Top Tips from the CIO 100: 15 Ways to Create Innovation with IT

Making businesspeople comfortable and using technologies you already have are just two ideas you can steal from CIO 100 winners to make yourself a better innovator.

Behind every successful innovator are effective leadership and management practices. Below, 15 CIO 100 winners share their secrets.

1. Don't Rest on Your Laurels

"You continuously have to try to improve IT's position," says Foley & Lardner CIO Doug Caddell. "You have to build credibility, capitalize on successes and market IT. If you don't, no one will."

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CIO 100: IT Innovation

Quiz: Are You Innovative?

100 Innovative Projects

3 Keys to Innovation Success

Make Money, Win Customers

2. Spend Time on Organizational Design

"Most IT people don't think in deep and nuanced ways about human systems the way they do about computer systems," says Vince Kellen, VP of IS at DePaul University. "IT organizations are often underengineered. But they should be treated like any large technology project." The goal is to align employee talents with organizational needs.

3. If You Love Innovation, Set it Free

"It's easy to get into the trap of thinking, We innovate it, so we own it," says Scott Sullivan, VP of information technology and services for Pitt Ohio Express. But the real success of IT-led business innovation comes only when the business takes ownership. "It's hard to do. It's your baby," says Sullivan. "But when it comes to IT-driven innovation, you have to let it go."

4. Get Stakeholder Skin in the Game

For David Behen, deputy county administrator and CIO for Washtenaw County, Mich., the key to successful innovation is to get stakeholder buy-in-not just philosophically but literally. "Get them to put forward some form of resources," says Behen, whether it's human capital, assets or money. "Once you have that, it's pretty hard to stop the momentum."

5. Assume Anything Can Be Improved

"You have to have the courage to examine what has been the norm and ask yourself why, and then ask yourself why again, and ask yourself why a third time," says Tim Harvey, executive VP of global distribution services and CIO of Hilton Hotels. Any process has the potential to be more efficient. "You have to find where things can be changed to satisfy customer demand while at the same time improving internal operational results."

6. Make Businesspeople Comfortable

"If I put my IT staff in an 18-wheeler and asked them to drive, they'd be pretty scared," says Chris Luter, IT director of Veridian Homes. And "if you're talking to the business in a way that is intimidating, you won't create a partnership with them." So Luter avoids techy jargon.

7. Test, and Test Again

Washington Mutual commissions focus groups to test-drive customer-facing applications while they are under development. "It isn't until we establish what is going to work best for our customers that we build the software," says CIO Deb Horvath.

8. Think Broadly About ROI

A large-scale IT project's return on investment isn't always delivered in neatly packaged cold, hard figures. For this reason, Randy Headrick, Air National Guard's CIO and director of communications and information, recommends factoring in cost-avoidance variables-such as fines you won't have to pay or employees you won't have to add to the payroll-for a more accurate assessment of a project's financial impact.

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