Why Organizations Today Need to Hire Innovation Officers

Innovation distinguishes between a Leader and a Follower - Steve Jobs

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Indian companies, especially in sectors like information technology, are in dire need of disruptive innovation to revamp their business strategies. Innovation officers have become an integral part of an organization today, be it healthcare, banks, venture funds, educational organizations and more. Especially when India as a country is warming up to ideas such as cashless economy and programs such as Digital India, Smart City Plans and more, innovation becomes a very important element in it.


Innovation Officers are "In-house' Incubators

Chief innovation officers lead their companies' efforts to find and develop ideas for new products. They also work to ensure that other executive officers recognize and support initiatives to encourage innovation.

As Steve Jobs rightly said -- "Innovation distinguishes between a Leader and a Follower,' to ensure that good ideas become the next generation of new products, chief innovation officers work in collaboration with all levels in the organization. They work with the R&D team to ensure that their efforts reflect customer needs as well as innovative thinking.

Manoj Kumar, Head of Innovations, Tata Trusts, believes that the relevance of innovation officers is directly measured on the parameter of how successful they have been at keeping the company's vision relevant. "Innovation is the lifeline of any business and if you don't, someone else will disrupt you out from your market. I expect innovation offices to become the in-house incubator and accelerator of innovative ideas and create a pipeline of new solutions that can catapult the business on a non-linear growth trajectory," he adds.

Digital Transformation is Mandatory Today

Even traditional businesses are gradually warming up to innovations such as automation, digital payments and artificial intelligence in order to streamline operations under controlled costs. Technology and innovation heads play a crucial role in spearheading these transformations.

Sauvik Banerjjee, President, Tata Industries, Digital Initiatives, Advisory to Group Cos and CTO of Tata CLiQ, says, "Digital transformation has become a mandate right now for the Tata Group." Meanwhile, Sunil Nair, Senior Vice President, Technology and Business Solutions, Spar India, believes that when one spearheads the technology part of the business, his role is basically to make a small difference in the customer's life. Talking about approaching the concept of innovation in the retail space, Nair said that he always works around the concept of jugaad. "Innovation is not something path-breaking and bringing an out-of-the-box concept, all we strive to do is make a small difference in the life of shoppers by simplifying their shopping experience," he adds.

Speaking further on the subject, Kaushik Banerjee, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Business Officer, The Growth Matrix, says, "Innovation is not a survival strategy or a technology strategy but it is a core business strategy that demands one to look at business holistically and align and drive all the assets of the enterprise to embrace and usher new changes so that innovation becomes pervasive and prevailing in whatever the enterprise does and will do in future."

How Does One Qualify for This Role

Innovation involves deep understanding of the company's business, its ecosystem, customers, competitors and usage of data as an asset. Chandrahas Panigrahi, CMO and Business Director, Acer India, says, "This role involves more responsibility compared to the fancy designation; other key requisites include analytical skills, excellent interpersonal skills, strong business knowledge, inquisitive and creative mind to develop inventive strategies and direct new projects."

Donning Multiple Roles

Many executives have stressed on the fact that they are often forced to perform multiple roles, which includes role of an innovation officer, due to the unavailability of quality talent in the market and tighter budgets. Banerjjee believes that major conglomerates look for qualities such as ownership backed by commitment, trust and integrity, ability to build new teams and ability to be agile and not have a monolithic mindset. "Change is constant and these executives (innovation officers) should be able to change every month with something new coming in the industry," he adds.

CIOs are enablers who design processes and introduce best practices that allow him or her to create a space for others to develop and drive novel concepts. Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla, says, "The role often includes analyzing trends and identifying emerging new market opportunities that guide investment decisions." Indian industries are gradually learning the ropes to advance technologies such as artificial intelligence, data mining, and internet of things. It has become imperative for companies to hire folks who can paint new shades of innovation within the organization.

(This article was first published in the May issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)