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The other CIO: Chief Innovation Officer

Almost all organisations realise they need to innovate. Business is too full of lessons of what happens when companies fail to understand changing markets for them to ignore it. The convergence of four major technologies: the wireless network, the revolution in battery technology, solid state data storage that resides in memory, and the connected wireless GPS device, has exacerbated the speed and requirement of technological innovation.

Over the last four to five years, the chief information officer has been charged with driving innovation, primarily through the adoption and ongoing management of a variety of technologies. But today's CIO is busier than ever keeping the lights on - he's just now got a new set of problems related to mobile, social and cloud. What happened?

"The CIO as true innovator is really an illusion," says Richard Firth, serial entrepreneur. "Technology itself has had the multiplying effect on all of us: mobile technologies, powerful and accessible computing resources in the cloud, and global interconnectedness are what have boosted all of our output. But this has happened in spite of CIOs, not because of them. It is often stated that device or gadget manufacturers are actually driving the rate and pace of business innovation, especially as the line between business and personal use of technology increasingly continues to blur."

Firth says the CIO is still a vital part of any organisation that relies on technology - that is to say, almost all of them - but that his job should not be to drive innovation. With networks, hardware, operating systems, protocols, standards, core business logic, data warehouses, and all the other technology requirements to manage, the CIO's plate is full enough ensuring his company is staying abreast of current needs.

"Innovation in technology and business almost always comes from the bottom up. Communities and users improve products or have great ideas that they share with vendors - or they may use products in unexpected ways. Employees with hands-on experience can always find better ways to improve their jobs or cut costs. It is not the CIO's job to manage this often chaotic process."

Firth says another kind of CIO should be appointed: the chief innovation officer.

"A 2012 report from Capgemini Consulting shows that there is an increase in the number of executives formally accountable for innovation, and that the ones who succeed are given the resources and the backing to carry out their tasks. They are allowed to nurture an ecosystem that favours innovation - lots of feedback, autonomous resources, staff as competitive advantage, customers as willing testbeds - and a willingness to try new things without fear of failure."

He says innovation officers should report directly to the CEO or the board and should have their own resources to prevent their function being sabotaged by silos, egos or hierarchies.

"The culture of an institution may be the biggest obstacle to true innovation within an enterprise. But the innovation executive needs to fight this and be looking outwards, especially at consumer and customer behaviour, even as he makes internal improvements. Enterprises are too slow, have too many layers and too many poor experiences to be sources of innovation."

"Mobile phones have taught us that employees will choose their own technology no matter what IT or management think. Cloud computing has taught us that whole divisions of a business will purchase their own resources if IT doesn't give it to them. The success of companies like Apple, which know how to innovate and keep their customers happy, teaches us that the days of management buying technologies and forcing employees to use it are seriously threatened. The innovation officer should be looking to customers and employees for real sources of innovation," Firth says. "Just look at companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and even our very own First National Bank for great examples where C-level executives have driven innovation without the title of chief information/technology officer!"

MIP Holdings

MIP Holdings

MIP Holdings is one of the world's leaders in the provision of 'risk-based' billing services to mainly, but not exclusively, the financial services industry. The company designs and develops software solutions that focus on the collection of contributions and payment of benefits in the healthcare, employee benefits and life assurance sectors, as well as in personal finance, integrated lending systems and treasury.

With a focus on meeting client-specific requirements and through extensive investment in technology, MIP 'future proofs' its solutions. Strict adherence to industry standards, as well as stringent internal control over standards and quality assurance, ensure the systems MIP develops meet all client expectations.

Expanding into the telecoms sector through its purchase of Itemate, MIP Holdings provides telecoms operations and management solutions to communications service providers worldwide. The company's specific skills in the area of mobile prepaid value chains, prepaid product life cycle management analysis, voucher management systems and mobile financial services enable it to provide an end-to-end service. Its most recent acquisition, Waytag, further enhanced the company's ability to provide a comprehensive solution to its clients through the unique Waytag offering of location-based services.

MIP Holdings was founded in 1989 and is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, with additional offices in Cape Town and Pretoria.