What's Innovation Anyway? & is your IT team a Barrier?

Innovation. It’s a word that’s often brandished in IT, but it’s starting to lose credibility. Ask any organisation if they’re innovating their business through technology, they’ll typically and unwaveringly answer ‘yes’, but often this isn’t the case.

Innovation isn’t moving your services to the cloud, nor is it implementing a new ERP or CRM system. Deploying an IP Telephony service – on-premises or in the cloud - isn’t innovative either.

Innovation – the action or process of innovating. A new method, idea or product.

Is a server hosted in the cloud fundamentally different to one hosted on-premises? Is a new CRM system innovative if the same data is logged in the same way, outputting the same actions?

What is innovation then? Ideally, it’s changing or removing processes, especially manual ones. It could be creating new capabilities and delivering services in an entirely new way.

Let’s say a construction firm’s designing a new building. Effort has gone into modernising the process, e.g. booking client site visits online and demonstrating the room configuration options. But the process remains the same: arrange a visit, attend site, view the physical layout and setups.

Innovation would question why the client should travel anywhere. What about shipping smart glasses for a 3D virtual tour? What about augmented reality? Smart wearables would let the customer see their customisation options mapped onto a blank canvas.

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Image source: Microsoft

There are several reasons why innovations like these aren’t considered across organisations or Enterprise IT. Much boils down to culture. Yes, there are technical constraints to doing certain things, but the scalability and power of the cloud are quickly eradicating them. So, what’s holding you back? The problem might lie inside your IT team itself.

Stubbornness Around Hierarchy and Position

Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people, so they tell us what to do.”

Organisations often do one of two things. They don’t hire people smarter than the majors (maybe the recruiting manager feels threatened) or they do appoint them but dismiss their ideas. They don’t allow time for reflection, feedback or accommodate respectful challenge.

Over-Attachment to Vendors or Legacy Practices

An over-attachment to vendors is understandable. There’s a reason why Microsoft, Google and Apple target the education market - and it’s not just a passion for teaching the next generation.

Some of our young people are the future CIOs of £billion businesses. If they’re Microsoft natives, there’s a greater possibility their enterprises will be Microsoft driven, but herein lies a problem: innovation is vendor agnostic.

It’s about looking at the possibilities and sourcing or creating the technical capabilities to fulfil them. The same sense of attachment applies to legacy practices. There’s little point bringing in consultants as subject matter experts only to tell them how you want your solution designed.

Relay your requirements - but let them lead. Killing off innovation with 10-year out of date security policies, for example, isn’t the way forward.

Skills Gaps

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, digital staffing gaps are a big problem, which is forecast to intensify. In some areas - such as back-end development - there will be a 50% deficit of people vs demand by 2020.

In other IT disciplines, the deficit will exceed 80% by 2021.

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Having the skills to exploit the potential with the likes of big data, IoT devices and VR/AR are increasingly advantageous.

As the big players have more resources to vacuum up the top talent, the answer lies in allowing more opportunities for your staff. Invest in their learning and development. Encourage them to network and get involved in external user groups, communities and events.

Funding and Budgeting

A lack of spending power may impact the ability to source talent or invest in the proof of concepts necessary for innovation.

The term ‘fail fast’ is often used to describe the process of attempting multiple innovations then  ditching them before they get too costly or time-consuming.

Not every innovation can be expected to be fit-for-purpose, but if you stop funding after the first few failures, you won’t get far. Invest and persevere - and see that the funding goes to the right people.

Paying industry rates is vital too. Hiring new staff on a constrained budget will only hinder innovation. Not rewarding the talent already in the business may lead to them being poached.

Leading with IT

Technology serves the business. It doesn’t dictate or govern how the organisation runs. IT shouldn’t create business processes, nor should it determine the extent of business capabilities facilitated by technology.

Obviously, it’s vital that IT and the business work collaboratively. Sometimes the business won’t know the art of the possible, and IT can highlight new opportunities technology can enable. Equally, IT shouldn’t layer policy upon policy nor restrict the potential of the business through a stubborn failure to adapt to contemporary methods.

Create a framework for innovation - a modern operating model- and seek outside opinion and consultancy when necessary. Ideation and the art of the possible are areas IT Lab and our Business Performance team can help you with.

From an internal perspective, sometimes it’s difficult to identify where innovation is being held back. Engaging a partner to work alongside you can be tremendously beneficial in removing these constraints.

To connect with Chris Eley and our Business Performance team, you’re welcome to contact us.

Written by Chris Eley