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How Can IT Influence Innovation In Your Business

In the face of reduced budgets, falling revenues, and customers defaulting on payments, businesses are challenged to be more efficient than ever. These pressures make it increasingly difficult to foster innovative thinking as the mindset is increasingly focused on cutting costs. So where to look for innovation?

Too often, businesses turn to IT to champion innovation in their business. While IT can certainly be a primary enabler, businesses must adopt an organisation-wide strategy to be successful. The recent growth in rich media and web 2.0 technologies have pushed many organisations' ageing infrastructure to the bursting point. Furthermore, internal resources lack the skill set & capacity to effectively leverage new technology. Business leaders should focus their energy on making innovation part of the organisational culture. This is not done overnight and may require changing the ways employees have been working for decades. Incentivise people to make improvements to inefficient business processes. Prioritise requirements for innovation once you have defined what it means to your organisation. Ensure that innovation becomes part of the overall business strategy and then work with IT to determine how technology can support this strategy.

Chris Moyer (Chief Technologist from EDS) recently wrote in Computer Weekly about the continuous pressures that clients encounter and the impact of these on innovation. In his analysis it is concluded that technology and infrastructure play an important role in the flow of innovation. So how can IT contribute to Innovation? As previously stated, innovation should start at the business level. When the business has finalised a strategy, the CIO can assign a direct report to ascertain the role IT should play. Subsequently, you can start to encourage ideas from people throughout the IT organisation. GE built a knowledge management portal to provide all Employees access to applications, communities, and functionalities. In other words, a place where employees can share knowledge/innovation. This helped cross-functional and cross-geographical teams communicate ideas, breaking down traditional barriers to foster new ideas and process improvements. At Google, they dedicate 1 day a week where employees get to think about new ideas that might help the company innovate.

The key to generating innovation from IT does not lie in producing the ideas, but in how you prioritise and implement them according to the business strategy. IT can implement a monthly review process where they discuss ideas and pitch for funding from Business Leaders. At IBM & GE they have active patent programmes that incentivise people to innovate and bring the ideas to fruition. But even with funding the hardest part is still to make the idea a reality. As Chris Moyer from EDS states "Changes require active sponsors, careful management, excellent communication and agility to adapt to the different situations that will come up as you attempt to make innovation a continuous activity at your organisation". Not every IT organisation is ready to embrace innovation and for those that do not want to make it part of their daily DNA, they should not waste time pursuing it. But for those ready to make innovation a key component of strategy they might realise benefits otherwise not previously imagined.  

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