My good friend Randy Spratt will be attending the 2012 CIO Executive Leadership Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, and I’m looking forward to catching up with him and his views on the evolving role of the CIO as a leader of innovation.
As many of you know, Randy is EVP, CIO and CTO at McKesson Corp., the healthcare services and information technology company. With an annual revenue of $112.1 billion in 2011, McKesson is currently ranked 15th on the FORTUNE 500.
When I interviewed Randy for my new book, On Top of the Cloud, he spoke about the tension between two kinds of “nirvana.” There’s an “IT nirvana,” in which everything is standardized and locked down and then there’s a “business nirvana,” in which agility and innovation reign supreme.
The “IT nirvana” is all about efficiency and the “business nirvana” is all about responding quickly to customer needs. An imaginary pendulum swings back and forth between the two nirvanas, which are forever separated.
In our conversation last year, Randy wondered what would happen if the pendulum was replaced by a virtuous cycle. What would happen if efficiency and innovation were seen as two sides of the same coin, instead of two competing worldviews.
I really like the way Randy identifies the dilemma and offers an elegant solution. I also think that Randy’s vision of a virtuous cycle of efficiency and innovation deserves more study. It could very likely be the basis for a new model of CIO leadership.
“CIOs need to become the drivers of innovation,” says Randy. But most of the innovation that’s really valued by the business happens close to the customer. Driving innovation means getting closer to the company’s customers. For some CIOs, getting close to customers will be a challenge. But Randy is confident that successful CIOs will figure out the best ways to balance efficiency and innovation.
Finding the right balance can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. In some situations, the CIO can play a consultative role in the innovation process. By serving as an in-house technology consultant, the CIO can guide the business toward the best solutions — and prevent costly mistakes.
“We have to know the business well enough so that we can sit at the table with our business leaders, understand their issues and work side by side with them to craft solutions,” says Randy.
I agree with Randy’s vision of a broader role for the CIO as a provider of leadership, innovation and transformation across the enterprise. The bar has been raised, and now it’s time for IT leaders to elevate their game.