When we speak of innovation, we love the supersize, the grand, the historical — those moments that change everything. For information and communications technology, this means rolling out the big examples: File-sharing upends the media industry. Amazon transforms retail. Smartphones and the cloud enable Uber, Airbnb and other sharing platforms to disrupt various industries.

While earthshaking innovation and transformation have their appeal, enterprises must also aim for incremental innovation. In most instances, one or two “micro” innovations will have little immediate impact. But one often leads to another. And another. When strategically coordinated, they can add up to more than the sum of their parts.

A fresh perspective can be crucial for getting things underway. For instance, at an IDC CIO Summit in Porec, Croatia, we spoke with a chief information officer who had moved from a bank to an oil and gas company. He essentially went, he said, from “an IT company with a banking license,” where IT was central to the business strategy, to a classic industrial company where IT was largely there to keep PCs and servers running.

Nudging the company into the digital age first required changing people’s views on what IT could do and be. Over several months, he consolidated IT and shifted the approach from “lights on” to service center. He then reached out to the finance department, as his banking background gave him insight into the software and systems most suited to capital management and longer-term financial planning.

The proverbial low-hanging fruit came first. The IT team digitized and automated routine tasks and processes, which freed people’s time both in IT and finance, generating interest (and even excitement) for additional cooperation. This led to experiments with chatbots and expanded use of robotic process automation (RPA) to more than 60 processes. The team helped shorten maintenance tasks from days to hours. It is even extending automation options to suppliers to streamline invoicing and developing “robots to run the robots.” IT now has the time and the credibility to push larger initiatives, such as making the office paperless and driving the use of augmented reality (AR) for training and maintenance. (It should be noted that the AR initiative is still at a very early stage.)

The cumulative impact of all these incremental improvements and innovations had the desired effect. It won the team an internal technology achievement award, a big deal in a company full of engineers. The IT team used the momentum and the surplus talent freed by all the automation to stage tech days to inspire other functional units and to develop additional digital projects.

The IDC CIO Summit in Croatia included additional examples and lessons for CIOs aiming to accelerate innovation at their enterprise. To learn more, listen to the podcast episode on this page.


Read the full transcript of Freeing time for “small innovation” podcast.