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Innovation series part 1 – Is the chief innovation officer necessary?

It has been 4 months since I last blogged and I know it has been way over due. I apologize to many of my faitfull readers; It was just that busy that finding time to thoughtfully write things down was just not there.

Many of you know me of being either somewhat of a maverick; a change agent@sap ; an innovator with a community flair or being the guy that is been heading up some pieces of the SAP Community Network. Whatever you want to call it; I do love change and driving change. Both roles go hand in hand; but they are tough to combine when talking spending time as I want to make sure I do both well. In this series ( I do not know how many parts it will be yet ) I want to address the world of innovation.

I was recently on a panel with Susie Wee; the CTO of HP and  Tad Milbourn who is responsible for managing Intuit Brainstorm at the bay area executive meetup.  and the topic was around Innovation and how it has been dubbed as one of the more promising purpose-driven applications of social and collaborative technology in the enterprises. Whether as a way to encourage customers or internal employees, Innovation Programs in enterprises have unlocked critical ideas at well known enterprises that has ultimately led to the conception of new product ideas, significant cost savings internally and finally, operational efficiency. [thanks for the write up Tatyana !] We had a great audience from a wide range of the industry from Shell Israel from twitterville to Kira Wampler (intuit’s community super evangelist); who by the way is moving to the Sean O’Driscolls (ex MSFT evangelist) Ant Eyes view company this coming week ( yes I love the gossip sometimes too ! … ) 

It made me realize that we have done a lot in the SAP communities around innovation; but have not really strategically capitalized on it. We are good at grass roots incubation and getting folks excited though. This year is going to be a year for the Community Network team to be focused on using the community network as a more important channel for outside in and inside out innovation for our SAP ecosystem. The first wave was the launch of CodeX for SDN technology audiences

But we will have much more in place for all of you by the end of the year. This is the primary reason behind this series. I also want to explain my thinking around innovation as report progress during the year in my own words.

This first part today will be around the role of a chief innovation officer. When I googled Chief Innovation Officer this week I was surprised by the little amount of solid results I got. Then I read the fourth searc result that talked about the death of the chief innovation officer and I personally started to wonder; should SAP or any other company as a matter of fact have a C.I.O or not ?

In other words: Is it the role of our new  SAP co-CEO’s or should it be carved out specifically or is Vishal Sikka (CTO @SAP ) now the personification of the new kind of the C.I.O; should companies that talk so much about innovation with its customers have one? or should it be part of the companies DNA and inside a normal org structure? I would love to hear your opinion – I think the opinions will run wide and diverse…

Here would be my starting job description of the CIO – First of all it should be a person who is a blend of a marketer, a technologist, a strategist and a business savvy person. I thnk the CIO should have a portfolio of audacious projects that do not neatly fit into any of the company’s or team’s current functions or business models. This person would have a team of cross boundary folks from different walks of life that provide intelligent and different perspectives on the new ventures. Ideally this person would have a hodgepodge of corporate initiatives under the umbrella; but a disciplined executable model to incubate start and execute on new ventures without getting trapped into the corporate rules and governance and regulations. Eventually these new incubated ideas could become part of the core of the business and the folks that start them are most passionate about the they could ultimately run them.

Challenges within larger organizations that  I think will be faced:

  • Companies do not want to have a change of CIO every time a cool new business gets started
  • Other teams would be fearfull of the impact of the possible change on them LT; it can negatively impact them ( R&D, etc )
  • You need full autonomy from the larger collective at least for a while
  • You need a different incentive structure within the company to measure and reward innovation

A Blog I came accross said  the CIO should be Chief creator of pleasant surprises and avoider of unpleasant surprises. I disagree.. I think the CIO should be somewhat of an agitator and question some of the core beliefs in the company; a little bit of a maverick and a change agent. Unpleasant surprises will just be part of it as well.

Some key topics that the CIO will need to cover should be:

  • Accountable for Innovation at the executive level  including Setting Innovation Key performance indicators and Process Performance Indicators  that are honored by the innovators in the company themselves – Innovation is as much about process as it is about the innovation themselves
  • Design an enterprise wide innovaiton strategy together with the CPO and CEO
  • Have their own independent budget and people; IMPORTANT with authority accross the organization – Figure out how they would deal with all the other elements that drive further innovation at the company like R&D, M&A, CTO, etc
  • Establishes a culture of creativity by encouraging community enabled collaboration without feeling the need to be part of it all the time ( OK to report )

What I have read in most articles is that companies that have carved out such a role that purely focuses on it; have shown way more improvement in their overal approach in harnessing innovation, subsequently creating an image and NPS around innovation. Anyways.. would love to get the communities perspective on this role and where it would sit and fit in your world and if you think it is needed in most organizations.


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      Author's profile photo Former Member
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      Some how, I am having trouble visualizing a centralized way of innovation, under an appointed CIO - especially in a big company.

      Innovation, by nature, is hard to drive top down. I think that having a CIO, and special projects only under that person will possibly cause a lot of panic in rest of the organization. This, I think will actually prevent the large number of people from innovating, which will be a shame.

      However, having executives trained to spot grassroots level innovation (and bubble it up for to management support and funcding) is a great idea . I would rather have a CEO or CTO allocate some budget for special projects, and have a process/forum like "demo jam" for employees to secure funding for their pet initiatives. That would make it very democratic, and transparent, and get wider participation. And subject to legal and other blessings, this could also be extended to outside the firewall too.

      So,at the moment, I think centralizing innovation beats the purpose - but I have an open mind on it, and will gladly stand corrected if more information convinces me otherwise.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Vijay, I am a huge proponent of a hub and spoke innovation model; I never implied in my blog that it should be some sort of centralized only function. There is both a centralized reporting and reward system that need to be in place as well as a process to measure the hub and spoke model's innovation levels. The issue I have with purely hub and spoke is that you can have wildgrow innovation where a lot of time and effort is spent that could hurt the current businesses; or worse investments in innovation in snmaller areas that are overlapping but not connected.