by CIO staff

Avery Dennison CIO Nick Colisto on enabling business innovation

Dec 15, 2021
CIODigital TransformationInnovation

The manufacturing company’s VP and CIO, and 2021 inductee into CIO’s Hall of Fame, discusses creating a culture that “can ignite creativity and agility” in a video interview with CIO contributing editor Julia King.

A businesswoman looks into the distance amid abstract technology, colleagues in background.
Credit: AlphaSpirit / Getty Images

How can IT leaders create the conditions for digital business innovation—from fostering effective collaboration with business partners to establishing the right processes, frameworks, and culture?

That’s the central question CIO contributing editor Julia King posed to Avery Dennison CIO Nick Colisto in their conversation at the CIO 100 Symposium and Awards, where Colisto was inducted into CIO’s Hall of Fame.

Colisto describes his role at the Glendale, California-based Fortune 500 materials science and manufacturing company as “pretty traditional.” He is responsible for driving and executing an enterprise-wide IT strategy, including technology-enabled initiatives that drive growth and efficiency.

Following are edited excerpts of Colisto’s conversation with King on how IT leaders can best support business innovation. To hear directly from Colisto and get additional insights, watch the full video embedded below.

On collaborating with business partners:

[When] you first join a company in a leadership role or any role really, it’s important to take the time to conduct what’s referred to as a listening tour.  You do that to orient yourself to the business itself.  You build stakeholder connections by doing that, and you can align on expectations for the role, more than what you’ve learned maybe through the interview process. 

You can also start working to adapt to the culture….  And as you go through that process, you will inevitably identify themes by the interviews. 

On enabling a culture of fearless innovation:

I think having the right culture can really ignite creativity and agility and learning to innovate at the speed and the scale that we’re experiencing in these really uncertain times.  So, we came up with during—even before—COVID  we came up with this four-step innovation cultural process and we call it LEAD.  It’s a call to action. 

The acronym is LEAD, to represent the process.  The L is for learning.  It’s about shifting from a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture. And companies can (and should) encourage employees to chart this course by educating themselves on breakthrough technologies and practices.  The E is for engaging, and it’s having those ideation sessions … to identify really creative ideas to help either optimize the company or transform the company and translate those ideas into prototypes and then those prototypes into minimal viable products.  The A is for being an advocate and making this cultural transition a real personal priority.  Then the D is about discovering the needs of the customers with a beginner’s mind and then creating solutions that delight and surprise them. 

On IT’s role in digital business:

I think many companies, or even divisions within companies, have this ambition to become a digital business…. But they don’t really know how to get started. It’s our job as IT leaders to help them. 

First, it’s about setting a clear direction.  [At Avery Dennison,] it’s about having this ability and desire to exploit emerging technologies to optimize and transform our business.  That may not be the same for every company, of course, that was just something that we came up with to be able to explain, to define our vision and our strategy and our mission and the initiatives. 

The second is building digital dexterity, very important, and we do that with the [digital innovation center of excellence] team [and] with our company-wide learning program. 

And then, third, identifying and assigning responsibilities so that there’s clear ownership and accountability for the outcomes…. 

And finally, developing a very strong communication program. 

On how CIOs can position themselves to be leaders on data and analytics:

[Data and analytics] can no longer be just afterthoughts.  They are fundamental to digital business transformation.  And being a data-driven enterprise, having that DNA, is not just about encouraging the use of data for decision making….  But now it’s about introducing new data science competencies, such as advanced data visualization and AI, and diffusing these competencies throughout the organization. 

It’s not about IT having to own all this.  I’m big on democratizing IT innovation into the different business units.  And data science doesn’t have to be part of the IT organization.  So, it’s diffusing that into the organizations, developing this analytics culture, and providing the supporting technology standards.