What is IT innovation?

CIOs must lead the charge when it comes to being creative, argues Mark Samuels in his latest column.

Mark Samuels

The Doctor's Surgery: CIOs are regularly told to search for new sources of innovation. But what is innovation, and is the IT leader best placed to deliver such improvement?

When it comes to a definition, innovation is not invention, as many industry commentators would have you believe. Invention involves the development of something new or unique and is quite distinct from innovation, which is more helpfully viewed as creativity.

Ask a CIO if it's their job to help the business save and make money, and their answer will be overwhelmingly positive. But a CIO is likely to be reticent when asked if it's their job to be innovative.

In organisational terms, such creativity usually involves bringing novel ideas into a business in order to change and improve an existing way of operating. The underlying role of technology in modern business means IT is well placed to deliver innovation.

This demand for IT-enabled change places pressure on the shoulders of technology chiefs. Ask a CIO if it's their job to help the business save and make money, and their answer will be overwhelmingly positive. But a CIO is likely to be reticent when asked if it's their job to be innovative.

The mix-up between invention and innovation is a large part of the problem. CIOs can be left thinking that innovation involves allocating large parts of their IT budget to research and development. That might be the case in a firm operating in a cutting-edge sector, but IT innovation for other organisations is more likely to involve subtle and continual improvement.

The good news for reticent CIOs is that the crucial role of technology in modern business means IT-led innovation is becoming a standard part of the day job. IT leaders might not think of their work as transformational but the technology they are introducing is helping to push business improvement.

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