The Chief Innovation Officer: What’s in a Name

Several roles, including the Chief Transformation Officer role, have been examined in previous posts. We’ve discussed how the role of the Chief Information Officer has changed due to the diffusion of IT and the resulting challenges that CIOs face. Some believe that the CIO role has changed so radically it should be renamed, to the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) role.

One could well ask, what’s the difference between a role focused on transformation and one on innovation? The fact that the CINO role is regarded by many as an expansion of the CIO role is clearly a distinct difference.

For example, Bjoern Goerke, who heads the SAP Product & Innovation Technology Development unit, says that “Today, my job is to focus more on innovation than ever before. The grand name transformation from Chief Information Officer to Chief Innovation Officer is dictated by the changing tech world….”

Harvard Business Review notes that the CEO was traditionally the innovator in the C-suite, but that now most C-suite roles don’t fully realize what is technologically possible. “However, the CIO does have interest, access, and the understanding of that type of information and knowledge, which is why the CIO position needs to transform into the Chief Innovation Officer.”

Finally, states that, no matter whether this role is called Chief Innovation Officer or other titles like Vice President of Artificial Intelligence, “it will become a crucial part of the business landscape over the next five years.”

The Chief Innovation Officer: Examples

There’s plenty of examples of chief innovation officers out there. One is Richard Culatta, the Chief Innovation Officer of Rhode Island. He propelled the public-private partnership Computer Science for Rhode Island, or CS4RI, to life. This initiative was designed to improve computer science education throughout Rhode Island and to become the gateway for tech-oriented jobs.

Phil Ventimiglia, the Chief Innovation Officer at Georgia State University, has both the responsibilities of a traditional CIO and the charge to provide leadership in developing the digital university of the future. Ventimiglia notes that innovation never stems solely from one person. Rather, his task is to foster Georgia State’s culture of innovation through initiatives like the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and a digital literacy program.

Debra Lam, the Chief Innovation and Performance Officer for Pittsburgh, also has dual responsibilities. She serves as the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s CIO, in addition to heading technology strategy. This means that Lam can both focus on operational management and on innovative ways to improve tech operations.

The Chief Innovation Officer: Responsibilities

The CINO typically leads the company in finding and developing ideas for new products and new initiatives, working to ensure that innovative ideas are recognized and supported throughout the organization.

Other responsibilities include supporting business units in new product and service initiatives by acting as a methodology expert and facilitator, running idea generation platforms and crowdsourcing ideas, and examining trends and market disruptions.

In addition, a key part of the CINO’s role is collaborating throughout the organization to ensure that the good ideas generated within the company become fully realized products. This translates into working with research and development teams, product and marketing managers, and the C-suite, aligning innovation with the corporate vision. Naturally, that means the CINO must have stellar communication skills.

Creating an innovation strategy that fits into the company’s overall strategy and delivering a proof of concept that the C-suite can appraise are both key. By doing this, the CINO can boost collaboration.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, the co-author of Innovation as Usual, notes the importance of innovators focusing on bottom-line impact so that their efforts can be measured. He points to Jordan Cohen, who developed an internal service at Pfizer called PfizerWorks. Cohen ensured that he could obtain 24-hour feedback from users of this service and constantly fine-tune it. The result was resounding success.

The Chief Innovation Officer: Summing Up

In discussing the evolving role of the CIO, Forbes notes that this role had to “figure out how to get all the various data pipes to connect so that the business didn’t experience any backlogs, slow leaks or sudden unpleasant puddles of data loss. Today, however, the CIO truly drives the thinking, and resulting strategy, on what to do with all that data.”

Clearly, data must be tied to any innovation within a business. So whether the CINO is an extended version of a CIO at an organization or a brand-new position, basing any preliminary innovation initiatives on the overall strategy and measuring key performance indicators as the initiatives are developed are both crucial for success.