A variety of megatrends, including the consumerization of IT, the explosion of big data and analytics, the rise of mobile and the cloud, plus the ongoing need to show operational efficiency, is driving enterprise technology leaders to push innovation across their organizations. We all know that changing the course of large organizations can be very difficult, but the 10 enablers listed here have been shown to help technology leaders successfully enable innovation in their organizations.
1. Embrace SaaS: Traditional innovation investment risks and costly proofs-of-concept can now often be avoided by choosing lower-cost online services that don’t require huge up-front commitments. Why waste development resources on back office automation when those people can be applied to improving a customer experience? Modern enterprise application IT portfolios should include third-party Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications that were not created or hosted by the enterprise IT team. In that environment, SaaS vendors can serve as domain experts, helping their customers simplify user experience and incorporate new best practices. Of course, these SaaS solutions must be integrated with legacy enterprise systems to ensure the business has a complete workflow.
See also: The SaaS Litmus Test
2. Move aggressively to DevOps: DevOps, first and foremost, is a cultural rather than technological transformation. DevOps adoption often starts by assigning a leading evangelist and a small guerrilla force to create the links between developers and operations. The process might also include recruiting DevOps experts or outsourcing to accelerate adoption. This team needs to architect and introduce new release processes as well as lead the integration of new DevOps tools within your organization. Cross-organization adoption doesn’t happen overnight, but pilot projects can begin to return results in just a few months, pointing the way for wider adoption.
3. Support early-stage startups: Practically every week brings new enterprise application vendors with innovative ideas to support your business. Some large enterprises avoid these small new vendors because they don’t precisely align with existing internal processes or security concerns. But in the modern world of IT, these startups may be building technology that could spark your organization’s competitive advantage. With efforts ranging from joining online beta programs all the way to actually funding relevant startups, large enterprises can see big benefits from being early adopters.
4. Partner with your users: Today’s users have direct access to online tools that are often much better than the approved enterprise alternatives. Don’t fight your users, collaborate with them. Help them with configuration and integration issues so they can be as productive as possible. Connect with them and try their preferred tools to determine if they might be useful on a grander level. If your users know that their IT team is open minded, supportive, curious, and innovative, they can be great partners for corporate IT.
5. Try a bimodal approach to IT: Heavily promoted by Gartner at the IOM summit last December, this approach involves maintaining conservative, traditional IT methods in some areas while incorporating innovation and experimentation in others. The challenge is balancing the need for speed without compromising stability and security where it really matters.
6. Become a data-driven organization: IT systems generate a lot of data about application and server performance, customer behavior, network performance, and much more. Aggregating, analyzing, and making this data available across multiple technical and business silos can be the key to collaboration and making smarter technical and business decisions.
7. Embrace visibility: After systematically gathering data, make sure you continuously use it. Monitor your IT systems including costs, performance, and user behavior—and make that data available throughout the company in easy-to-understand formats. The more everyone knows about the technology and the business, the faster they can make better decisions—whether it’s quickly recognizing and fixing failures to making the most of initial successes.
8. Break the silos: Develop internal organization portals, integrate systems, and build processes to help break down the internal walls between different business units. Traditional silos helped organizations maintain accountability and responsibility, but innovation thrives when ideas and insights are cross-pollinated across multiple areas.
9. Drive user adoption: Just because you built it, they may not come. Simply announcing a cool new mobile application is available in your organization will no longer suffice. Innovation success is measured by user adoption. First, you need to make sure your app’s user experience is up to modern standards. Then you’ve got to market the heck out of it. Internal organization marketing should mimic the efforts of external vendors. It’s important to get buy-in from stakeholders during planning and development, starting when the app is almost finished is far too late.
10. Create the culture. Last, but not least, corporate culture is often the key to successful innovation. Many traditional IT shops make innovation difficult by blaming the messenger instead of listening to the message and punishing failure with scapegoating instead of honest inquiry. CIO, for example, tells the story of industrial conglomerate Textron’s program of leveraging small innovation teams assigned to specific business leaders to collaborate and develop new processes and services. High-trust cultures like that are open to innovation no matter where it comes from, and eagerly promote and reward risk-taking.
Traditional IT projects often involved years of planning, implementation, and integration, with catastrophic consequences if they failed ... which they often did. The modern world of IT requires moving fast and continually trying new things. The idea is that if some of them fail, make sure they fail fast and quickly to provide lessons—to everyone—on how to improve the odds of the next project. That’s how innovation works today.
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