As we enter into what is increasingly looking like a rocky ride for the global economy I'm reminded of Steve Ballmer's thoughts on the new-normal.

Whilst the CEO of Microsoft's views might not be everybody's cup of tea, when you strip out the sales pitch it distils into three guiding principles that are very high on any CEO's mind, including my own:

1. Efficiency — do more with less. Reducing the unit cost of products & services.
2. Productivity — with less do more! Mainly sales and marketing. Increase people's ability to generate greater levels of output and therefore revenues
3. Innovation — Chief Innovation Officer, absolutely. Innovate or die.

Clearly efficiency and productivity are familiar territory for most CIOs. But what of innovation? It's something that CEOs and CIOs alike are really only beginning to get their heads around.

For me innovation needs to be seen in the context of the big technological, social and cultural changes (and the three are increasingly becoming entwined) that we are experiencing.

1 The social networking phenomenon
The next generation the new shopper, prospective house owner, employee and even leader.

They work for you already. They get social media, online business, online chat. Virtual reality. They shop online and they go to their friends and LinkedIn Groups for recommendations, not the government's consumer body or the Competition Commission.

They just pop an informal question online to their friends on Facebook and then immediately act.

Whether you are a Walmart or a BP you'd better understand how this social activity affects demand and how your customers behaviours have changed and how they think.

CEOs are focusing on these new channels and dangers to their business model. Try and understand how it affects them and their business and look for opportunity.

2 Mobile-me
Mainframes, PCs, websites even laptops are going the way of the steam locomotive.

They are lovely relics from the recent past which are too big, expensive, cumbersome and inflexible to compete with the individually driven mobile application environment.

Someone said to me recently we needed one global accounting system into which all data is poured and from which fabulous valuable financial information will flow like pure water in the desert.

I want to empower teams (which may be defined as countries or regions) to own their own systems and data in a structured environment and from which they can pull the data that they want to make them more successful where they are in the market in which they operate, in real time.

Mobile me is the greatest cultural and technological shift since mainframe to desktop.

3 Convergence
The internet just got very serious and the convergence of mobile hardware, HD video technology and as many apps as one can dream of has given the world a new channel to market.

In the Middle East it's not only given expression to millions of people, their aspiration and also frustration, but it's also inadvertently and perhaps inevitably created the internet's first martyrs.

People have died in 2011 as a result of using video and communicating using Twitter and Facebook.

4 Vulnerability
The loose association of hackers calling themselves Anonymous are causing anxiety attacks in the boardrooms of companies.

This group attacks companies which in their view, suppress free speech on the internet and represent the worst of big business and Wall Street culture.

CIOs can help explain to boards how the challenge is met through protective technologies and strategies to combat internet terrorism.

So, these are the issues that keeps CEOs awake at night. Any CIO who can get their heads around these will genuinely have strategic influence in the boardroom.

Albert Ellis is CEO of recruitment specialist Harvey Nash

Pic: Furryscaly cc2.0