How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer

David Fletcher, CTO, State of Utah | 10/16/2013 | 8 comments

David Fletcher
How can a single person succeed simultaneously as an organization's chief infrastructure officer and as its chief innovation officer? Most CIOs can relate to challenges involved in the dual roles they are increasingly being asked to fill.

Indeed, innovation was on the minds of many CIOs at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers 2013 Annual Conference. Attendees at the conference, Oct. 13-16 in Philadelphia, represented 49 US states and four territories.

During the conference, a group of city CIOs met with their state counterparts to discuss common challenges, particularly the need to be innovative while at the same time attending to core infrastructure needs. Such universal challenges will likely ring true for many CIOs working in the private sector as well.

A NASCIO white paper, "State CIO Leadership in Government Innovation and Transformation," published in October 2013, tackled these challenges head on, and compared the experiences of state CIOs with those of their private-sector counterparts.

The white paper was developed using five sources of research: a compilation of publicly available information; findings of NASCIO's 2012 State CIO Survey; data from the organization's "State CIO Priorities for 2013" report; interviews with CIOs from select states; and interviews with private-sector CIOs.

According to the white paper:

    CIOs face a mixture of issues and opportunities that can support government operations, grow capabilities, and enable the transformation of the way government does business. Various third parties have defined this as the 'nexus of forces' or 'disruptors' (cloud, mobile, data and analytics, and social computing). This convergence is transforming solutions, business processes, and roles, forcing a reprioritization of relationships, modifying the traditional roles of authority, and placing new emphasis on innovation, data, vendor relations management, and hybrid public/private business models.

The core issues raised in the white paper were succinctly summed up in the title of a panel discussion during the NASCIO annual conference: "The Challenge of Managing Innovation While Keeping the Trains Running On Time." Panelists included Adel Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Philadelphia; Michael Powell, Chief Innovation Officer of the State of Maryland; John Deklinksi, Governor's Office Director of Innovation; and Bill Oates, CIO, City of Boston.

Some CIOs are opting for the "innovation" route, going so far as to change their titles to reflect this role. During the panel discussion, Ebeid talked about why he has officially adopted the title of Chief Innovation Officer, noting that he chose to emphasize that aspect of his job while promoting civic hackathons, mobile government services, and open data.

Ebeid suggested during the session that, when CIOs fail to address the innovation agenda, they risk becoming another type of CIO: The Chief Irrelevant Officer.

During his conference keynote address, Alan Gregerman, author of the book The Necessity of Strangers, spoke about why we regularly need to reach outside our immediate circle when seeking ways to innovate.

The NASCIO white paper provides additional guidance for "how CIOs can evolve their roles and change the lens through which the role is viewed." Among the top tips:

  • Stay informed on all of the critical issues facing the state, and specifically the issues the Administration is pursuing. Do not limit this information to technology uses only.

  • Proactively communicate the status of issues and threats to delivery of government services, i.e. cybersecurity.

  • Stay informed on how disruptive and enabling opportunities, technologies, solutions, and business models could help support and drive state priorities.

  • Identify how IT can facilitate, enhance, or improve the core lines of the state's functions or processes.

  • Develop personal relationships with critical decision makers in the administration through visits, assistance to staff, sharing of information and understanding of their challenges.

How do you view your role as CIO? Should the CIO become a Chief Innovation Officer? What other ways would you like to see the role of CIO evolve? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

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View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
kstaron   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/29/2013 2:34:16 PM
Outside the box
I think part of being an officer of innovation as well as information involves surrounding yourself with people outside the tech part of business so you can know what's going on and be exposed to other ideas that you can translate into technological innovation for your company.
Susan Nunziata   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 2:52:48 PM
Re: Room for all?
@David: Thanks, I'm adding that book to my reading list. 

I particularly like this idea:

He also suggests that when we hire new people we should get them to open up about ways that we can improve while they are still new to the organization...

I have seen time and again where folks who come into a company with great new ideas have their ideas squashed by the "old-timers" who are so ingrained in the corporate culture that their automatic response to anything new is "no".

I'm involved in a project at my company where we are looking to create an idea incubator, it's still very much in the preliminary stages, I hope to be able to share more information about this next year.

Can you share more about how you encourage idea generation and innovation in your own organizaiton?
davidfletcher   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 11:57:33 AM
Re: Room for all?
Susan,

Alan Gregerman, who spoke at the NASCIO conference shared some interesting insights on that topic.  He has a book called "The Necessity of Strangers" which talks about the importance of not just surrounding ourselves by people who think the same as we do.  He also suggests that when we hire new people we should get them to open up about ways that we can improve while they are still new to the organization as a way to tap new ideas before they are ingrained in the existing corporate culture.

Innovation can come from anywhere.  The CIO needs to be able to recognize it, tap into it and exploit it effectively with the right resources and support.
Susan Nunziata   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 12:05:27 AM
Room for all?
Thanks for sharing your learnings from the NASCIO event, David. What kind of skills do you think a Chief Innovation Officer should have?

I see this as an exciting new oportunity for people in IT to combine their technical knowldge, their business knowledge and the creativity into a new and fascinating role.

 
davidfletcher   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/21/2013 12:14:37 PM
Re: CTO/CIO
Hi Soozyg,

In our organization, my primary responsibilities as CTO are to focus on innovation, technical architecture and (since I work for state government) digital government. We also have a chief operating officer that makes sure things continue to operate efficiently, freeing the CIO to oversee the whole thing,  as well as focus on interactions with the cabinet, the legislature and our many customer agencies. I know that varies for many organizations.  So the Chief Innovation Officer may vary from organization to organization, but I think the CIO (Chief Information Officer) needs to make sure that the innovation function continues to be an important part of the IT organization to ensure its relevance going forward.  In a world where cloud services can easily replace many of an IT shop's traditional functions, the ability to provide innovation to the enterprise can certainly set it apart and establish its relevance.

Thanks for your comments,

Dave
tekedge   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/19/2013 2:44:20 PM
How to Avoid Becoming The Chief Irrelevant Officer
@sooyz I agree. could not have said it better.  !
Ariella   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/17/2013 3:07:04 PM
Re: CTO/CIO
good point about the distinction between the two roles, @soozyg
soozyg   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/17/2013 8:18:10 AM
CTO/CIO
Interesting article. I would think the CTO would be a different position from the CIO (Innovation). Both are needed and fill two different roles. CTO would work under the CIO and manage/direct regular, day-to-day issues and maintenance, while the CIO would work to move the company forward, including thinking of ways to improve the issues the CTO deals with.


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