by Madeline Weiss, June Drewry

CIOs Need to Learn New Ways of Thinking

Dec 21, 20123 mins
CIOInnovationIT Skills

In 2013, IT leaders should tap into the latest research about business transformation, collaboration and innovation, say columnists Madeline Weiss and June Drewry.

At the most recent Society for Information Management Advanced Practices Council (APC) meeting, we heard four research presentations that, at first glance, appeared to be on quite disparate topics: enterprise social architecture, collaboration engineering, digital excellence and business intelligence. But on a second look, we noticed a common theme: CIOs need to think differently in 2013.

It’s time to reconsider our business models, how employees collaborate, how we achieve innovation and how we empower staff and customers.

Digital Transformation

Breakthroughs often begin by thinking differently about the company’s mission. Pages Jaune, the French Yellow Pages, was losing business as paper books became less and less relevant. The CEO led the effort to re-conceptualize the business as one that connects small businesses with local customers, which led to new products and services, such as mobile apps and Web pages for its member companies.

At the APC, we used the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies as a metaphor for this form of breakthrough thinking. Are you focused on speeding up the caterpillar’s process? Or are you envisioning that totally new butterfly?

Enterprise Social Architecture

Think about how to enable collaboration through social tools, such as Flickr, Twitter, Yammer, blogs, whiteboards and pool tables. In addition to the traditional hierarchical organization chart, look at social graphs–maps of our online social connections and interactions–that reveal where we have clusters of expertise to tap and where upcoming retirements will affect employee networks, for example.

Collaboration Engineering

CIOs are very familiar with the concept of repeatable processes in organizations, but they don’t usually think about employee collaboration in those terms. Researcher G.J. de Vreede has found that collaboration processes can be identified, standardized and repeated (without the continuing use of professional facilitators).

Two APC members served as research sites where de Vreede successfully created repeatable processes for raising innovative ideas for new products (at Verisk Analytics) and for backlog planning in agile development (at Howard Hughes Medical Institute). In both cases, he designed a collaboration process, demonstrated its viability and then trained company experts to run future collaboration sessions.

Think about what repeatable processes for collaboration and innovation could mean for your organization.

Business Analytics

Guess, a global brand in contemporary apparel, employs agile development to create iPad applications that provide data analytics to employees around the world. But instead of the usual process–holding a few interview sessions with users–business-savvy IT staff spent eight weeks shadowing users to fully understand their environment.

Instead of developing the apps in-house, the retailer called on experts at MicroStrategy to deliver just what Guess staff needed to innovate faster in their volatile market. For example, Guess staffers recognized that jackets weren’t selling well in stores in the Northeast because they didn’t look warm (although they were) and quickly shipped the coats to stores in more moderate climates.

Thinking differently underlies the solution to just about every challenge confronting CIOs in the fast-paced and volatile business environment of 2013. Take big data. Are you thinking about pushing out more data to crunch–that is, creating faster caterpillars? Or are you thinking about creating butterflies by exploiting data streams to identify customer needs that even customers haven’t thought of yet?

Madeline Weiss is director of the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council (APC). June Drewry is former CIO of Chubb and an adviser to the APC.

Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.