by CIO Staff

CIO head-to-head: Keeping it fresh

Oct 02, 20136 mins
InnovationIT Management

We ask three CIOs for their views on fostering innovation within their organisations and where technology fits in the picture today and tomorrow.

Q: How are you helping your organisation to jump-start innovation and spark new valuable business ideas?

Peter Campbell, CIO and knowledge director, Sparke Helmore Lawyers

The most important way Sparke Helmore’s IT team contributes to innovation is by running a great base service. This creates trust within the firm and turns business conversations from IT problems to IT possibilities. It also frees the IT team to spend time being directly involved with our lawyers and clients.

We have a small team of business analysts who have reviewed a number of matters to identify process similarities across the business, standardised those processes and introduced targeted automation.

This approach has involved mapping what we do to what our clients are trying to achieve, which has also helped us create business process and workflow improvements. These have, in turn, helped us to improve our service and remain profitable in a market in which clients need us to do more with less.

As we’ve rolled out our business improvement program, we have built deep and close relationships with the partners (business owners), the lawyers, the marketing team, the finance team and our clients. These relationships are critical in creating innovation because they mean we can effectively bring the whole firm to any issue we are tackling.

For example, the firm recently had the opportunity to pitch for work with a major bank. The bank wanted to streamline its processes and reduce costs. Our bid team, which included lawyers, marketers and IT people, responded quickly to the request and developed a compelling proposition.

We won the business with a proposal that outshone our competitors’ offerings because it featured an innovative IT-based solution that met the bank’s needs.

We built the solution, using largely in-house resources and existing technology, exceeded the clients’ expectations and delivered it in 13 weeks, which secured a significant, ongoing revenue stream for the firm.

This work and other client projects we’ve worked on are great examples of how IT functions can become an integral part of the firm’s business – not just a back-end service. But without delivering the basics well, the business trust, internal relationships and team capacity that enable these opportunities to flourish just wouldn’t exist.

Nagib Kassis, head of IT and business alignment; information and technology, Allianz Australia Insurance

Innovation is probably one of the most misused words, second only to partnership. Having been in IT for some 15+ years, I have seen innovation take on many different forms. In the earlier years, it was a way to capture ideas employees had that were not being accelerated.

These sort of ‘minor’ innovations generate a large proportion of ideas, however, they are not what you would call ground breaking. In more recent times, the increasingly savvy business and advancement of technology have enabled new and exciting forms of innovation. The key has been in combining the forces of business and IT rather than working in isolation.

For me, innovation starts with ‘BAU’ innovation, which calls for responding to a specific business solution. We are doing this through ‘FedEx Days’, where we pull together key subject matter experts from IT and business into the same room excluding senior management.

The team is empowered to work through the challenge for a full day and deliver solution options by 10am the next day. This leads to immediate value as you remove all the ‘noise’ that generally happens via email, hallway conversations and consecutive meetings. It also fosters creativity, as you have a brains trust that is not distracted by day-to-day activity solely focused on the business challenge.

The second and more exciting form of innovation methodology is gamification of IT. We have all heard of the crowdsourcing model, however, no one knows your IT landscape or your business like your employees do.

So why not take the crowdsourcing concept and apply it internally? This involves putting up a prize pool or incentive, setting the rules of the game and providing a brief on the business challenge.

Mobile development lends itself well to internal crowdsourcing, particularly when one of the key rules is your teams (up to four people) must have an IT person. Employees are highly motivated and you would be amazed by the output when you combine technology and business with a person’s naturally competitive nature. It really does ignite passion and foster innovation.

Syed Ahmed, head of business technology, Servcorp

Innovation is one of those overused and nebulous terms that can mean different things to different people at different levels and functions within an organisation. Luckily, regardless of how it is defined, innovation is a first-class citizen at Servcorp, both at the business level as well as within the technology group. Within this context, a number of approaches can help kick things along:

The first is that culture is king. Innovation is dependent on having people with diverse views and approaches, and then giving them the space and environment to push boundaries. This means recruiting selectively, cultivating cognitive conflict within respectful boundaries, rewarding ideas and providing a safe environment to fail.

Secondly, it’s about creating value. While not all great ideas will yield immediate business benefits, most efforts to foster innovation should be about creating value for customers. Without this guiding principle, technologists usually get stuck in the cycle of innovating for the sake of innovation.

This doesn’t necessarily mean looking at everything with a hard ROI lens, but rather determining if the problem being solved in the novel way is valued by customers because it helps them in some way.

It’s also about embracing agile. Having a short feedback loop doesn’t just mean shorter development iterations, but rather the ability to put products in the hands of end users (both internal and external) so that they can evaluate them faster.

Often the most interesting innovation happens when end users take a product and start using it in ways that the technology team hadn’t envisaged.

Innovation also comes by leveraging cloud. Often the fastest and cheapest way to try something is to spin it up in a ‘disposable’ environment. Rather than putting up roadblocks to this, setting up a few dedicated on-demand, cloud-based infrastructure environments enables a secure and cost effective method to let people try things out.

Lastly, go social. Using collaboration platforms internally and externally enables interesting conversations, and encourages co-creation by providing visibility to people outside the technology teams to spark new ideas and to ask questions about what might be possible.