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CIO Insights: How to approach innovation

Rebecca Merrett (via CIO) | July 5, 2013
Three Australian CIOs share their advice.

These wins could then be celebrated within the organisation through peer recognition and sold tactfully to the other c-level execs, including the CEO. Once the CEO starts to see value in these small ideas, she or he should be more receptive to bigger ones. The bigger ones may still require a level of approval but that is not all a bad thing.

It's also not a bad thing in some cases for you to make the CEO believe an idea is his or her's. Innovation for most people is about what they do, not what someone else does. If someone else is creating a really interesting idea or project, then that is not necessarily always going to be seen as innovation to another person unless they themselves have been involved at some stage during the project lifecycle.

Organisations are either culturally innovative or they are not. I've seen organisations where they have tried to create an innovation department or a process around innovation and it almost inadvertently fails because the organisation and the c-level suite as a whole don't accept innovation.

So they will always focus on the short-term priorities, "let's do this to get short-term money". If the CIO alone is trying to fight this battle with the CEO, there is less chance of being on the winning side so you need to be on board with all the executives when it comes to them channelling ideas.

A recent example of innovation at Carsales is we recently built our own search engine, RyvusIQ. Carsales used to be previously powered by a search engine called Endeca which is now owned by Oracle. It cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not a seven-figure amount of money to implement.

One of the developers came to me and the CEO and said, "You are asking me to do all these innovative things, but I cannot do them with this search engine." And from customer feedback, they were also asking for all these new search innovations. But we were really limited with what we could do with that search engine.

The developer, along with another team leader, offered to develop a new, better search engine so we commissioned six weeks of research for them to work only on the project and prove to us what they could do and build a prototype.

Already in six weeks, there were aspects of the prototype that were better than our search engine so that gave us the confidence to continue to commission that project. We estimated the project would take a year, but it took us two years.

The organisation that built the previous search engine that Carsales used was worth $1 billion. Therefore, at first we were scared about developing a new search engine as there are billion dollar organisations out there that build search engines and here are two developers coming to me and saying they can build one that's better.


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