by Stephanie Overby

How CIOs Can Foster Innovation in IT

Jul 27, 20093 mins

CIO 100 Award-Winning CIOs share their advice for inspiring the development of new technologies and innovative thinking within your IT departmentn

“OK. What’s Next?” It’s the last leg of a three-part agenda Eurpac CIO Mike Skinner uses each time he meets with his staff. Number one: Where are resources invested? Number two: What progress have we made? Number three: What’s our next goal? Every meeting. Every agenda. Every time.

Skinner doesn’t mean, “next on the to-do list,” he means “what’s the next big thing?” By deeply imbedding an emphasis on innovation into IT culture, even the meetings Skinner doesn’t lead end focused on the future. And it’s that ingrained, innovative mind-set that helped Eurpac earn a CIO 100 honor this year for Artist2Market, a technology platform for performing artists with a flexible model for recording, developing and distributing their work.

Eurpac is an employee-owned corporation that spans several industries, handling marketing and sales for everything from tobacco products to video games. And Skinner and his team say they’ve found some of their best new ideas right inside the company, taking proven technology from one side of the business and applying it to another. “Maybe we never would have invested in that capability in our home entertainment business but we can see where it can add value elsewhere,” Skinner explains.

To Learn More about our 2009 CIO 100 honorees, click here.

Other CIO 100 honorees agree that some of the biggest IT advances originate outside of IT. CIO 100 honoree Domino’s developed Pizza Tracker, which allows customers to track their orders online from start to finish. This idea stemmed from seeing other industries apply the concept, says Domino’s Vice President of Information Services Chris McGlothlin.

At one point, McGlothlin wanted all IT employees to devote 10 percent of their time to blue-sky ideas. The problem was that in the fast food world, he knew having everyone thinking of the future would impair daily operations. Instead he’s formed an emerging technology team that’s focused entirely on innovation. Their only objective: two business-transforming ideas per year.

Three years in, McGlothlin couldn’t be more pleased with their productivity. “When you assemble the right team, with the right players, incentives and environment, amazing things happen,” he says. The key is to let go of the executive ego. “High-performing teams can accomplish 20 times more than you could ever hope to by yourself.”

At CIO 100 honoree Raytheon, most IT employees are focused on bottom-line results. But Vice President and CIO Rebecca Rhoads gives her charges room to flex their creative muscles and has teams tasked with looking at “new problem spaces” to identify innovative solutions. “This forward-looking approach is what allows our entire IT organization to anticipate new technologies,” Rhoads says.

Another key to keeping innovation front and center is making it visible. Rhoads says that CIOs who wish to innovate must “be sure everyone understands its importance to the company; protect innovative thinking; share ideas, funding and staffing freely; and make sure successes are promoted.”

But just as important as a spotlight on success is highlighting ideas with potential. Domino’s McGlothlin tries to keep the phrase “that’ll never work” out of his vocabulary, even when an idea clearly needs more time in the oven. “I have a tremendous team,” says McGlothlin, “and as long as I don’t squash their innate passion and curiosity, I believe that innovation will happen.”

Stephanie Overby is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.