Global CIO: Business Execs, Not Technologists, Leading Tech Innovation - InformationWeek

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4/15/2011
04:18 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Business Execs, Not Technologists, Leading Tech Innovation

So says a top exec from Indian service provider Infosys, which is spending more time with CFOs and business unit leaders as those execs drive more IT projects.

Infosys senior VP Ashok Vemuri works with many of the service provider’s biggest clients, as leader of its U.S. practice and global head of its banking and capital markets practice. And what he's seeing should have every CIO asking: Is my team a key part of our company's tech innovation strategy?

Infosys just reported its year-end financial results: net income up 19% from a year ago, on 26% higher revenue. However, its fourth-quarter profit and year-ahead sales projection were below analysts’ forecasts.

To move up the value chain, Infosys is trying to get more work focused on what it calls business innovation, particularly tech-centric projects that directly touch clients’ customers and products. For examples, it’s working with retailers to deliver a mobile checkout app on the iPad; developing a text message/voice-mail alert system for a government agency to alert residents to natural disasters; and helping banks build new systems for risk management.

For many of these initiatives, IT isn't in the loop early on, Vemuri says, "which is why more and more of our time is spent talking with the chief operating officer, chief financial officer, heads of business, the chief marketing officer."

For Infosys, working on these projects and interacting with these executives require it to hire people with a new set of skills. It puts a premium on people with deep industry knowledge and context, along with a strong technical grounding, so they can quickly cut to the revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction gains to be had from a tech project.

"You typically get maybe 15 minutes in front of the CFO,” Vemuri says. “If you're not able to sell your story to her in those 15 minutes, you'll be out of the door before you know it. These are not the typical technology conversations."

The kinds of skills Infosys is seeking are also the kinds of skills IT organizations need to have--and highlight. Their people must understand business goals, anticipate business needs, spot industry trends, and apply technology to solve very specific problems.

Perhaps Vemuri is predisposed to meet with companies whose IT organizations aren’t deeply involved in innovation, as they’re the ones most likely to bring in Infosys for help. But for the most part, IT's comfort zone is in optimizing systems and improving efficiency and processes, not in driving product innovation. And there’s a huge opportunity for IT groups to apply their technical expertise to new products and services. We've written recently about Toyota , Vail ski resort, and Hilton hotels making technology, and particularly mobile technology, directly a part of their customers’ experience.

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