Nearly 40% of IdeaScale’s customer base is run from a dedicated innovation department helmed by a Chief Innovation Officer, an innovation leader, an innovation manager or someone else. However, there is another emerging owner for innovation at a large organization. At IdeaScale, we often find that CIOs and their organization are driving innovation strategy for a company.

This is supported by Deloitte’s Innovation Study 2021 that found “80% of CIOs and tech leaders say they are driving their companies’ innovation efforts.” When we talk to our IT innovation customers, the reason that this happens is because they often control important projects like digital transformation or tech-driven adaptation. For that reason, the IT organization is a kind of laboratory where leaders can develop, trial, gather feedback, and empower large-scale roll-out of important change-focused projects.

IT departments, however, are also constantly over-committed, because they are responsible for so much and the are constantly shepherding transition. The best way CIOs can help to meet this ambitious goal is to distribute the responsibility and the reward of innovation across their entire organization. I recently listened to an interview with CIO, Dr. Curt Carver, who is the vice president and chief information officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he talked about how they did this.

When he first assumed the CIO role six years ago, he made a pledge to deliver 100 wins in his first year in his new role. This goal was generally perceived to be ambitious (potentially impossible considering the runway needed to make change) for a complex university system, but although Dr. Carver has a military background which respected chain-of-command, he had an entirely democratic system for meeting his goal. In one of his interviews, he stated, “I want everyone, everyone in the organization to be an agent of innovation.” He launched a program called “SPARK” where anyone in the campus community could suggest an improvement, and others could respond and act on it. The team promoted their new SPARK initiative through in-person meetings, the monthly IT report, the campus email newsletter, in social media, and in campus town halls.

The response exceeded all expectations, and they delivered nearly 200 wins in the first year, including campus-wide unlimited email and storage, improving the performance of research computers by a factor of ten, the implementation of two-factor authentication and self-password reset, an exponential increase in bandwidth, and much more.

But delivering 100 wins in a year is essentially delivering a win every three days, which is why having the full force of his 250 employees to help suggest, implement, nurture and steward made the organization much more nimble. Dr. Carver has stated that he couldn’t have met his goals unless everyone understood the power and responsibility in their position when it comes to innovation.

To understand more about how employee engagement shapes innovation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, listen to the full podcast here.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



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