Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Redefining the Chief Innovation Officer

The role of Chief Innovation Officer has been around for more than a decade but it hasn’t been universally adopted yet across most organizations. In fact, there is quite a bit of confusion as to how the CTO, CIO (information officer), Strategy and Innovation ought to relate to one another. Many organizations combine all these roles within the Chief Information Officer job description. While combining the CTO and CIO roles together makes sense, adding strategy and innovation to the duties for one role is much less effective for the following reasons:

  1. Because in most cases it simply adds too much workload to one person.
  2. Because a CIO/CTO is often siloed off away from top leadership or the business community. This happens because many organizations want the CIO/CTO to focus solely on delivering IT capability rather than helping to define how technology may help the organization evolve.
  3. Because innovation is often directly at odds with management of existing technology. In other words, in some cases the IT department is the group least open to adopting innovations.

Another big problem with the role of Chief Innovation Officer (besides the fact that it shares the same acronym as the Chief Information Officer) is that the fact there is no standard industry definition for what it encompasses. Many of the definitions out there today are somewhat contradictory and worse yet most of them are incredibly vague when it comes to defining what duties this role would perform. I’m hoping to help correct that with the following definition (we’ll start by changing the acronym):

Chief (or Director) of Innovation (CI) - The Chief of Innovation is responsible for facilitating the convergence and evolution of business goals with technical capability. The CI acts as a liaison and link between the business and IT groups within the enterprise. The CI helps to define strategy, envision solutions and facilitate complex initiatives. The specific duties of the CI include the following:

  • Definition of Techno-functional strategy and Vision Statement/s. 
  • Alignment of business objectives to enterprise roadmaps.
  • Product Definition and Design. (this can include internal or external capabilities that aren't marketed as products)
  • Management of an organizational “Continuous Innovation” process (includes Ideation - I will write a post about this soon).
  • Research and Development planning & oversight.
  • Industry-level coordination and outreach. (for all things innovation-related)
  • Start-up management or facilitation (for initiatives groups, products etc.)

The CI role probably also requires us to define what we mean by Innovation in an enterprise context:
Innovation is the set of technology-driven activities or capabilities that represent revolutionary or potentially disruptive improvements in business practice. This implies that ordinary improvements such as adding new servers (similar to those already present), or upgrading software that is already owned is not innovation per se but rather represents steady state enhancements.  
Innovation tends to go hand in hand with one or more organizational Transformations. Transformations can be business or technology-focused or both. An example of a transformation might be moving from custom software to a packaged ERP solution or integrating all the organization's social media-related capabilities into a unified digital presence. Each of these examples would have profound impacts on the nature of the business (in terms of what it could accomplish and how it interacts with its consumers). 
You’ll note that I have linked all Innovation to Technology. The reason for this is simple – it is almost impossible to envision any significant innovation today without technology playing a major role in it. The Chief of Innovation role will become increasingly important in coming years. The CI is in effect the Chief Incubator – the change agent for the organization and potentially the one who demonstrates proofs of concepts. The CI is not constrained by IT’s perceived limitations but also can temper business zeal with a pragmatic understanding of can or can’t be accomplished.


  1. The absence of an all-encompassing definition of the responsibilities of a Chief Innovation Officer is a great example of why many companies are still struggling to see far-reaching returns on their innovation initiatives. This article compliments a viewpoints titled, “The Chief Innovation Officer: Is It CIO, CNO, or CINO?” describing the radical differences between the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer and the Chief Innovation Officer. The Chief Innovation Officer is more than just a link between business and IT groups, it’s a member of the corporate executive team held accountable for driving innovation capabilities across functions and geographies to deliver better business results. To read the full article visit: