The chief innovation officer role has existed for a number of years, but the position has gained increased visibility as digital transformation initiatives have taken center stage on the corporate agenda. And while chief innovation officers may share an acronym with their chief information officer counterparts, the similarities end there—at least for the time being.
Chief information officers typically focus on technology investments, strategy, and goals as they relate to IT. The chief innovation officer looks at these same areas but from the broader perspectives of different departments and functions to ensure that innovation efforts are aligned with various company needs and, ultimately, position the organization for success. As Esther Shein put it in a recent CIO article, “Chief innovation officers tend to have a future-focused vision to help an organization realize its strategic objectives by thinking radically about its mission and people and how to change processes to improve business performance.”
As such, in the digital age, it follows that a key part of this radical thinking involves ensuring widespread access to data analytics and encouraging a culture of pervasive data access. It’s not just about making sure that different teams have access to customer data or can track inventory status or other metrics in real time—although those are certainly important elements for digital innovation.
But the real benefit of big data analytics lies in its ability to link seemingly disparate information and drive innovation in the process. To quote Wharton professor Lynn Wu, “What I find is that analytics can really drive the creation of recombinations, or combining a diverse set of existing technologies in a new way. Each individual technology already exists, but how do we recombine them in some ways to create a new innovation? Or reuse something that we know solved one problem, but apply it to a different domain?”
Because this thinking represents a new approach to business processes, a key part of the chief innovation officer’s role centers on people management and coaching employees at every level of the organization to embrace data as a means of improving business outcomes.
For more on this and how chief innovation officers from a variety of industries are driving change, you can read the CIO piece in its entirety here.