Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 19, 2024

Cracking the innovation code: Ten Top Tips from leading CIOs

Few roles are as integral to an organisation as the chief information officer (CIO). Responsible for building technological capabilities and generating strong stakeholder relationships, the CIO operates at the heart of an organisation’s digital tapestry and oversees a variety of platforms and programmes, systems and strategies.

They are also at the forefront of efforts to drive innovation — but this is easier said than done. Sometimes this is down to a lack of resources or a risk averse culture that stymies the introduction of new ideas. Then there are the occasions when efforts to be more innovative can get lost amidst a blizzard of strategies, objectives and proposals. CIOs also face a recurring balancing act between the need to innovate on the one hand and the pressure to improve efficiencies and reduce costs on the other.

And yet the fact remains that if organisations want to grow and remain competitive, innovation is unavoidable, essential even. Such is the pace of change and competition, any that opt not to innovate will almost inevitably risk stagnation and decline.

We recently sat down with leading CIOs from Europe and South Africa to consider these issues and identify the key factors which can help drive innovation. Here’s what they had to say…

1. Efficiency and innovation are intertwined

“There are no trade offs between improving efficiencies and driving innovation. Efficiency can only be delivered through the innovative technology that is being applied. If organisations don't leverage the latest technologies, they will not be efficient.”

Hanna Hennig Hanna Hennig, CIO of Siemens

2. Internal competition is fine — to a point

“There is an art to facilitating knowledge sharing and building an environment of trust. A little bit of internal competition is not a bad thing, but if different teams and individuals feel that their main thing is to compete with each other then you're heading for problems. But on the other hand, if they feel that a CIO is just there to get them to fill in reports and documents all the time, then they're also not going to cooperate with you.”

Derek Wilcocks CIO of Discovery Group

3. Buying something new doesn’t make you innovative

“When I look at innovation one's got to be very careful about buying shiny toys. Innovation is not about buying stuff; it's more about how you build the solution. For me, innovation is not about new hardware, it’s actually about solving client problems and being much more thought-process orientated. Often the solution's already there, you've just got to assemble it much better.”

Jörg Fischer Group CIO of Standard Bank Group

4. Colleagues often need a confidence boost

“It’s great to be very delivery focused but innovation also requires people to be developed and supported in a way that ensures that they have the confidence to guide and challenge the business Sometimes they need to be reassured that they shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or put something very new on the table.”

Derek Wilson CIO of Origin Enterprises

5. Keep the conversation flowing

“It is not a one off process, there needs to be constant engagement with the business. It is also multi-faceted: business articulating their problems in their language, and IT investing time and resources in trying to really get to the nub of the challenge. To do this effectively, we need to discard jargon and technical speak, focus on a specific business challenge, and develop a common vision with the business of the desired outcome or end state.”

Mohammed Gause CIO of Tiger Brands

6. Autonomy can fuel innovation

“There is a increasing cohort of organisations where employees can go out and do what needs to be done in an innovative manner. Typically, these are those organisations that, at a business level, value innovation and want to very rapidly put out new products.”

Derek Wilcocks CIO of Discovery Group

7. Strike a balance between stability and scaling

“Ensuring consistency and standardisation in the environment is vital to enhance stability. It is equally important to prioritise scalability when faced with multiple investments. The main challenge lies in determining the opportune moments to support and advance an idea, as well as to voice timely concerns about its direction.”

Bernd Bucher CIO of Novartis

8. Innovation often comes down to culture

“Innovation shouldn't be separate. Organisations need to foster a culture of continuous innovation and it shouldn’t be outsourced. Innovation has to be part of everyone's day-to-day job and it's about how you do things. Innovation means you've got to be challenging the status quo continuously.”Group

Jörg Fischer Group CIO of Standard Bank

9. Outperformance demands innovation

“How customers, clients and colleagues experience Absa requires digital technology to make it even better. We need to make all engagements and touchpoints as seamless as possible. We also need to focus on improving operational efficiency. To do both at the same time means you have to be innovative and embrace a transformative technology mindset. Applying a growth mindset, improving ways of working and technology, will help us reach outperformance.”

Johnson Idesoh CIO of Absa Group

10. CIOs do more than set the tone — they deliver too

“On a day-to-day basis, the CIO not only delivers operational excellence but also lays the groundwork for future advances by developing individuals and ensuring they have a meaningful impact within the organisation. The CIO also plays a pivotal role in projecting and managing strategic investments that align with the overall business objectives.”

Hélène Chaplain Lambert CIO of Pernod Ricard

Want to learn more?

We analyse the range of leadership challenges CIOs face on a daily basis in our new report: An information transformation: The evolving role of the CIO.