Chief Innovation Officer


Supporting best practices, skill development, and new business unit initiatives.


An increasing number of corporates are creating Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) positions that can report to either Chief Marketing Officers, Heads of R&D, or directly to the President. These innovation leaders are not individually responsible for innovating, but instead are responsible for enabling innovation, encouraging it, inspiring it, facilitating it, and coordinating it; essentially an Innovation Enablement Leader.

This person’s job should be to lead not to manage, and to enable instead of control. Innovation is becoming an increasingly high priority for firms across all industries, and understanding how to tackle the challenge can be difficult. Maximising a company's innovation activities requires both external and internal activities, and a strong leader to guide the company to be as innovative as they hope to be.


Strategy behind the play

The primary aim of a CINO is to support best practices, skill development, and new business unit initiatives. As a methodology expert and facilitator, the CINO should consider various innovation efforts such as training company personnel, sourcing direct seed funding, and ensuring that there are organisation-wide platforms for idea generation, such as incubators.

Innovation has nothing to do with technology – this is about people and behaviour.
— Neal Cross, CINO at DBS Bank.

It is particularly important for the CINO to consider company innovation culture when going through a transformation, as even experienced businesses with the best management practices can unknowingly create an environment which is hostile to innovation. This is of particular concern in business units where performance metrics are based on short-term goals which are based on their current activities. In this situation, managers will often instinctively reject innovations that won’t immediately contribute to their goals. 

Employing a powerful executive, such as a CINO, in a large organisation can help to counter this instinct by designing more innovation-friendly organisational environments.


Key Benefits

  • Centralised management of transformational innovation which sits across multiple business units

  • Has buy-in from the CEO and can motivate and enable the whole workforce

  • Links the traditional CEO, CFO and CIO roles


Limitations & Risks

  • Changing ‘old school’ company culture and negative attitudes towards innovation and long-term, horizontal collaboration can be challenging.


Initiating the Play

Launching this play requires a moderate initial capital outlay.

Key steps to initiate:

  • Ensure that the Board of Directors and senior leaders all understand what innovation is, are publicly committed to innovation, and have created a budget to fund discrete innovation projects. 

  • Understand how your organisation will approach innovation and how it will differ from new product development, and research and development. 

  • Consider your mindset towards innovation. It should not be thought of as a project, but rather as a process and a capability that you need to build.


Running the Play

The CINO’s key role is to constantly be aware of all internal innovation activities. They are responsible for identifying and proposing areas where technology, company structure and day-to-day practices can be combined and refined to drive the business towards its corporate goals.


Key tactics:

  • Communicating idea sourcing needs/challenges to external communities

  • Utilising internal teams to 'get out of the building' and collect inspiration and stimuli, while looking for potential partners and other startups which align with your company. 

  • Organising learnings, data and insights, along with inspiration and stimuli in a way that can be easily searched for and used internally


Play Variants

Typical variations of this play include:

  • Chief Digital Officer – helps organisations drive growth by converting traditional businesses to digital businesses

  • Chief Innovation Technology Officer – maintains organisational technological strategy, and is usually used in organisations where technology is a core component of the business


Key Considerations

CINOs are required to have a good mix of interpersonal skills, technological knowledge, and business know-how. This combination of skills is not common, and as such, innovation executives are highly sought after.


A Chief Innovation Officer can help to design more innovation-friendly organisational environments.


Play in Action

In 2016, Neal Cross, CIO of DBS Bank was recognised as the most disruptive Chief Innovation Officer globally. The judging panel recognised his “down-to-earth and practical approach in helping to roll out innovation across the bank” as a key factor to catalyse innovation.


Cross is spearheading one of DBS‘s largest internal projects, Iconic Journeys, an ongoing initiative which looks to fundamentally shift how customers interact with the bank. To do this, he is responsible for DBS‘s extensive innovation program, which saw the introduction of lean start-up methodologies and human-centred design. He also leads the DBS Innovation Group (DiG) which helps DBS employees embrace an innovative mindset by equipping them with the relevant training and tools.

Lauren Scalora