Do you need a Chief Innovation Officer on your executive team?

Image Credit: Poolwerx

CEO and Founder of Poolwerx, John O’Brien, explains why appointing a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) was the natural next step for the company’s global expansion and discusses the issues you should consider if you’re thinking of hiring a CIO.


In business, the discipline of innovation concurrently explores the future while enhancing the present. This practice ensures you regularly reinvent your business to avoid becoming the next ‘Kodak Moment’. The speed of change today, particularly technological change, has made this more pertinent than ever, and companies that hang their hat on past accomplishments as a predictor of future success will fail.

From Tesla’s electric self-driving cars to Coles’ zero waste-to-landfill supermarkets helping the giant meet its commitment to become Australia’s most sustainable supermarket, some of the world’s greatest challenges can be tackled by innovation. In the pool industry, gig economy startup Swimply allows Aussie pool owners to rent their pools out to make cash on the side in a run-on effect from rideshares and Airbnb platforms. 

So, can an established business stay top of its game after 30 years? Time and time again, Poolwerx has found that life begins on the edge of your comfort zone. Whether you’re a fresh startup founder, established business or part of a bigger franchise group, maintaining entrepreneurial culture and spirit is essential to continual growth and openness to innovation. 

We’ve found bold ways to inject new blood, including creating a new Chief Innovation Officer position – a role more often seen at tech boardroom tables – on the Poolwerx executive team. The position will ensure the business has a culture of constant improvement to stay ahead of its competitors and compliments last year’s appointment of a Chief Technology Officer. 

So, what brought us here? Implementing a client-first growth strategy and building a culture of innovation provided the perfect opportunity to recentre our efforts and streamline our priorities.

Doing innovation right

No business has an ideas problem; they have a choice problem. Selecting the right thing, not just something,is a key tenant to successful innovation. 

We consider whether ideas are:

  • Desirable – people need to want it 
  • Feasible – are we able to create it? 
  • Viable – it needs to be good for the business 
  • Adaptable – does it have the flexibility to evolve?
  • Ethical – what impact does it have on people and the planet?

But innovation involves more than just ideas. It uses three fundamental disciplines to accelerate ideas from a post-it note to viable business innovation:

  • Design thinking, to understand the problem and develop a solution
  • Lean, to continually build, test and learn until you perfect the solution
  • Agile, to ensure on-time and on-budget execution of the solution

Read More: Let’s Talk – Innovation

Our newly appointed CIO Shannon O’Brien, manages and grows the business’ innovation pipeline across every single line of business – new and existing products, services and processes, fast track the adoption of new systems across the network and further bring the brand onto the global stage. 

Shannon brings extensive entrepreneurial and corporate experience, having worked in senior roles in New York, London and Sydney in digital strategy and transformation, marketing, and business innovation for world-leading organizations including Deloitte Digital and Grey Advertising. 

What does innovation look like across the business?

We identified two key global macro trends to leverage across the business that are relevant, engaging and deal-breaking for our clients: health, encouraging family connections through creating a safe and healthy backyard, and environment, looking at the long-term sustainability of the pool industry encompassing chemical, water, and energy use.

Our CIO has worked already to define the innovation strategy to provide a North Star for our portfolio for growth, implemented a change management approach to bring the franchise network along the journey with us, reimagined our approach to project delivery to ensure we de-risk the execution of our innovation roadmap and educated the network on what it means to bring an innovator’s mindset to everything we do.

This analysis of your business, a well-thought-out strategy and the education piece for any stakeholder involved are vital steps in reviewing your business’ technological and innovation-led next steps. 

Future gazing

This year, our focus is on building a solid foundation for future innovation by improving internal operations first before looking outward. We are reimagining how we educate and upskill our teams to improve the client experience, turn data into actionable insights to enable more informed decision-making, and find new ways to create efficiencies that achieve greater profitability for our franchise partners.

The pool industry specifically has seen a handful of trends grow in the innovation space we are looking at with a close lens and considering across our innovation – many of which apply across the Australian market.

Smart everything – our devices are increasingly becoming connected to one another; data is everywhere. We have smartwatches to track our health, smart cameras to monitor our homes, smart thermostats to keep the temperature just right. Smart pools are here, and we’re helping our clients make the most of it. 

Anywhere operations – COVID has accelerated the need to meet clients where and how they want to be met. Creating new, convenient channels to engage with clients has become more important than ever.

Hyper automation – with the rise of technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), we have an opportunity to transform our operations and decision making in a way that greatly enhances the client experience. Those that fall behind will be left playing in a race they can’t win. 


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By John O Brien

As CEO and Founder of Poolwerx, John O’Brien leads the largest global swimming pool service and retail company. Poolwerx began 30 years ago and today is a multi-award-winning system across Australia, New Zealand and the US. O’Brien is past Chair of the World Franchise Council and the ANZ Swimming Pool Retail Association, an inductee into the Franchise Council of Australia Hall of Fame and a founding member of the ACCC’s Franchise Advisory Council.