Chief Innovation Officers Fire the Future Growth Engine

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Chief Innovation Officers Fire the Future Growth Engine in Innovation Era

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” – Albert Einstein


Innovation is the most important keyword of this era. Advances in technology have brought about rapid changes in business development. From product innovation to business model innovation, all of the business activities in the company are closely related to innovation. This article explains:

· The concept of Chief Innovation Officers and its significance in leading the 21st-century innovation era;

· In the context of globalization, the chief innovation officers' strategic responsibilities in the company;

· Future Chief Innovation Officers based on the concept of China Embracing Innovation.

1. The Born of Chief Innovation Officers is the Requirement for the Business Development

In the past ten years, due to the rapid advancement of information technology, the genes of the digital economy have penetrated all walks of life. Digital technology promotes the reorganization of business processes and production methods. The digitization of production factors and production links further promotes the optimization of the allocation of factor resources such as technology, business, talents, and capital. The digital economy puts forward new requirements for innovation and development.

In order to keep up with the continuous pressure of burgeoning business models in the digital economy, more and more companies are hiring CIOs to strengthen corporate innovation of core products and services and to lead corporate development. In 2009, Forbes published a report entitled "You Need A Chief Innovation Officer". In this business report, although many senior executives stated that they are committed to innovation, there is evidence that they have almost no consensus on what innovation strategy is, and no dedicated senior manager takes the strategic responsibility for innovation within the organization. As a result, due to the lack of knowledge, understanding, and personal qualities to promote innovation, internal innovation ideas are exhausted, and innovation activities are frustrated. Since then, CIOs has gradually gained attention in the business world. According to a study by Egon Zehnder, as of 2017, 29% of Fortune 500 companies have a senior innovation executive. The reason why CIOs are differentiated from top managers is that innovation connects links with different areas of enterprise development. It seamlessly links the three areas of product development and R&D, strategy formulation, and marketing. These three activities are the best places to cultivate innovation. Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) provide a bridge for enterprises, and leaders who understand and coordinate innovation and other departments emerge in organizational management.

Chief Innovation Officers is a dynamic concept. Different from the Chief Executive Officers (CEO), Chief Financial Officers (CFO), and other leaders, which have relatively fixed job descriptions, the position of Chief Innovation Officers varies greatly in different companies and is usually composed of people from different backgrounds. This makes the activity of establishing and hiring a Chief Innovation Officer extremely innovative. The company needs to figure out what kind of innovation your company needs and what kind of people can be most innovative. The responsibilities of this job depend on the company, the business challenge, and the person’s background. Like "strategy", the word "innovation" represents different connotations for different people and enterprise development. Therefore, the position of the Chief Innovation Officer has become the first issue for enterprises to consider.

2. The Role of Chief Innovation Officers

The Chief Innovation Officer is the person designated by the company to be responsible for managing the organization’s innovation process. In some cases, it is the person who "generates new ideas but also acknowledges the innovative ideas generated by others, including internal and external personnel." The Chief Innovation Officer has always been an advocative power of company change, working hard to eliminate the traditional thinking mode that is common in company operations and adjust the company's processes for innovation or integration. The Chief Innovation Officer is responsible for discovering and supporting digital technologies to achieve corporate goals and promote the company's overall innovation vision. In the past few decades, company managers have increasingly realized that the number of managers who understand the business or understand the technology is not enough. The company also needs a creative person who can see the value of emerging technologies and push the enterprise to the next level. This is just like what Einstein said, "You cannot solve the problem at the same level as the problem was created, you must surpass it to a new level." Innovation is the only way to overcome the obstacles to an enterprise’s development.

In addition to the understanding of the Chief Innovation Officer itself, we can also reflect the uniqueness of the Chief Innovation Officer from the comparison with other corporate executives. First of all, the Chief Information Officer is the senior executive who is responsible for the planning and integration of the enterprise's internal information systems and information resources. Traditional innovation activities are centered on technical facilities and cost control. This model is based on the role of the Chief Information Officer as the gatekeeper of technology and the protector of corporate information assets. However, the Chief Innovation Officer tends to look at information technology inward rather than outwardly looking at customer needs.

Second, as the highest person in charge of technology in the enterprise, the Chief Technology Officer focuses on long-term and overall technical issues. CTOs pay more attention to the development of innovative products and services externally (product commoditization). The way to distinguish between the chief information officer and CTOs is that the former solves operational problems by acquiring and transforming existing technologies, while the latter is usually develops new technologies.

Finally, the chief marketing officer is the highest decision-maker who manages the marketing work of the enterprise. The main task is to promote growth and increase sales by developing a comprehensive marketing plan, which will increase brand awareness and help the organization gain a competitive advantage. The chief marketing officer cares about the establishment of relationships and value.

As the highest leader in the company's innovation decision-making, the Chief Innovation Officer needs to be able to adjust the integration of business strategy and innovation strategy and embed innovation in the company's DNA. Innovation is no longer a simple one or a few projects; it should be continuously promoted in a multi-sectoral collaboration. Therefore, enterprises need to constantly optimize and improve their innovation capabilities through scientific innovation management; otherwise, they will soon lose the stamina for development (Chen Jin, Song Baohua, 2017). This strategy should create a roadmap for its future because it involves information, technology, and markets. Not only that, CIOs need to establish technical cooperation contacts and identify solutions during the organization process. At the leadership level, track the application of the latest (digital) technology in this field, cultivate an innovation culture within the organization, and develop innovative talents. The benefits and risks brought by innovation should be evaluated, and growth opportunities should be analyzed. The role of the Chief Innovation Officers is still ambiguous in different industries because this title is new in the business field. From the management function, we listed the related affairs that the CIOs needs to be responsible for, as shown in Table 1. However, we must realize that the Chief Innovation Officer itself is a dynamic concept that needs to be continuously updated with the development of the enterprise.

A Chief innovation officer is no longer a simple position or title. It represents that the company will systematically promote the company’s innovation work and continuously improve corporate innovation through effective management. How to achieve innovative results in a turbulent business environment and how to determine whether a company needs an innovation leader to address problems that the company must face in its development. So, how can we better capture the value of the CIOs at the forefront of business development? ELITE Innovation College Cambridge and the Chief Innovation Officer Training and Development Program will bring you some inspiration.