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9/20/2005
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Push The Envelope, Says Capital One's CIO

At the InformationWeek Fall Conference Tuesday, CIO Gregor Bailar encouraged attendees to be innovative with business technologies. And that means not discounting the potential of consumer technologies like the iPod.

A traditional view of IT isn't going to take a company to the pinnacle of innovation. Outside-the-box thinking will, and that's what landed Capital One Financial Corp. the top slot on this year's InformationWeek 500, an annual list of the leading innovators in IT.

Whether that means having IT execs sit in call center seats to see how customer service unfolds in the trenches, positioning IT within the company as the "building materials" of commerce, or finding business uses for consumer technologies like the iPod, Capital One is stretching the boundaries.

Speaking at the InformationWeek Fall Conference Tuesday, CIO Gregor Bailar reminded a roomful of peers to keep pushing the envelope. The iPod, he said, provides a perfect example: it's a technology that, while lacking the security needed to be a viable business tool, has the potential to build excitement around business technology. "More business managers have technology at home that they know how to use than they do at the office," Bailar said. "It's amazing how much the bar has been raised by consumer electronics."

Bailar's comments echoed those of former MIT professor Michael Hammer, who in an earlier session, stressed that true innovation is marked by doing entirely new things, not simply doing the same old things better. But such risk-taking, said Bailar, doesn't start in a vacuum. In order for it to take hold, there has to be buy-in from above, a tricky proposition for many CIOs. "The key for [CIOs] is to get that spark into the CEOs who don't get it."

Novel approaches, such as Capital One's practice of having senior execs spend some time working in a call center, can help. Bailar said that during his stint handling calls, he conceptualized five new IT products as he came across illogical prompts and processes. Embracing technologies such as the iPod that don't appear to have obvious business value can be equally energizing, Bailar said. "I'd encourage [CIOs] to invite that stuff."

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