Electric bulb

Focus on Innovation Needed for CIOs

Electric bulbAs everyone knows the “I” in CIO stands for information. Isn’t it time though that this changed and the CIO’s role is to become the Chief Innovation Officer? Historically the mandate for the CIO has been to keep the technology up and running to support the business. Even in today’s IT era where the CIO is a partner to the business, the role of the CIO is find a way to enable the requests that come from the lines of business. But what if the business leaders are asking for the wrong things because they don’t know what’s possible with all of this new technology out there?

I believe the CIOs role should, in fact, be to challenge the status quo and to look for newer, better ways of doing things by leveraging technology. To accomplish this, though, CIOs must be willing to think differently and must always be asking, “What’s possible?” This will require not only a good understanding of the business, but also vision and an innovative mindset. CIOs have the opportunity today to be the leaders of change, not just the implementers.

Evolve Archaic Processes

As an example, I recently did some work with a regional bank in the New England area. The bank makes most of its money processing commercial loans for buildings and land that business might purchase. The bank typically competes with many larger entities such as Bank of America and Chase, so it needs to do something unique to convince customers to go with a small, regional firm instead of a large, nationwide one.

The CIO at the bank recognized that the process for loan approval was archaic and needed to evolve. Like, almost all financial institutions, the process involved a number of disjointed processes. Field service people head out with a list of properties to visit. Pictures are taken with a digital camera and then stored on a flash card. When the field service person eventually makes it back to the office, the pictures are downloaded to a PC and then eventually uploaded to a central server. An e-mail is then sent to the responsible people to review. Once the properties are reviewed and approved, the loan officers are notified manually and then the customer is notified. From start to finish, the whole process takes about a week.

The CIO had a vision of improving this process and to do so he actually went on the road with the field service people for about two weeks to study the process and understand how to improve it.

Now the process works by first having the route for the field person automatically generated by a home grown application. This alone saves at least an hour a day versus having the individuals guess the best route. Once the person is there, pictures are now taken with iPads or iPhones and the digital images are automatically uploaded to a cloud resource. Once the field person is finished, a message is automatically generated and emails are sent to the approvers and the next one in the queue is assigned that property. Approval of the property then generates another automated message to the loan officer and approval is given to the customer.

The improvement in process means that the bank can now approve loans the same day if need be but typically takes 1-2 days. The new process is a significant upgrade over the old one that could take up to a week, and is something that can be used to differentiate the small, regional bank.

If Not CIOs, Who?

The upgrade in process happened because the CIO had the vision to innovate and ask the question “is there a better way to do this?” It’s often easy to accept the status quo and just accept it as the norm. The problem is that another company will come along, innovate, and leave the others in the rear view mirror.

Some CIOs may disagree with the premise that it is his or her responsibility to innovate at a business process level. But I ask, if not the CIO, then who? Who else has the ability to understand what technology can be used to change the way companies operate and the way users work? No one. That’s why I say it’s time for the “I” in CIO to stand for “innovation”.