CIO Must Become Chief Innovation Officer

This post is inspired by the topics discussed at the roundtable event organized within the framework of the IoT Solutions World Congress. The director of Zigurat’s MBA in Digital Business Jordi Damià and other local ICT executives addressed innovation and centered on the role of CIO in bringing it about as the Chief Innovation Officer.

New emerging technologies, such as Digital Twin, Quantum Computing, Blockchain, 5G for IoT, etc. are changing our daily reality and the way we do business. In the midst of those transitional times, the need for transformational leadership arises and the companies might find themselves looking for CIOs who can also call themselves Chief Innovation Officers.

That’s why the roundtable debate organized and moderated by Cercle de Directors TIC was dedicated to the CIOs in general and to the topics of innovation, data, connectivity, computation, robots, and resources in particular. The experts who participated in the discussion were Ignasi Sayol, the President of Logistics Cluster of Catalonia; Anna Sánchez Granados, vice president of telecos.cat, Miguel Jara, director of the area of consultancy and engineering at Sayós & Carrera, and Jordi Damià, the CEO of Setesca and director of Zigurat’s Global MBA in Digital Business.

Roundtable Debate on CIO and chief innovation officer

Innovation - not synonymous with technology

The moderator, Jordi Ruppmann stated in his introduction to the debate that technology is a facilitator, a factor that sustains innovation but isn’t the only key to successfully translate an idea or invention into a good or service.

For Jordi Damià, innovation relies on three pillars: first, having aboard a person with an innovative spirit, second, that the innovator is a good communicator capable of explaining the changes and what they would contribute, third, that the company culture permits that person to make proposals and innovate. Without these three conditions met, innovation can’t come to life. Communication skills, that are so often forgotten in this sector, are quintessential for the CIOs.

In a corporate context, innovation is something that comes to life when people with vision implement novel and creative ideas to generate value and stay relevant. According to Anna, Sánchez, the vice president of telecos.cat, innovation is a kind of a label that can only be awarded to those initiatives that have succeeded in bringing actual benefits. Applying disruptive technologies doesn’t always translate into innovation.

Another important aspect is that of the size of the company: it’s much easier to promote disruptive actions in small and medium-sized businesses. Large enterprises tend to struggle changing their corporate culture to accept and embrace innovation. A management’s decision to introduce new disruptive technologies won’t do anyone any good without the whole team aboard and capable of understanding how it’s going to benefit them all. Once again, the communication skills and ability to verbalize the common goals are underlined as a facilitator of innovation.

Data - the oil of the 21st century

When it comes to data, the participants of the roundtable agreed that it’s one of the most valuable resources of our time, the oil of the 21st century and that CIOs should be attentive to the improvements that data could propose for the company.

Ignasi Sayol, the President of the Logistics Cluster of Catalonia, emphasized the importance of securing data and reminded that data is only valid if it has not been adulterated or modified. As a professional of the logistics sector, he affirmed that the data now at their disposal has permitted to significantly optimize the deliveries and gave blockchain technologies as an example of tracing the shipments and keeping the records in a safe way.

For Miguel Jara, director of the area of consultancy and engineering at Sayós & Carrera, it is vital that the collection of data is done in a safe way avoiding computer attacks. Jordi Damià has encouraged the CIOs to use the data they capture to promote improvements in the business.

Connectivity - 5G expectations vs reality

Throughout the world, the fifth-generation wireless technology, or 5G, has grown to resemble something that we should already be using without exact knowledge of what it is and how exactly it benefits us. For starters, it might be time to reset expectations around 5G. According to Miguel Jara, it will take a couple of years to see the user-level functionalities of the 5G and discover all that it can provide. The problem here lies in the fact that the actual infrastructure is not compatible with all the new technologies. Therefore we have to wait until the physical infrastructures catch up with the ambitious innovations.

Ignasi Sayol comes back to blockchain technologies and how it will allow much safer connectivity of digital assets. That, in turn, will enhance the trust that users have for those records. Carrefour, for example, has used blockchain’s digital tracking technology to provide customers with detailed information on when a product was harvested or packed. Having that information stored in a transparent and secure way on a distributed ledger reassures the clients on the quality of items they buy and allows them to avoid products with genetically modified organisms, antibiotics or pesticides if they want.

Computation - quantum computation is still in its very early stages

The speakers agreed that one of the most important challenges that CIOs will have to face is quantum computing. Something that provides us with such processing power that can solve in seconds the problems for which we used to require years is set to bring along many changes. The question here, however, is if quantum computing is really ready to leap out of the labs and into the commercial world. The answer is that not yet: this new computing paradigm is still in its very early stages. But even if we’re still some time away from widespread adoption, Anna Sánchez recommends reserving an investment percentage to explore the options in the future.

What is also likely to change in the near future is how we store our data. Jordi Damià notes that external data storage services and cloud platforms will become more common than in-house servers.

Robots - taking away jobs or creating them?

One of the important conclusions of the roundtable debate was that even if robots are to take some of the current jobs, they will also create new ones. According to Ignasi Sayol, this change will permit the employees to dedicate themselves to the more humane tasks leaving the mundane one to the machines. As an example, he uses the exoskeleton robots used in construction that assist the worker in lifting and holding heavy items.

Jordi Damià stated that robots will make between 30% and 50% of administrative jobs obsolete and that the workforce, as well as the companies, must prepare themselves for that. Unskilled labor is a disadvantage for both. That’s why we must learn to regard robots not as competence but as something that empowers the workers to carry out their tasks with greater efficiency.

Resources - at the heart of it all

To conclude the discussion, the more general topic of resources was discussed. Jordi Damià reminded the companies that they should treat the resources they want to hire in the same way that we would like to be treated. As his last advice to CIOs, he emphasized that CIOs are worth as much as they seem to be able to contribute.

Anna Sánchez put an emphasis on diversity in general: gender, cultures, age. As the lack of diversity may negatively impact the innovation efforts of the company. She was also the one to say that the role of the Chief Information Officer is starting to look a lot like Chief Innovation Officer.

On a final note, all the speakers agreed that whether we talk about Chief Information Officer or Chief Innovation Officer, innovation-friendly organizational environment depends largely on the communication skills of that CIO.

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