The advent of the Chief Innovation Officer

20-01-2023 | News

Up until 20 years ago, the position of innovation manager was a practically unknown position. Today, most large companies have appointed one, although the actual job specifications may vary.

by Elisa Farri and Gabriele Rosani

Until a few decades ago, innovation in the company was still considered one prerogative of the Research and Development function with the aim of increasing the technological characteristics of the products offered. With the arrival of the new century, the simple idea of a technologically more performing product was no longer sufficient to win against new players offering unprecedented business models. It was clear that the new dynamics of markets and technology required a more strategic approach to innovation. Hence the birth of a new managerial figure in the top of the companies who took the Anglo-Saxon name of Chief Innovation Officer (often abbreviated to CINO).

The tasks of the CINO

Unlike more traditional top roles, whose job specifications are relatively consolidated (think of the marketing director or finance director), the role of the Chief Innovation Officer is still fairly new and poorly coded, and also varies significantly depending on the organization, the business context and the individual himself. Typically, the role of the Chief Innovation Officer can insist on two main categories:

  • the first is the management of the innovation funnel;
  • the second is the building of innovation skills.

Drawing on our research and experience with companies Fortune 500, we have developed a framework for a mapping of the figure of the Chief Innovation Officer. In some companies, the CINO has a fairly narrow mandate focusing on only a few areas, while in other companies it can cover a wider range of roles with different levels of intensity. A simple visual tool, the “8 roles radar”, can help visualize how different roles are filled.

Comparing the radars of different companies and their evolution over the last ten years, we can observe a gradual change in the coverage of roles. While in the recent past CINO was the innovation owner, directly responsible for developing projects with a dedicated budget and team and with its own objectives (usually focusing on long-term discontinuous innovation), today there is more emphasis on CINO as an enabler and facilitator of innovation throughout the company, supporting the other functions and business units in their innovative projects, with a stronger proximity to the business, as well as in fostering a mindset of skills spread throughout the organization l 'corporate.

In our opinion, this change is determined by two aspects. Firstly, in the past the appointment of a CINO could send the wrong message within the company taking responsibility away from business with respect to innovation, seen as someone else's mandate (“it's not my job”), rather than a task specific to each function. The second and more fundamental factor is linked to the expansion of the very concept of business innovation, towards a real reinvention of business management models.

A new model in a new context

Over the past 20 years, innovation has broadened its scope. While in the 80s and 90s innovation basically coincided with the improvement of the product and of the technology, starting from the early 2000s companies realized that they could escape head-to-head product competition by creating new business models. Thought leaders like Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne of INSEAD, authors of the bestseller Blue Ocean Strategy, have shown how it is possible to create new value and attract new customers with innovative business models rather than focusing only on increasing the performance of the existing product. 

With the advent of the digital economy around 2010, many sectors suddenly became vulnerable to attack by digital native companies. To remain competitive, traditional companies have had to rethink their offer from a simple product to a digital ecosystem. The new and rapidly changing context of the digital age also requires a radical rethinking of operating models. To achieve this, innovative companies look to organizational agility and new forms of empowerment and control.

Coming into the 2020s, the scope of innovation will be increasingly oriented towards the sustainability, in an attempt to address the epochal challenges of environmental, social and governance issues. Modern businesses cannot think of innovation without thinking of sustainability and vice versa: Enel, the world leader in renewable energy, has even coined the term "Innovability", combining the two concepts. 

Support to corporate functions

The need to innovate the management model is relevant for all company functions, from human resources to marketing to operations: 

  • HR directors they need to reimagine and reshape working life post-COVID-19, towards hybrid work and a more agile workforce. This presupposes an innovative, creative and experimental effort that passes through successive iterations, with a significant revision of operating models, including behaviors and leadership style, personnel management processes, as well as enabling technologies to empower and motivate employees.
  • the marketing directors they must innovatively rethink their strategies towards the market in the light of a change in consumer behaviors and technological channels (such as the metaverse), with uncertain implications for the brand. 
  • production managers are faced with the rapid development of technologies such as 5G, edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), which represent an opportunity to rethink the company's operating and procurement model in an innovative sense.

From the examples of the various company areas (from human resources to marketing, operations and the supply chain) it can be clearly seen how each function will be called upon to undergo a profound transformation to modernize itself with respect to the new scenario. This will be a great one challenge for the directors of the various functions, in which CINO will play a support role, helping them in this delicate phase of cultural and managerial change. 

A systemic innovation

In a context increasingly dominated by transformation, the new imperative for top management is systemic and pervasive innovation, the only one capable of guaranteeing future success. All functions and business units need to embrace an innovative mindset and start experimenting with new models. This is driving a significant shift in CINO's role: while in the past CINO was the owner of the innovation portfolio, with a focus on new products and business solutions, today, the mandate shifts more towards enabling change, by disseminating innovative thinking and methods throughout the organization, creating the conditions for other functions to be innovators in their specific management fields.

The complete article is available in the December 2022 issue available on

Elisa Farri is Vice President and Co-lead of the Management Lab of Capgemini Invent. In her consultancy work she has focused on areas of strategy and innovation by supporting large groups in transformative programs. Previously, he worked at Harvard Business School's Paris Research Center. He is a recurring author on and other management journals, as well as a speaker at conferences on management innovation topics.

Gabriel Rosani he is Director of Content and Research for the Management Lab of Capgemini Invent. He has over fifteen years of experience in strategic consulting. He is a recurring author for and other management journals. He has contributed for Thinkers50 to the publication of several books on managerial innovation issues.

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