Innovation in IT: Anticipation vs. Reaction

Innovation is a key point for the IT department and for the whole company. In an IT department, Innovation has a specific function: most of the time it integrates into the company digital assets coming from outside in order to make business more efficient. The temptation to consider technology as a driver on its own is high, but the benefit of an innovation is only attractive if business derives value from it.

In recent years, most IT departments have developed catalogs of internal services to support large software and hardware production. Owing to the size of the system, business departments were used to dealing with long implementation processes. Today, business puts huge pressure on IT to integrate innovation faster.

New usages in the outside world appearing every day, and the Y generation which grew up with the digital and technological revolution (social networks, cloud computing), are challenging companies on their abilities to manage these new technologies.

This problem involves several factors.

  1. Pick the right solution, given the fact that solutions to business needs are numerous and choices are complex: satisfying a specific customer or addressing a range of needs, upfront and recurring costs, scalability, etc.
  2. Guarantee the entire system’s integrity: security, interoperability, upgrade and maintainability over time, etc.

For a CTO, choosing a technology means a long-term choice of where to go without having the full map of what the world will be made of.

One thing is sure; those who are able to handle the technological challenge and succeed in integrating opportunities fast will enjoy an incredible competitive  advantage.

“80% to 85% of new ideas come from our company’s ecosystem (employees, customers, partners, providers) and only 10% to 15% from IT or the new technology department,” stated Carlo Purassanta, Manager of Microsoft Services France.

Innovate under pressure

Since innovation is driven by Business needs, here’s a classic story: A business department identifies a need, looks for and finds a solution that meets this need. In this case the business comes to the IT department asking for solution integration as quick as possible without considering the implementation constraints of the entire information system such as interfaces, maintenance and security issues. In this case, the IT department is perceived more as a gate to pass than as a valued partner.

A smart way of dealing with novelty

However, this model is changing and the IT department is being transformed from a support service into a real solution provider.

Best-in-class IT departments have decided to take a stand and do active technology scouting, screening and testing. They are following the example of the R&D teams who have revolutionized their way of expressing their statement from an in-house innovation model (develop internal ideas) to an open innovation model (evaluate and integrate external technologies). In these visionary IT departments, we met a dedicated innovation team that organizes, on a daily basis, collection, evaluation, testing and pre-validation of promising new technologies.

In that organization, once a promising digital innovation is identified, IT has to propose a first potential application for the business. The direct link from the technology sourced and the business is a first key point of success. The best ones will be selected for a POC (Proof of Concept). The goal, at this stage, is not necessarily to deploy them on large scale, but to provide a first application in order to validate the efficiency of the technology. At the end of the day, IT will have a catalog of ready-to-use technologies.

Now, when businesses identify a need, they will be able to immediately tap in this catalog for a solution already known by the company before going around the world looking for exotic solutions.

The three main advantages of this Scouts-seekers organization are:

  1. The business people can pick the technologies they need and since these are pre-tested and ready to use, deployment time will be considerably reduced.
  2. The budget complementarity created between the IT and business departments. Most of the time, businesses are able to pay for deploying a technology if the benefit is guaranteed (based on ROI) but they can’t pay for unconsidered risk. On the other hand, IT could find a small budget for a risky pilot, but it’s far from having the budget for the entire deployment.
  3. Because this process does not consider each idea (solution to a need) by itself but a set of solutions to respond to a set of needs, it becomes possible to make decisions based on a portfolio view instead of individual isolated decisions. This means choosing a technology because it meets several needs and not only because it is the best one to meet a single need.


How to support such an organization?

Let’s give the example of a large company with thousands of on-the-road technicians who struggle to deal with old and outdated installed devices, especially the youngest of them. If they can’t fix a problem with this equipment due to a lack of knowledge, they have to plan a second intervention which causes 2 other problems: cost increase and customer dissatisfaction.

This young population is used to having smartphones with functions such as photo share and video calls in order to be able to communicate with senior technicians and solve the problems in real time. They describe this as an idea in innovation management module.

On the other hand, the IT department organizes a regular technology scouting activity to investigate mobile solutions for business. Video was naturally one of their projects with the aim of having video not only from phone to phone but also from phone to PC during the pilot phase. They also validated a secure access to intranet data. The department pre-selected devices, software, and tested security protocol transfers compatible with their existing infrastructure in association with their telecom provider. So they have a ready-to-use solution including video but also access to some valuable features for the business.

By looking in the available technical solutions, business can find an actionable solution to this specific need and much more.

In conclusion,

Innovation in IT brings various benefits such as:

–          Fast reaction and feedback collection,

–          Being close to the business and employees’ needs.

Information technology has a key role to play in driving innovation and competitiveness. Providing employees with the right technology at the right time is essential for the full potential of IT.

From a practical point of view, this can mean simple things which can make the day-to-day work of employees less labor-intensive and more creative. Equipping the workforce with the right technologies requires investment in lifelong learning.

Innovative companies will shift away from traditional research-and-development methods. Managers will change the way they collect ideas.

These firms boast higher productivity, higher market value and higher performance.

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