by Mike Altendorf

Beyond the life of Pi

Mar 19, 20124 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

The launch of Raspberry Pi was one those rare events that makes me realise that British innovation is alive and well and usually living in Cambridge.

It’s remarkable in its simplicity, perfectly timed and could prove to be a seminal moment in the British technology industry.

It also reminded me that innovation often comes from a couple of people who are left alone in a small room with a good idea.

No disrespect to the likes of Google and Microsoft (most of whom were founded on such an idea) but once you get to certain size you are more likely to buy good ideas than generate them.

In the last two articles we have talked about two of the components critical to becoming a successful CIO today, talentand leadership.

Now we look at the third and arguably the most important component, innovation.

I meet many CIOs whose idea of innovation is to have regular meetings with Microsoft, IBM, HP or Cisco to talk about all the wonderful new solutions they have in the pipeline.

I have no problem with these meetings but as CIO, you shouldn’t be attending them.

The fact is that a lot of what these companies provide is more utility than innovation. They are now too big to be real innovators and most of their new stuff comes from acquiring technologies and then re-engineering them into their product lines.

The CIO’s internal innovation is based more around the business: coming up with ideas for technology that changes the game or pushing the IT department to do something about the fact that the systems the business is using are driving them mad.

I call it an App Store mentality: make my experience stimulating so that I think about the business and a life free of IT-related stress.

I have enough things to worry about without software updates being one of them.

Innovation is a word that is misused and abused across the IT industry. Are you really innovative?

We all like to think so but when was the last time you met with a small company just because they produce interesting or cool technology?

When did you take the initiative and say to the board: “We are going to get in half a dozen companies you have never heard of to come in and challenge our thinking?”

I am meeting more and more startups that are showing the way forward with the big trends, such as social apps, mobile/tablet and new thinking about data. It cuts through the hype and shows the reality.

They will not all succeed but they will challenge the status quo in both your IT department and across the business.

Let’s look at one example of a technology that has real power to disrupt and change:the combination of mobility and the cloud. Cloud makes it easy to deploy apps quickly, securely and cheaply.

Mobile is the best way of giving access to company apps and data remotely. Why you should install SAP HR when you could just buy Workday licenses, deploy it immediately and configure on the fly?

No 18-month programme delivered by a third party with a consulting partner who wants to pack your team with expensive experts who need to do a complete analysis of your requirements before they even think about any configuration.

The old mentality of no-one-ever-got-fired-for-hiring-IBM is gone. That is an attitude based on fear.

It’s time to be bold and take risks. It amazes me that despite every programme that costs too much, takes too long to implement and isn’t fit for purpose there are still CIOs out there who continue to take this route.

Here’s a thought to kick off this new approach within your business: get these startups and smaller innovators in to present in a Dragons Den format.

Put a real prize on offer — the winner will be adopted for a trial skunkworks project and you will pay for it.

If successful, the winner can PR the case study so not only are you creating innovative thinking and potentially giving your business something truly game-changing, but you are also supporting our own innovation industry.

This is not just about technology: involve the business and IT on the panel, get people working together and understanding each other, and build empathy, and people will take it seriously.

As a CIO you have to inspire. You have to understand technology futures better than the CEO’s kids and you need a better vision than just running ERP, a website and the company’s IT infrastructure.

Otherwise you will be left behind, implementing the business requirements and managing outsource vendors. What could be worse than that?