How to Succeed at Innovation

There are many contradictions in the CIO role: You are intimately involved in every aspect of the business yet are often considered separate from it. You are the steward of cost containment, yet you must also drive innovation. Technology is critical to your company's success, yet its value is difficult to demonstrate. In other words, it's a wonder IT innovation happens at all.

Yet CIO magazine has identified 100 CIOs all over the globe who are driving innovative projects to successful completion using leadership, business partnership, strategic thinking and great teams. I spoke with three CIO 100 winners about their "special sauce."

Know your audience. Every CIO knows the blank stare of executives who fail to see the value of infrastructure investments. Steve Agnoli, CIO of global law firm K and L Gates, overcame these challenges with a successful project to centralize data centers and integrate applications and networks onto one platform.

When introducing the project, Agnoli played to the firm's lawyers, whose main concern is client delivery. "We tied the project to what our clients are doing with their infrastructures," says Agnoli. "We did our homework and cited clients, who spend millions of dollars with us a year and are structuring their computing processes in a similar way. Lawyers want to know what is going on with their clients," says Agnoli. "We were able to give them an additional data point."

Establish multitiered governance. In January, Hess (HES) completed a transition of its finance business processes and its SAP support processes to multiple global outsourcing providers. The project involved large teams from Hess IT, business units and multiple vendors, so establishing clear lines of communication was important.

CIO Jeff Steinhorn attributes much of the project's success to the partner governance model Hess put in place. "People think of governance as establishing decision-making rights," says Steinhorn. "But I think of it as managing communication, operating activities and the rhythm of the project." Steinhorn involved all layers of the organization. "We aligned business and tech specialists with their vendor counterparts so they could establish their daily, weekly and monthly cadence of meetings all the way up to myself and the business executives, where we would hold governance meetings with our vendor executives, including visits to India. We had a structured set of communication activities, which is what good governance is about." (For more on how Hess communicates well, see "Winning Ways to Project Success," Page 26.)

Involve everyone. When Mary Gendron joined Celestica (CLS) as CIO in 2008, the company was running two manufacturing execution systems--one off-the-shelf and one custom. The manufacturing process is a competitive differentiator for the company, so the executive team wanted to standardize. "It was quite a debate as to which system we were going to use," says Gendron. A cross-functional committee chose the custom solution, but they still needed input and acceptance from the broader business community.

"We used our professional networking platform to give a voice to our internal users," says Gendron, who used a wiki to document requirements. Within six months, the wiki recorded 16,000 visits from a global group of regular contributors, and the requirements definition phase went much faster than in projects managed through conference calls and emails. "It was quite powerful, because everybody felt like they were a part of the project and they could see the results of their input," says Gendron. "The more people you can get into the 'we did it' photo, the better."

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and is a co-founder of the CIO Executive Council. She can be reached at martha@hellersearch.com.

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