Driving Innovation: Starting With The IT Department

Driving Innovation

What do the words innovation, visionary and pioneering mean to most business owners today? Are they used as part of important business objectives or clever buzz words preached in the board room but not practiced in the office? These words may be used to describe a business but are they really applying the right strategy to stand out from the crowd?

It’s no secret that technology is progressing at an exponential rate so working as an ‘innovative digital enterprise’ is no longer a cutting edge advantage but actually a necessary strategy needed to compete and survive. Today, organisations need to do more to stand out from the business crowd; they need to invest in the right departments and act.

Over the last few years there has been a new wave of transformative technology with the “four forces” of mobile, social, cloud and big data. There is no doubt that these new elements represent a fundamental shift in business, capable of entirely reshaping decision processes.

Those able to truly embrace these advancements have been able to create entirely new markets, overtaking large and well established competitors. Amazon, Salesforce and Twitter are just some of the powerful players that have risen to prominence after their innovative use of digital strategy.

Most businesses are aware that the key to this is obtaining data. But it is how data is used that makes the difference between success and failure. Data alone is meaningless if there is no process to tie it to. Instead, gaining access to information must be used for intelligent decision making.

We saw a powerful example of this recently with leading Turkish phone operator, Turkcell. By actively analysing 24 million customer profiles a day using the latest software, it was able to identify and address customer needs in real time on a personalised basis. This bespoke strategy enabled Turkcell to increase revenue by $15 million and improve customer uptake tenfold; a strategy all businesses should strive to replicate.

Digital innovation is clearly no longer the domain of the technology giants and now is the time for companies of all sizes to reassess how they operate and transform the benefits of becoming a true digital enterprise; a transformation which must begin in the IT department.

Some may raise an eyebrow at the suggestion of the IT department as a driver of innovation, but stop and think about it for a second. International partners, customers, corporate departments (from HR to sales to logistics) and many more all rely on the efforts of the IT department. The sad truth is that many IT departments are failing to innovate because they are fire fighting daily issues and viewed as a care taker, limiting their roles to system maintenance and troubleshooting.

It is common for most employees’ only involvement with the IT department to be contacting tech support to fix a broken spread sheet or hardware issue, but at the other end of the spectrum, when there is a critical system failure, IT can be used as a scapegoat that is blamed for causing it, rarely thanked for resolving the problem.

A momentary power outage or loss in IT systems can incur vast financial losses, international trading difficulties and destroy customer relations so it’s no surprise that innovation gets side lined for more pressing issues. However, this must no longer be considered as an acceptable line of thought and the IT department must not be overlooked but recognised as the very core of the organisation, where innovation should be instilled.

All departments within a business align with the IT team to create new ways of working and driving innovation, a key enabler for growth throughout the entire business structure. The gatekeeper of this transformation is the new CIO, the Chief Innovation Officer. However, to fulfil this tough role, the correct tools, knowledge and attitude must be provided.

This constant battle of wills may result in more harm than good for the company, and all parties involved must instead work as a partnership in a collaborative effort, particularly the CIO and COO themselves. There is no one way for a company to achieve this – it should be seen more as an educational exercise that must span the entire organisation and encourage different departments to engage and co-operate with each other.

The answer is not throwing the most recent or most cost-effective solution at a problem, but identifying the most intelligent way forward. It’s not possible for one department or individual to ‘do’ innovation, so while the IT department should be the first port of call for identifying these innovations, it must be the responsibility of the organisation as a whole.

Theo Priestley

Theo Priestley is VP and Chief Evangelist at Software AG, responsible for championing the marketing, PR and brand awareness strategy of the industry’s leading enterprise suite of solutions. He is regarded as one of the top thought leaders in enterprise software and a prolific figure in analysing the top enterprise technology trends. Theo is also known for his strong opinions backed by years of experience and delivered in a 'zero bull' style. Theo writes for several technology and business related magazines and sites, including his own successful tech blog IT Redux. Previously an independent industry analyst and successful enterprise transformation consultant Theo was named as a Top 50 Influencer for the Case Management (BPM) industry in 2012.