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5/21/2010
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Global CIO: 'The New Polymath': 12 Reasons CIOs Must Drive Innovation

Industry pundit Vinnie Mirchandani offers a dozen insightful examples from his new book on why today's CIOs must excel at many things.

My new book, called "The New Polymath", is based on the Greek word for a Renaissance person like Leonardo Da Vinci or Ben Franklin: someone good at many skills.

In the book's definition, The New Polymath is an enterprise good at many technologies and at leveraging multiple talent pools. It is an enterprise that has learned to blend multiple strands of infotech, biotech, cleantech, nanotech, etc., to create new medicine, new energy, and new algorithms. One example is BASF, which is bringing together genetic databases in Germany and RFID chips, high-speed cameras, and robotics in a greenhouse in Belgium as it seeks to bioengineer a better strain of rice.

Another example is GE with its Net Zero plans—as in zero utility bills. The concept brings together solar, wind, fuel cell, smart appliances, interfaces to smart grids of utilities, and other technologies. And at Hospira, the medical devices company packages scanners, enhanced displays, check-and-balance software and access to drug libraries in its next-gen infusion pump system.

In each case, you can see a wide range of technologies being brought together in a creative bundling process.

Interesting, but what does all this have to do with CIOs and IT?

I asked Benjamin Fried, who's the CIO at Google and who was kind enough to review an advance of my book, and he said this:

"The book inspires us to return to IT's roots, with the transformative power that comes from putting technology innovation in service to business and society."

Maynard Webb, who was eBay's CIO and then COO before becoming CEO of LiveOps, said this:

"It's a natural read for CIOs who in a sense are polymaths themselves. They have to be masters of many disciplines—they are technology strategists, business partners, project managers, operations gurus and budget analysts."

And here are eight examples of case studies and insights from the book that should appeal to CIOs and other IT professionals who aspire to creating significant customer value and business value through the power of IT.

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1. Turning IT "inside out"
In a case study on GE in the book, Mark Mastrianni discusses how GE's units have become technology leaders in various verticals. "We are a multibillion-dollar software and technology company in our own right. GE Healthcare, GE Transportation and other units are technology leaders in their markets. When we say aligning IT with business, we mean sharing—with our colleagues in the business units—what we have learned over the years in IT procurement and contracting. Part of my role is to coach these business units on the unique nuances of technology sales compensation, revenue recognition, IP issues, and other technology industry opportunities and challenges."

2. Way beyond business intelligence
The case study on the National Hurricane Center focuses on all the data-capture technologies that have to function under hostile circumstances, the multiple models it uses to cleanse the data, and the various formats it uses to report its track forecasts. Impressively, its forecasts keep improving year after year when most businesses cannot get decent forecasts even after spending many tens of millions of dollars on their business intelligence technologies.

Now let us turn to the growing trend for deploying small but high-impact innovation teams:

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