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How CIOs can influence new product innovation

Kim S. Nash | Sept. 27, 2010
What we haven't heard much about yet is how this Internet of Things could put CIOs at the strategic heart of new business models and strategies

CIOs will naturally deal with technical challenges such as data management, privacy and integration. But what are the best ways to create organizational and political links between IT and R&D? How will an influx of never-before-seen data change how a company operates?

Perhaps the most basic question of all is, How can companies add the right amount of the right kind of technology to a product or service to make sure it makes money? "You don't spend $50,000 in programming on a $500 device," Speicher says.

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CIOs must start those conversations instead of waiting to be asked, says Drew Martin, CIO of Sony Electronics. Approach the head of engineering or product development to talk about what IT can offer, he recommends, whether it's knowledge, staff or existing technology.

When the new Sony Internet TV with Google technology was in development, Martin made sure he or his staff collaborated with product engineers about how they expected consumers to interact with the product. "Think about the other touch points consumers have with the company and how that needs to be factored in to the [new product's] design," he advised them.

Typically, he leads these discussions down a path. "Once you get agreement on that, then we start to get into what kind of assets we already have. We have a database with information we already know about the customer," he says. "Let's design this new thing with that in mind, so the customer needs to tell us something only once, one sign-on," he says. "CRM is a core IT issue. Now it's a product-development issue."

Along with CRM issues, CIOs are quite familiar with planning how to move technology forward while preserving what is useful about legacy systems. One potential quagmire in building smart products is accomplishing similar continuity.

Some of the products ripest for technology treatment, such as appliances and cars, people tend to keep for many years. That means that even as consumer technology advances, companies have to support the old stuff.

Makers of dishwashers traditionally got the product to retailers and hoped for booming sales. Barring major problems, rarely did these companies hear from consumers. But makers of dishwashers loaded with software and Internet access need to think like technology vendors and plan for a help desk or service depot, notes Vinnie Mirchandani, a contract negotiations expert and author of The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations.

"Just because you embed technology in products successfully doesn't mean your organization is ready for tech support," Mirchandani says. An IT-enabled consumer product sports a much higher, more public profile than an internal IT project, he says. He recommends preparing the help desk and call center with special training. "This affects your brand and business directly, not just your IT bonus," he says. "People can sue you for failure."


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