Can CIOs or CTOs Accept the New Role of Innovation or Transformation Agent?

Mukesh Gupta

CIO and CTO discuss new roleRecently, Dan Burrus wrote a couple of blog post for Harvard Business Review, where he expects that CIOs and CTOs to embrace new roles within their organizations. He expects and the CIOs should embrace the role of chief innovation officer and CTOs to embrace the role of chief transformation officer.

I do agree that this is an unprecedented opportunity, the current times requires organization to find ways to foster innovation, I don’t agree that every organization needs to start on a transformation journey. There are industries that are currently at the cusp of major transformations (Print media, automotive, retail). Organizations in these industries will need to re-invent themselves so that they continue to stay relevant in the new age. However, I don’t believe that this transformation will be led by the CTO. Nor do I believe that CIOs will lead the innovation efforts of the organization.

Though we would expect the CIOs and the CTOs to understand, advocate and embrace the technological revolution  is happening (ever increasing bandwidth, connectedness, processing power and storage; 3D printing; the maker movement; and Big Data and its impact (SoLoMo), mostly it is not the case.

My experience with the  CIOs and CT’s is very different and while they understand all of these changes happening all around them, most of them have not been able to connect them all back to their businesses. Most of these executives have risen to their roles from within their departments. This also means that their knowledge about their entire business is not as much as you would need in order to be able to take up such a role.

This has also been the reason that there are not many CIOs or CTOs that have gone on to become CEOs or enter the board rooms.

Also, in my opinion, Innovation is not something that you can drive from one office and succeed. Innovation needs to be everybody’s business. You need to create a culture where you expect people to keep exploring new things, challenging the assumptions behind standard operating procedures, etc. This can’t be one man’s responsibility. The moment you appoint a Chief Innovation Officer, that becomes his baby, which then kills the spirit of innovation.

Similarly, business transformation responsibility lies with the CEO. He is supposed to understand the business in its entirety. The moment this becomes someone else’s responsibility, the result of the transformation effort will be a disaster waiting to happen. This is also the reason so many of the transformation efforts fail.

The role of the CIO or the CTO should be to constantly keep exploring what is happening outside of the organization. Identify potential technological breakthroughs, newer business models that new technology can enable,  that can have an impact on their business (both good or bad)  and bring it back to the organization.

Another role that a CIO or the CTO can play is one of glue. They are probably the only team in an organization that touches & connects every department within the organization. What happens if they go one step further and become the people who break silos within the organization. This does require them to develop new skills like networking, understanding of the different facets of the business,  different perspectives of the people within each department and thereby the ability to find the common ground. All this can help them be the glue that keeps everyone connected and the hammer that breaks the silos whenever they creep up.

I don’t see them leading Innovation or transformation efforts anytime soon. However, they can be the spark that ignite the people to take one the journey.

Do you think that CIOs and CTOs will take up the chief innovation officer and chief transformation officer roles anytime soon? Why? Do share your thoughts by commenting below.


Mukesh Gupta

About Mukesh Gupta

Mukesh Gupta previously held the role of Executive Liaison for the SAP User group in India. He worked as the bridge between the User group and SAP (Development, Consulting, Sales and product management).