Innovation is a big corporate buzzword. Businesses clamour for innovation - but according to Accenture, fewer than one in five chief executives believes their company’s strategic investments in innovation are paying off.
There has never been a bigger need for innovation in IT than there is today. Most business leaders know that innovation only happens in the right environment, where everyone is allowed to be part of the innovation process and bring new ideas to the table. In IT particularly, there can often be a lack of consistency surrounding how creative thinking can be applied to the day to day job.
However, IT innovation can take many forms. It can be used to turn business processes into automated IT functions, develop applications that open new markets, or implement desktop virtualisation to increase flexibility and cut hardware costs. In many cases IT is innovation.
IT needs innovation and innovation needs IT. And innovation itself is not an activity, or a department. It’s a way of thinking and behaving that must happen everywhere across every department, project and position. CIOs have a responsibility to help create a company culture that not only allows innovation, but encourages and rewards it. But for many, this is a challenge that is difficult to overcome, due to the way their department is regarded within the company.
As it is, IT can be treated either as a cost or profit centre. Organisations can either leverage IT to unlock real value or stick with the outdated mind-set that IT is only about hardware and process. The truth is that thinking laterally about the innovations made possible by IT requires departments to co-operate and pull together towards a bigger organisational goal.
No matter what form innovation takes, here are four best practice tips that any organisation looking to create incremental improvements through innovation in IT should consider:
1. Check out what more agile companies are doing. Smaller companies tend to be more agile generally and quicker to adopt new technologies. Are they using any sharing tools or applications that your teams might find useful? Take the time to see how others are using the IT you’re considering, especially the early innovators. Learning from others’ mistakes can be a very useful - not to mention money and time saving - thing!
2. Mix up innovation with engineering. Skills in traditional IT are deep and specialised. The IT team needs to know the infrastructure components, the operating system details, the database details, and the interaction of the operating system with the database. The marketing department however, needs to know about the customer or business details those systems and databases hold. In working together, both departments can gain new insights into how information can be used to the benefit of the company – and how the insights of both sides can work towards a common, overall goal.
3. Don’t fear chaos - but don’t forget structure either. Chaos is the mother of creativity. It creates an opportunity, a chance to change. It forces us to seek an unusual and diverse perspective, and it pushes us out of the comfort zone to a place where we could do something different and create something potentially game–changing. But some structure must be created in order to see a project through successfully. For example, by having one single person or entity responsible for making the project happen.
4. Focus on what’s real. CIOs need to talk about innovation in terms of specific value propositions for the business – not just productivity and efficiency. Innovative IT should be directed at using technology in new ways to improve the alignment between technology initiatives and business goals.
IT is in a uniquely strong position to deliver innovation. Not only is innovation a component of IT itself, IT departments traditionally see all areas of the company, across all departments and functions, despite sometimes working in their own fractional silo. The fact remains that IT departments can and must connect all the dots together to come up with new ways to drive value and innovation – not just for their own section of the business but for the company as a whole.