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Live from Forrester – Don’t Wait to Innovate


Bobby Cameron came up next and begun by highlighting how little IT sometimes matters to business innovation – even innovative companies and CEOs don’t think of their IT in this way. So why is this a problem? Executives say one thing but do another:

  • Innovation is a “priority” but not on the executive team’s agenda.
  • CEOs talk about needing new business models but they invest only in new products and services
  • They want internal innovation but only look externally
  • Technology is supposed to be transformational but they only deploy it for efficiency

IT adds to this problem by:

  • Focusing on cost and quality not innovation
  • Hesitating and waiting for the business to request it – taking orders
  • Burdening innovation with heavy processes and stage gates etc

He argues that IT can become an innovation leader and help firms find, fund and deliver innovation. However there are some issues. Given the definition they use, inventions aren’t innovations unless they generate business impact and adapting existing things to new uses can be. People often think that, between the regular ongoing investments and game-changing ideas is a break point where they move from “business as usual” to “innovation”. Yet innovation can come at any point in the continuum. However, the middle ground is hard to do a business case for – it’s not running the business nor is it dramatic. Finally there is a question of where to look – what is the innovation network from which ideas can come. Companies like P&G don’t just invent things and transform ideas they are also brokering and financing ideas inside and outside the company.

For an IT department this innovation network consists of other parts of the organization as well as suppliers and partners. IT can be an inventor, but this is rare and it cannot really do financing either. IT is better at being a transformer – taking ideas and convert them into business value – and at being a broker to link the parties needed for innovation to work.

It is not enough, though, to find the right innovations you must also be able to fund them. To do this you must understand the context for innovation in your company, the innovation network, and have a defined and measured process with funding ownership (money and team separate from business as usual).

He ended by discussing how, if there is too much resistance to having IT lead innovation, then IT departments can try some tactical steps:

  • Focus people on innovation culture – hiring, training, cross-training
  • Make innovation part of day to day processes like portfolio management
  • Use technology and tools to inspire and capture innovation (idea markets, portfolio management or end user development tools – like business rules)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dave Wright May 21, 2008, 8:12 pm

    I agree with the ‘blue sky’ approach, a unit outside of the usual grind that develops the next big thing… but is that different than traditional R&D? Whatever it is, it does need to have an info tech aspect to it, independent of the operational IT department that runs production systems. Asking people who do that everyday to be ‘innovative’ is just the same as asking any other operational area. I would say, don’t look to your standard IT department for innovation, build that cross-functional, multi-skilled innovation area with the necessary info tech skills.,
    …but avoid the white tower too; rotate people in and out from operational areas. Just because they do everyday work doesn’t mean such people can’t be innovative, but they need to escape the grind as well.

    • James Taylor May 23, 2008, 8:11 am

      Completely agree and a lot of the sessions this week focused on this cross-functional collaborative team idea and at least one speaker made an explicit point of the need to give people time away from the grind too.

  • Bobby Cameron May 24, 2008, 9:05 am

    Let me begin by agreeing with several of the comments in the two earlier posting. First, creating a blue-sky environment can yield very good results (although it isn’t much different from traditional R&D). And second, giving people time away from the every day work will help them be more creative.But let me add two different perspectives that are part of what James wrote about in my original talk.The first is that in our everyday work, we all come up with excellent ideas about new ways to do things — we don’t have to have bluesky time to have new ideas. But in most firms there is nothing we can do with these ideas without expending a lot of energy. So one thing IT shops are doing is using collaboration technology to help their firms find these ideas that are continuously being generated and fund the best of them so that they are transformed from ideas into business results.The second perspective is that ideas that can help our firms are also continuously being generated — without bluesky time — by our customers, suppliers, and partners. So we need to find ways to include them in our idea collection and funding cycles. Forrester calls this an Innovation Network, where key roles are played different functions and firms across a value network. These roles include inventing new ideas; transforming these inventions into new products/services, business operations and/or business models; funding the invention and transformation activities; and brokering/coordinating the collaborating functions and firms. And each of us can play one-or-more roles in these innovation networks.So IT organizations can help accelerate business innovation by brokering the innovation collaboration among functions within our firms, our technology vendors, and our customers and partners.