As part of our CIO Vision series, I interviewed American Red Cross CIO Steve Cooper, who explained how he fosters innovation and about lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, which occurred just after he joined the organization, fresh from a job as the CIO of the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.
Cooper is creating a culture of "appropriate" risk-taking to foster innovation by creating “centers of excellence.”
"You take people who are bright, talented, not afraid to fail, not afraid to take risks, who can think out of the box, so to speak, I know that’s a bit of a cliché phrase, but it really does mean to think differently than the way things are normally done, and to give them really difficult problems," Cooper said. "You give that to a couple centers of excellence, and the centers of excellence, by the way, might be uniform skill sets. For example, it might be a telecommunications/network group of individuals armed with that kind of background."
Identity is an area where the Red Cross is looking for innovative solutions. "How do you know when two hundred thousand volunteers show up? How do you know whether all of them are people we, honestly, want to put in a shelter? We do have to screen, I hate to say this, but we have to screen for criminal offenses, for sex offenders, that type of thing. So we’ve got to have rapid background checks on people in real life. We’ve got to identify that individual in a way that, we’ve got to give him some kind of ID card or something so that they can have access to various Red Cross service centers, shelters, whatever," Cooper said.
He isn't looking for bleeding edge technology, just state of the market technology that can solve the immediate problem. Cooper believes open communication is a key: "Talk to everybody in your organization because you never know where the good idea will come from. It doesn’t come just from IT folks."