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Crowdsourcing Innovation: A New Component of your 100 Day Plan

By Curtis A. Carver, Vice Chancellor and CIO, University System of Georgia

Curtis A. Carver, Vice Chancellor and CIO, University System of Georgia

I recently transitioned jobs and like many new leaders, I planned to listen intently and understand the nuances of the new organization. So many leaders rush in to make changes not fully understanding the dynamics of the organization. The first 100 days is a magical period during which the new leader is positioned to learn a great deal if they are willing to listen. It is a period of rising expectations where everything is potentially possible. Remaining politically neutral and listening intently is critical as it extends the honeymoon period. Done correctly, the new leader learns how business value is created in the organization, identifies quick wins that builds trust, and begins to build a solid foundation for relationships. It is also a period during which the new leader can learn whom to trust. Ultimately, you want to be moving at the speed of trust and that only occurs if the foundations for new relationships are built in the first 100 days. The longer is the honeymoon period, the higher is the probability that the new leader will be successful in the long run. 

“Crowd sourcing is a new tool in the arsenal of the modern CIO and leader interested in leveraging the collective intellect of the organization”

I wanted to empower the voice of the community and encourage that community to articulate its pent up demands and opinions while not picking sides. I also wanted to start creating a culture where everyone felt empowered to be an agent of innovation.  Creating safe channels for open communications is the first step. Allowing everyone to have their say and contribute to the ideas of others seemed like a natural second step. This led to a decision about 60 days before I arrived to create a crowd sourcing venue for all staff, faculty, and students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Given the university mascot is the Blazers, Spark seemed to be an appropriate name for the crowd sourcing site. Ideas.uab.edu seemed like an appropriate url. To keep the conversations safe and on target, the system selected supported user login through the central authentication authority and idea creation was moderated so that the ideas remained focused on improving information technology. While very limited moderation took place, this approach avoided some of the disadvantages associated with anonymous submissions. To empower folks to submit ideas, the first few ideas were pre-solicited so that there were enough submissions so that initial entry to the crowd sourcing site was lowered and other members of the community felt empowered to submit their ideas. Finally, the launch of the site was soft and through organizational leaders so this venue was not considered a threat to existing leaders or structures.

The intent was to supplement, not replace, the normal approach of meetings with key leaders and constituent groups. The normal and rapid pace of meetings continued. With each meeting, I revealed the existence of the crowd sourcing site and asked the organizational leader to share it with everyone they knew. The soft launch allowed the community to organically form over time and the number of submissions to grow over time instead of a rush of ideas at the beginning and then a pregnant pause.

The results of the crowd sourcing site have been phenomenal. One month since a soft launch, 61 ideas have been submitted by 316 users who have voted 1,250 times and created 265 comments. Ideas have been appropriately recognized by the community with some ideas flourishing and others garnishing a different response. Through all of votes, comments, and ideas, information technology and the new CIO were held responsible not as the department who says no but instead as the department and leader who facilitated the conversation. The community, not IT, set the priorities and everyone has their say.

But, crowd sourcing ideas is the first step. In about a month we will start forming teams to develop the ideas beyond idea creation. Again, we will go to the community to form those teams and influence which ideas are worthy of adoption and funding. My goal is to deliver 100 quick wins in the first year and many of those quick wins will come from the community. Many of those wins will be owned by the community creating local champions for innovation because it was their idea. IT wins, the community wins, and the organization wins. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is a world class research and teaching organization. With the help of the Birmingham and UAB community, we will form that world class IT organization. Crowd sourcing is a new tool in the arsenal of the modern CIO and leader interested in leveraging the collective intellect of the organization.

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