Something New

Something New

This IT leader is a strategist who drives business change — and leaves the details to others

Innovation agents put the highest emphasis on strategic thinking and believe strongly in IT's ability to drive new business initiatives. They are very likely to be members of the executive committee that reports to the CEO and they are most often found in smaller and midsize companies.

Innovation agents put the highest emphasis on strategic thinking and believe strongly in IT's ability to drive new business initiatives. They are most often found in medium and larger companies but are unlikely to be members of the executive committee that reports to the CEO.

They might not sport the specific title of Chief Innovation Officer, but Innovation CIOs differ from their peers in working not so much "in" the business, as "on" it. Their remit is to develop a vision for the business into the future, define how the business should evolve to reinvent itself and predict which of the current offerings are likely to be rejected by consumers in future years and which new products will be winners.

John Ansley, CIO Asia Pacific at Roche Pharma, devised his own term for his role: "catalyst innovator". Ansley has a track record of joining organizations where IT has been, if not stagnant, then certainly stable for a substantial period of time, without significant challenge. Usually the information technology group is seen as largely subservient to its business customers rather than as a partner to the business, with little or no ability to either get a seat at the table or push back against the customers' requests, however absurd or risky.

Ansley gets called in to help IT deliver true business value and be a catalyst for change. "We lift their game so that we are a partner to the business and so that we can lift the understanding of the business within the information technology groups to the point where they can actually add value, as opposed to just being there as basically little more than a help desk taking phone calls," he says.

Ansley is typical of CIOs who are Innovation Agents, according to the State of the CIO 2007 survey. Innovation CIOs always think about the business first.

A member of the Australian executive committee and the regional management board at Roche Pharma, Ansley says Innovation Agents not only put the highest emphasis on strategic thinking but believe strongly in IT's ability to enable new business initiatives. "IT should actively imagine business possibilities," he says.

"I think innovation is primary," agrees Jason Van, reflecting on his former role of Innovation Agent as CIO of the Bartercard Group of Companies. "Innovation, especially in the Australian marketplace, is required because we are such a small marketplace, so there is a small ability for companies to be niche players and only operate with one company. Generally, those niche players very quickly, for their own survival, have to become industry solution providers.

"You're always at the forefront of looking for that innovative piece to keep you ahead of the game," Van says.

The majority of innovators (52 percent) side with Ansley in believing that IT should proactively imagine business possibilities. When they are not leading projects or budgeting they are likely to be heavily engaged in strategic business planning. They believe in and rely on their ability to lead and motivate staff and never shy away from leading: of all survey respondents, they spend the most time on leading projects (65 percent).

"My belief is that the CIO should have a really good operational team, and that operational team should be able to run the IT business and to look after the budgets," Ansley says. "I think the CIO should be able to look out over the top of that, and be a point of escalation when things might be going off the rails or a point of leadership when that's needed on the change management side of things."

The Innovation Agent is also more focused on generating revenue than his or her peers. And they are infinitely more likely than other archetypes to work in an organization where the core business strategy is at least in part based on competing through innovation.

"When hired for this role," says Goulburn Valley Health CIO Ed Rhode, "[I needed to be] the take charge, shake it up, clear it out, clean it up type leader that was required to turn a floundering IT business unit into a productive and effective forward thinking unit that it is today. Driving change throughout the IT unit was an essential part of attaining the goal of turning the IT business around, [along with] the developing of change management and project management processes that would support the business by creating a solid infrastructure of practices that are goal-driven and outcome-rich."

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