How to restart innovation

How to restart innovation

Reinvest in R&D, refocus the team and target the user experience.

Reinvest in R&D

We've created an IT innovation team of four people, separate from the operations group, whose sole mission is innovation. They work closely with our IT customer managers, who are integrated with the rest of the company and are therefore able to tell the innovation team what the business lines need while new policies and strategies are still in the development phase. This early linkage allows us to focus on developing solutions that will meet those needs, such as a way to monitor our industrial cleaning products, which saves our commercial customers more money on water than they spend on the product. We aim to have the solutions ready for use at least 18 months before anyone asks for them. Leaders throughout the company are already getting used to the idea of asking what's new that will help them do their jobs or meet their goals.

The business lines pay for our IT services as they need them, so there needs to be a funding source for this kind of pre-demand development. By delivering value over time, we have earned the trust of the company, which has allowed us the freedom to make a significant change: As IT creates solutions or services that allow for lower spending on IT, that savings goes into a fund for the IT innovation team to drive top-line growth. The foundation of innovation, to me, is IT being asked by the rest of the company to drive innovation and growth, not just to support others' efforts.

Diversey CIO and vice president, Brent Hoag

Refocus the Team

To get through the economic downturn, we have been pushing our staff to think lean, look for efficiencies and concentrate on lowering costs. Now I'm creating a new environment by shifting that lean-thinking mind set and encouraging innovation to drive business growth.

My direct reports and I started with a definition: If an idea doesn't drive growth, we decided, it isn't innovation. Also, innovation doesn't have to mean making a big jump that requires significant investment; a lot of it will be in the form of incremental changes to our existing portfolio. In one case, rebuilding our product's user interface for a customer -- making it easier for them to manage product data and share it electronically -- led to ideas for improving the value other customers get out of their own implementations.

We're also getting the rest of the IT staff comfortable with raising new ideas again. I've brought in speakers and passed around books and articles on innovation, but the biggest impact has come from the skip-level meetings I hold with people we identify as rising stars. These meetings reinforce the message that new ideas are welcome from anywhere. Since we've started, analysts and engineers who know every detail of how our company's services work have come forward with creative ideas for driving growth.

Allison Radecki, Senior VP and CIO, GS1 US

Target the User Experience

As a provider of vehicle-related assistance and safety services, we always focus our innovation on improving the customer experience.

We start by embedding innovation and service improvement metrics into the organizational development plans of my entire staff. Everyone needs to be engaged in thinking about innovation that will improve the customer experience, including the people who build the products. Having those metrics in the annual review process keeps creativity front of mind and measurable. We also have centers of excellence that focus on the user experience. One of our greatest successes was the implementation of a visual storyboard to model the lifecycle of a customer, which has greatly improved usability testing of new services prior to development.

I also try to get our Connected Vehicle products into the hands of as many employees as possible. The use of telematics is booming right now in the automotive industry­ -- in the years ahead, all cars will be digitally connected. For our employees, this means constant use of loaner vehicles, test benches and simulators. We even maintain a full-size model of a car dashboard with our latest offerings. There is never a shortage of volunteers for the evaluation teams, and that enthusiasm feeds the creative energy that produces new ideas.

Mark Carbrey, CIO, Cross Country Automotive Services

Hoag, Radecki and Carbrey are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO's publisher. To learn more, visit

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