How Collaboration Breeds Innovation

Thomas Philippart de Foy, CIO of Appspace
When it comes to successful product innovation, everyone must be on the same page, according to Thomas Philippart de Foy, chief innovation officer of Appspace.

Take note CIOs and tech leaders: Don’t push for innovation for innovation’s sake. The metrics for measuring success in product development are numerous, but whether it be customer satisfaction, adoption rates or the bottom line, having clear goals is key. And the path to those goals is certainly paved with team effort, says Thomas Philippart de Foy, chief innovation officer at Appspace, a Dallas, Texas-based provider of unified workplace experience platforms.

Philippart de Foy spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how IT leaders can best navigate both the opportunities and challenges of perpetual innovation, emerging technologies and fostering a collaborative work environment.

How do CIOs and chief innovation officers advance global innovation among growing regulatory challenges and varying cultural views on certain technologies, like AI?

There’s a popular phrase, “Think globally, act locally,” which when slightly altered, can easily be applied to product innovation. Appspace is a global company, and I strive to look at product innovation from a global lens. That said, innovation and its impact have always varied from organization to organization, based on their firmographics and individual business needs. 

When it comes to new innovations, like AI, we’re at the point where most global organizations recognize the potential benefits of AI in their operations. At its highest level, AI can benefit society by serving as a great equalizer and simplifying tasks that require mindshare and time. However, there are increasing challenges to ensure that product innovation addresses social and cultural differences and sensitivities. 

As CIOs or chief innovation officers, we must be more proactive in fostering open dialogue and collaboration with company stakeholders, regulatory team leads and industry partners. Long gone are the days when CIOs worked in silos without input from other departments, from marketing to HR. Commitment to transparent practices and responsible innovation, such as AI integration, requires a lot more in-country collaboration to remain aware and sensitive to varying viewpoints.

What steps should CIOs take to engage their global teams to drive innovation? How is this changing? With the advancement of AI, how do CIOs keep teams passionate about “the work?”

Sure, many people are concerned about AI replacing our jobs and “taking over.” One well-known technology leader said AI may pose the biggest risk humanity has ever faced. While CIOs are hyper-aware of the potential risks, most product innovation teams are excited about the opportunities to build and create meaningful solutions faster and better than we could before. And, while technology automates certain tasks, human creativity and critical thinking remain irreplaceable.  

I won’t get dramatic and say, “We’re saving lives,” but helping organizations and their employees work better is a pretty big deal—especially today when companies struggle to retain talent. This mission may not keep the product team up every night—and I wouldn’t necessarily want it to, but it’s a mission that keeps them excited about what comes next.

On a practical level, I encourage cross-functional collaboration through virtual brainstorming sessions and regular knowledge-sharing forums. And I constantly look for ideas from the entire team to keep everyone excited and engaged in the product innovation process.  

What are some of the best ways CIOs can measure innovation and success with their CEOs and other leadership?

I’m full of adages today, but I’m a firm believer in “what can’t be measured, can’t be improved.” Appspace is a metrics-driven company, so our CEO, Tony DiBenedetto, and other leaders also operate by this philosophy. When measuring the success of innovation and product development, you must first have clear goals on which everyone can agree.

Is it first to market, widespread adoption, targeting a new vertical with product innovation? In my career, these goals have varied depending on market conditions, the competitive landscape and most importantly customer needs.

Measuring innovation success is a mix of quantitative and qualitative metrics. I regularly meet with Tony and my other colleagues to present and address KPIs, ranging from adoption rates to product launches. At the end of the day, we also look at the impact of product innovation on revenue growth.

As I mentioned before, product innovation can’t operate in a vacuum—at least not successfully. Showing the connection between product innovation and net new sales and organic growth also requires ongoing communication with the sales, finance, and marketing departments. You’ll definitely have their attention for these conversations.

How are CIOs becoming more connected to business outcomes?

Historically, in some circles, product innovation was viewed as “the sizzle” or “the wow,” without the connection to the bottom line. This is changing. CIOs and chief innovation officers are now viewed as strategic partners. When looking at CEOs of some of the biggest technology companies, several of them have engineering backgrounds.  

Again, the key to the CIO role evolving centers on the extent to which we align innovation and technology to overall business objectives, including sales, cost savings, and customer and employee experience. Today’s CIOs are strengthening their soft skills to become more well-rounded and visible in their organizations. CIOs of tomorrow likely will need these soft skills from day one.  

How are you, as chief innovation officer, becoming more customer-facing? What is the CIO’s role in the customer experience?

Increasing customer engagement is another way the chief innovation officer role is evolving—and definitely for the good of the company and the customers we serve.

I am increasingly immersing myself in customer interactions, from conducting trade show demos to attending advisory board events and meeting with customers and prospects in one-on-one settings. This is the best way for me to understand the challenges they face in improving the workplace experience.

I could work on product innovation all day but without a first-hand understanding of how technology solves business problems, then it’s innovation for innovation’s sake. Ensuring that innovation directly enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty is a far bigger and, much more exciting, opportunity for CIOs today.

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