Who Owns IT Innovation in Today’s Business Environment?

Faster than Usain Bolt, IT innovation is excelling at an exceptional rate. And with customers more demanding than Kanye West, there is a supreme need for digital prowess.

When the customer demands, the business reacts. But who is spearheading the revolutions that bring the best IT transformations to the fore?

The 2017 Harvey Nash CIO Survey, which considers IT leadership opinions from across the globe, reported that currently just 26% of CIOs are leading innovation in their organisations. Six in ten believe the CIO should be taking a greater leadership role in this arena. Yet, when we scrutinise the IT innovation landscape, we see roles falling at the feet of a wide range of business leaders.

Who’s leading innovation?

KBC Bank of Ireland, first to market with Apple and Android Pay, has just announced the launch of its new on-boarding app as part of its €1.5bn group-wide digital transformation.

Its ‘Digital Hub’ initiative in Dublin is part of this and leading the march is Eddie Dillon, a Chartered Accountant by trade who’s worked in senior advisory and corporate finance roles and, most recently, as Director of Products at the bank before taking the role of Director of Innovation.

Over at Ryanair, innovation falls on the shoulders of Kenny Jacobs, previously Head of Marketing with a career rich in brand-focused marketing leadership.

His talk in July at Harvey Nash Ireland and NashTech’s event, ‘Step into the Future of Innovation’, touched on the use of data mining to tailor the customer sales journey and how he dropped to roll out their own booking platform and increase profit.

Not surprisingly Jacobs believes in strong branding and email marketing to drive traffic, and avoids pay per click advertising. His story-telling past reveals itself most innovatively here. With the average ticket price sitting at €41 and the cost to carry a passenger at €43, the only way to profit is by up-selling. Email marketing and brand tales are the best way to do this.

And then to MasterCard, who’s innovation is led by Martin Curley, an innovation stalwart. His lifetime in industry-academic innovation research and roles at Intel and GE make him one of the few to be truly specialised in innovation. His soon-to-be-launched third book, Open Innovation 2.0, explores the new paradigm for harnessing disruptive digital technologies.

Culture not capital drives innovation

Albert Ellis, Harvey Nash CEO, recently talked to CNBC about how the need for a digital skill set is moving from one job to another and it must be both technical and creative. IT innovation then, is a business-wide responsibility lead by attitude more than expertise.

This follows the thinking of many an innovation expert. Dan Pink, master of motivation and Simon Sinek, Start with Why, both place a precedence on culture. It’s an attitude of innovation that moves a business forward across existing boundaries. Culture, not capital, drives innovation.

The necessity for big picture thinking puts innovation firmly in the realm of the C-suite, but the raw, creative, can-do attitude of more junior staff can ignite the sparks of insight that help tech to evolve. And of course, we need the technical capabilities to realise these ideas.

Who owns IT innovation?

Whether innovation lands in the lap of marketing, accounting or academic experts reflects the culture of the business itself. It’s right that Ryanair, a consumer-lead retail business, places responsibility in the hands of a marketeer. A bank will, of course, turn to its numerical experts before anyone else. For MasterCard, the sage of banking, only an expert in both tech and innovation will do.

Cross-industry, we’re witnessing a commitment to serving customers with the best possible tech innovations. To gain the next technical edge, businesses must invest in a culture and leadership team that’s ready to explore technology, take risks, fail, learn and keep on growing. If we’re to learn from these innovation leaders, that role is not a default position with a prescribed past, but one best matched to the principles and audience that bind the business.

Ronan GrayRonan Gray is Senior Vice President, Advisory Services at NashTech Ireland.