Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Technovation - Fueling Innovation in the Technology Organization

Technology divisions of most organizations have transformed themselves over time from good-old EDP departments to IT / IS functions and more currently into Business - Technology Divisions. Their image and perception with in their organizations changed over time.

A well run technology outfit is no more important (or less) than a Marketing, HR or a Finance department, in supporting the organization to do business efficiently. It has to contribute equally (if not more) in all the important aspects of running the organization, be it Profitability, Growth, Customer Delight or Cash Generation.

In the constantly changing business environment, it is not only imperative for the IT shops to embrace and work along with the changes but it is now extremely critical for them to be able to excel incessantly and innovatively in helping the organization to meet its goals of Profitability, Growth, Customer Delight etc.

What can a CIO do to put the IT shop into the path of Innovation? Is there a success formula? Probably there is no single formula which can work well across all IT teams, but CIOs can certainly follow a few of the below well known and easy to implement practices to encourage innovation with in their teams.

Keep your Eyes, Ears and Mind open – The first advice given to a fresh MBA class by a senior professor. The Mind part is specifically significant because what one sees, reads and listens could be very different when done attentively with an open mind, without any bias or stereotyping. Many organizations have practiced idea generation as an exercise and some follow it continuously. They have a dedicated email address where one can mail their ideas to. Some organizations also encourage anonymous submissions over a portal. CIOs can help their teams by being open to ideas from their team as well as others. By being open to ideas and by seeking fresh ideas from the team, CIOs can create an innovation friendly environment.

Shut your monitor off every day for half an hour – Take a trip to the shop floor. Meet the Sales and Marketing folks. Key people in the IT team (more the merrier) can be in touch with reality by interacting regularly with colleagues from other functions. One can learn what co-workers in other areas do on a normal business day with or with out any help from technology. It would be more effective if these interactions happen on the shop floor rather than in a meeting room or their own chambers. Knowledge / Learning from these interactions can be recorded and shared with the IT group over the team portal. If there is no portal, share the key learning during the regular team meetings.

Mohammed goes to the Mountain – Inviting senior business leaders to address technology teams during the regular IT team meetings can help too. Apart from being motivational during these meetings, the CIO can appeal to the business leaders to have a candid interaction with the team and also share their business challenges and how they intend to tackle them. Perspectives from such open discussions will help the team to come up with innovative solutions at the right time.

Private Practice – A few highly successful organizations, such as 3M and Google, follow the practice of encouraging their employees to work and develop up on any product that interests them for a certain percentage of their weekly work time. The results surely are encouraging if the innovative success of these companies is any barometer. Similarly, some companies, like UnitedHealth Group, encourage their employees to operationally excel thereby continuously improving the processes and benefiting the customer as well as the organization. CIOs can encourage the IT folks to come up with their own search for technology improvements in different areas of the organization and then support them to implement those improvements in agreement with the concerned functions.

Gather and analyze information – There is always a lot of information which does not get captured. It could be information related to a particular process; about how a customer uses technology to generate a report; or a simple feedback of technology services from customers. Just like a business can benefit by taking business actions based on data analysis, CIOs could benefit if they can capture and analyze relevant data which could be important to run their shops. These data sets, like our universe, are expanding continuously. Thanks to the reducing storage costs, it is not that expensive anymore to become data-expansive.

Which of these practices should one adopt? Do I go through the list and try all or I choose one and then move to the other if it does not work? There is no single strategy that fits everyone like one size does not fit all. You may arrive at your own strategy based on an assessment of the challenges and opportunities that are present within your world. A combination of ideas across the few listed and some that you may have already attempted will show you the path you need to traverse towards successful innovation.

Happy Innovating.

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