A quick Google search of the phrase "changing role of the CIO" recently returned more than 1.3 million results in 0.54 second — a hot topic, to be sure. Articles can be divided loosely into two groups: the CIO as strategist and the CIO as plumber. While this bifurcated role has been dissected and discussed ad nauseam, a new role for the CIO has emerged: the CIO as chief innovation officer.
Before we go down that rabbit hole, the chief innovation officer, or CINO, is the person primarily responsible for managing the process of innovation within an organization and, in some cases, "originates new ideas, but also recognizes innovative ideas generated by other people," according to executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.
Designating a chief innovation officer implies that one person has a senior leadership responsibility for innovation. Is it reasonable to think one person can or should be singularly responsible for an organization's innovation efforts? In some companies, a culture of innovation is promulgated and dispersed throughout the entire employee base.
Rogues and Rebels
Innovation connotes an entrepreneurial spirit — in the case of an organization, that may be an "intra-preneurial" spirit. Who, within any organization, is most entrepreneurial? Some leading change agents suggest innovation is best served by an organization's rogues, rebels and mavericks. Unless innovation is a core business model, it most often tends to be more organic and less formalized. All of that leads to the question: Is the CIO the most appropriate person to be assigned the chief of innovation?
The notion that the chief information officer is the most appropriate person to lead the charge for innovation is a curiosity in itself. Is the acronym the driving influence? Is it the notion that the CIO is responsible for technology, and that technology and innovation are now inextricably linked? Is it the common belief that the CIO has the most broadly held knowledge of an organization's business practices, in that technology (systems, applications, data and networks) touches all business practices?
What's in a Name?
The CIO as chief innovation officer has unique underpinnings for higher education. While innovation can impact all aspects of any organization, it is particularly noteworthy where innovation intersects with teaching and learning.
In any business, innovation is not the exclusive purview of technology. Particularly in academia, innovation is considered when addressing teaching practices and pedagogy. While there is some logic in the CIO having senior organizational responsibility for innovation, is that truly the best strategy to address innovation in higher ed? In the business of teaching and learning, many times the notion of innovative teaching practices falls well outside the CIO's purview, even if technology is a driver. That is most exemplified in the current trend toward BYOD initiatives. Innovation can originate in the consumer marketplace, and innovative technology can find its way into the classroom via the faculty "book bag." As the technology landscape continues to evolve, can any one person effectively hold the torch of innovation on campus? At the end of the day, innovation is about leadership.
Many institutions now include innovation within strategic initiatives. More important, assigning the responsibility to lead innovation is best addressed in the process of recruiting and onboarding. It's not simply a job description.