ESI Team

How to Lead a Winning Innovation Strategy Within Your Organization

October 5, 2022
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On the 10th episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, Scott Howitt, Chief Digital Officer at Ultimate Kronos Group, joins the show to discuss how CIOs and CDOs can become chief bridge builders within organizations to optimize business outcomes, create a culture of innovation, and evaluate startups to form great partnerships. Scott has been a CIO, CTO, CISO, and CDO across several industries in a thirty-plus-year career, giving him a unique perspective into the world of deploying technology initiatives at large companies. 

In his current role as chief digital officer, Scott has the CISO, CIO, and CRO (chief risk officer) all reporting to him. While this framework has been successful at UKG, Scott reflects on past situations where the tension between the CISO and CIO held progress back and has taken a different approach at UKG: “...the way I asked my CISO to think of it is stop being traffic lights and roadblocks when you come into the organization and think of more like anti-lock brakes and traffic circles. You're putting good guidelines around the organization, but really, the safeguards help the organization move faster, not slower.” This synergy between the CISO and CIO can be a great engine for innovation, especially in larger organizations. 

Scott also shares an interesting perspective on the role of the CDO more broadly, which is that in some ways, a CIO’s worst nightmare can be when a company brings in a CDO since it can be a sign that the CIO is not pushing ahead fast enough. In the best care scenario, Scott describes his role as ‘chief bridge builder,’ where he's able to interface with various stakeholders within the organization so that technology initiatives are properly connected to business outcomes. 

It’s a theme we’ve heard several times this season, that a CIO or CDO is most successful when their work is always connected to the business itself and not siloed off and ‘without a purpose in life,’ as Scott says. The best CIOs can speak multiple languages within the organization to better understand how their work is moving the business forward: “[As] techies we are really good at not having much respect for people who don't understand all the techno jargon that we use, [and] guess what? The CFO is thinking the same thing when you don't understand EBITDA and how revenue is recognized and what ARR is and what PEPM is. You need to be like a UN translator. You have to know multiple different languages to be a successful executive.” 

Scott’s career has spanned from technology-first companies like UKG and McAfee to companies that use technology, like JCPenney and MGM. At every stop, collaborating with startups has been an important aspect of his job. Scott shares that beyond the technology itself, a crucial part of partnering with startups is getting a feel for the organization: “When I was at Blackhat, my thing with all the vendors is, it needs to be the CEO, the CTO or the chief product officer. Otherwise, I don't want to talk because I really want to get the heartbeat of where this company is going. What's the vision? What's your exit strategy? How we would come together and how we would work together if we formed a partnership since it should be a partnership, not a vendor-consumer relationship.” Culture matters when forming partnerships with startups, because the most successful partnerships end up being collaborative, symbiotic relationships where the enterprise company and startup are working hand in hand to benefit both businesses.

Additionally, Scott’s view on integrating startup-driven technology rests on the balance CIOs need to manage between taking risks while not being reckless. As tempting as it can be to go with more established companies (a Microsoft or an IBM, for example) to be more risk averse, Scott’s advice is clear: “...if you're doing that, you're playing to not win. You have to be in the game to win and winning means taking some intelligent chances.” Progressive CIOs who remain open to startup collaborations recognize that the benefits of bringing in new technology to move the business forward outweigh potential hiccups along the way. 

When discussing how CIOs can maximize the impact of their roles, Scott leaves us with some wisdom all CIOs can benefit from: “...the mistake I most often see CIOs make is spending too much time with the technologists and not enough time with the business. I can't stress enough how important it is to go out there and figure out what the business is doing. I spend a lot of time with the sales team because I want to hear what our customers are saying. It doesn't mean I'm going to follow all of it, but I want to know where their pain points are so that when they bring it up at a meeting, I know how to address it.” As a CIO, learning the business is a crucial first step. From there, pushing innovations forward that actualize real business outcomes is a surefire way to make a big impact in any organization.

Listen to Scott's episode here and read the transcript here.