2007 CIO 100 Winners: How IT Can Harness the Power of Innovation

Winners of the CIO 100 awards have more than technology and great ideas. They have IT departments that understand what makes their companies tick and IT leaders who can translate vision into reality.

By Elana Varon
Mon, August 06, 2007

CIO — Transformation.

IT has always possessed that power. And companies have sought to harness technology for competitive advantage ever since CBS used a Univac to beat ABC and NBC by predicting Dwight D. Eisenhower's victory in the 1952 presidential election.

However, organizations that want to leverage IT to beat the competition, to shake up their operations and even their industries, need more than technology, more than great ideas. They need to have IT departments that understand what makes their companies tick and IT leaders who know how to translate visions into actions.

This year's CIO 100 Awards honorees understand. They've embraced IT innovation as a tool for transformation, their winning projects motivated by critical business needs and the conviction, backed by solid analysis, that technology-enabled change can create new value. The CIOs at these companies define themselves not as technology suppliers but as facilitators of corporate growth. (Find out how we chose them.)

In fact, as our honorees report in an exclusive survey, their innovations most often originate with business leaders or cross-functional teams established to tackle a specific problem or opportunity. Seventy-eight percent say IT shares leadership of innovative projects with business sponsors. (To compare yourself with our CIO 100 honorees, take our self-assessment quiz.

"The first step was making sure that this wasn't viewed as an IT project," Flowserve CIO Linda Jojo tells writer Cindy Waxer about her award-winning effort to consolidate 68 ERP systems and multiple data centers in Using IT to Transform the Business: Three Keys to Success. "We've made sure that this project is something we talk about in terms of its business impact."

How to Make a Big Bang
These innovative CIOs don't shrink from ambitious projects. And, as Waxer writes, forward-thinking IT leaders see past the infrastructure they're charged with creating and maintaining to the end user's experience. Like Jojo, they're skilled at communicating the value of technology in business terms, whether the project is the central processing of check deposits captained by CTO Ron DePoalo for Merrill Lynch's Global Private Client Technology Group or the global computing grid for drug research championed by Karan Sorensen, CIO of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development.

But it's not enough to spell out the benefits of a big-bang project to the bottom (or top) line. Big projects take time, often expand in scope and usually affect employees throughout an organization. According to our survey, opposition to innovative initiatives comes most often from the business staff. CIO 100 honorees succeeded by generating a sense of urgency and excitement among senior company leaders. These CIOs also recruited top thinkers from within IT and across the company to contribute ideas, hone project parameters and rally the rank and file.

However, before IT can tackle any innovation, it needs credibility. In How to Transform Your IT Department from Order Taker to Innovator, Senior Editor Stephanie Overby reports on four CIO 100 honorees who had to change how they worked with their business peers before they could transform their companies.

For instance, when Vince Kellen became CIO at DePaul University, he found an IT organization with "a passion for pushing the future." But it wasn't responding effectively to business demands, nor did it have a strategy to guide it. So Kellen threw out the org chart and repositioned his staff to deploy a service-oriented architecture, for which DePaul is honored this year. At law firm Foley & Lardner, CIO Doug Caddell worked around the inbred IT skepticism of the firm's lawyers by building a system on spec that he believed would increase revenue. The lawyers were sufficiently impressed that when they sat down to develop new ideas for cross-selling to clients, they invited IT to the very first brainstorming meeting. The resulting system, which enables the firm's lawyers to share clients, earned Foley & Lardner its CIO 100 honor.

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