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CIOs need to think “consumer-first” when driving IT innovation

Caroline Baldwin

When it comes to innovation, CIOs should think about the end consumer and how they will benefit from technology.

“Think like a consumer,” said Dr Kevin O’Connor CIO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

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Speaking during a panel discussion at the CIO Event in London today, both O’Connor and Paolo Cinelli, CIO of Ikea, agreed companies should put themselves in their customers’ shoes when searching for innovation.

O’Connor said CIOs must be relentless about creating a better consumer experience. “In my experience the IT users are the most demanding consumers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cinelli thinks it is key to focus more on new products Ikea is producing than new technologies the company can adopt. “The value is not from sheer gadgets you put in place, but the new products we bring to the customers.”

Customer produced applications

According to Cinelli, most of the best Ikea mobile applications available are not developed by the company, but by its customers. “They are better than what we develop,” he said.

He said there was a tendency in the past to try to stop this, because there was a lot of fear around it, but recently Cinelli has started to encourage it. The Ikea loyalty programme has 60 million members. He also said they should be allowed to develop better apps under a disclaimer, and also get to enjoy doing it.

“This is the shift in IT,” Cinelli said. “CIOs can influence the attitude towards these fears, but it’s not easy to do.”

Innovation and business value

O’Connor also believes that the world of IT has changed, allowing CIOs to become positioned to drive business innovation and consequently create business value.

Innovation is also about applying a combination of existing technologies to become creative

“We need to understand the business we work for and be creative, while understanding the consumer experience.”

According to Cinelli, Ikea spends less resources on innovation than anything else in the business.

The obstacle to innovation is to leverage existing resources, combined with talented people to allow them to try different things outside the company’s governance.

Innovation is also about applying a combination of existing technologies to become creative. One member of the audience business services director at James Walker, Adrian Wakefield, pointed to the Olympic Opening Ceremony’s light show which used RFIDs and LEDs - two established technologies.

Agreeing, O’Connor said the music technology industry and Apple’s dominance was a clear example of this.

“The iPod combined a whole bunch of existing things,” he said. “Sony had the walkman, they even owned music under the Sony label, but they failed to connect the two, therefore Apple successfully moved into that space."


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