The “I” in CIO will stand for many different things in the years ahead, as much more will be required of chief information officers.

That is the contention of Michael Earl, emeritus professor of information management at Oxford University, during a keynote address at the 2015 CIO Forum being held in conjunction with HIMSS15.

CIOs will increasingly need to innovate, particularly in the rapidly changing healthcare sector, said Earl, emeritus professor of information management at Oxford University. Speaking at the 2015 CIO Forum on Sunday, Earl said CIOs need to determine how best to infuse innovation in their healthcare organizations.

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The CIO role has evolved in healthcare, he said. For years, CIOs have been a steward of technology, ensuring that it is installed and works as advertised. Then, these IT executives became more involved in enabling business integration, and now CIOs are working on initiatives that are strategic to their organizations, enabling value creation and even becoming a member of the most senior executive team.

But in the future, CIOs will need to be sources of innovation in their organizations, Earl contends. “It’s all about growth and change,” he said. “If you want to be an exciting CIO, this is the best game in town. You can help usher in the golden age of medicine.”

CIOs need to consider how best to enable innovation within their organizations, Earl said. “To do it most effectively, you may create distributed innovation groups, which would be close to where you see organizational problems, where you can do some rapid prototyping,” he added. “As a CIO, you become a bit like a venture capitalist.”

Some of the best sources of ideas may come from young innovators, Earl told the 600-plus attendees at the CIO Forum. “Generation Y workers are born after 1980 and they are clearly digital people,” he says. “They expect to participate in decision making; they think that digital business is the norm.”

To succeed, CIOs must be relational and communicate well with many different types of people, he says. “CIOs need to have good relationships with CEOs and also with their peers. “If a CEO has their own ideas on how things should be done, it all goes back to relationships. It is important to get around in your organization and better understand what the organization needs. You need to get people to be your allies. If you have enough of those, it will be a bit more difficult for the CEO to say that all those ideas are rubbish.”

Much is in alignment for CIOs that want to bring about change in their organizations, Earl said. The economic context demands changes in how things are done, organizations believe that they need to change, and there is widespread belief that growth will be achieved through technology and innovation, he said.

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