will often lead from the use of technology to enhance capabilities, optimization of resources and the delivery of services which customers would always be willing to pay for (in whatever the industry’s currency is) and for which customers would always be glad to pay for.

Since innovation has two critical parts, quality (excellence) and technology; a functional chief innovation officer will have a portfolio that crosses both segments. In an ideal situation, a chief innovation officer will have the reporting of a chief technology officer, a chief quality officer, and perhaps a chief risk officer (whose function would include all types of risks). Such structure will ensure that quality programs, which can often benefit from technology, are fully coordinated with technology programs and that all these are appropriately appraised for the risks and opportunities they provide.

Figure 1  The New CIO - Innovation, Technology, Management

Mature organizations usually have chief operations officers (although the role of COO is imbued in that of the CEO/President in smaller organizations) to whom chief information officer and a chief quality officers (or in some organizations, an ombudsman) report. With the increasing adoption of corporate quality programs such as Six Sigma and Lean, some organizations have even created a role for chief performance officers, but such role mirrors the chief quality officer. Indeed, some will argue that performance and quality are not synonymous, but that is a function of perspective. If performance is defined in terms of quality, then the two are indeed synonymous. Today, there is a need to fundamentally align corporate information technology, quality and performance into a forward-looking, capacity-optimizing and capability-enhancing paradigm for organizational innovation. An engine of corporate sustainability, value creation and growth.

Thus, a chief innovation officer (the new CIO) will provide an organization with appropriate leadership to channel its resources optimally so as to maintain and or retain a leadership role in concert with its vision. It is a role that focuses on value creation for the enterprise (yes, that is the role of all members of the organization, but innovation is truly the art of value creation). Value is what consumers demand from products and services, it is what consumers consider quality, it what they reward. Innovation is the engine of value creation. So a “new CIO” is an organization’s chief value creator.


For a university, a chief innovation officer with direct reports to the President will, depending on resources and size of the university, have a technology and quality portfolio and can discharge such directly or via deputies. In a small or medium sized university, or in cases with minimal staff, the portfolios are better imbued in a single individual.

The technology role will include coordination and alignment of all technology resources to assure optimal use of investments, security of data and information, and enhancement of research and pedagogy. The quality role will include helping entities within the university optimize their processes, leaning out wastes and measuring productivity to align overall University resources with University mission.

The expectation is total quality and an endemic proliferation of a culture of excellence.  The structure is presented in fig. 1