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Driving IT Innovation in the Mid-Market | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

Continuous innovation is necessary for long-term viability and survival

Five Considerations for Driving IT Innovation in the Mid-Market

Recent studies have shown that over two thirds of CIOs have difficulty balancing the time and resources needed in order to drive both business innovation and operational excellence. IT services teams in mid-sized organizations have so much to do that it's difficult to prioritize. Maintaining existing operational effectiveness takes a significant portion of the available resources. Add to that new IT projects and upgrades and it becomes even more difficult to participate in business innovation efforts. Once you add the support of new technologies such as cloud services, mobile device management and BYOD, as well as ever-present security threats, it quickly becomes clear why it's so hard to find any balance between operational excellence and innovation.

One approach to addressing the countless issues faced by CIOs is to create a business growth strategy in which IT can take a leading role. With growth, budgets are more likely to expand. Growth also creates individual opportunities. Yet, with constrained resources, is it realistic to suppose that IT can take a leadership role on business innovation? Do IT team members know enough about the business?

Here are five factors mid-market CIOs need to consider before taking on innovation responsibilities.

1. Innovation is a process not an event. Look at any growing start-up and you'll find an innovation process. Successful start-ups invest in innovation by funding both customer research and engineering teams. At a minimum, they have product management resources to focus on customer needs and on project management and then design and development resources that focus on product creation. For new business innovation strategies to work, senior management must similarly resource and finance them both. Boot-strapping from existing budgets won't deliver the focus needed for success. Innovation participants will come from existing functions, such as IT, but they must dedicate an appropriate portion of time without impacting their other duties.

2. Success requires an innovation strategy. Occasionally new ideas are created in a single "Eureka!" moment, but that's rare. More likely, ideas come from an unbiased examination of existing approaches, which may become inadequate or uncompetitive as customer needs evolve, new technologies emerge or the marketplace environment changes. Like other company processes, innovation needs careful management to foster continuous improvement, focus, rigor and success. Process management is an area where IT can play a leading role.

3. Innovation requires a team approach. In today's complex business world, it's unlikely that a single person or function can provide all the knowledge necessary for success. Many innovative ideas are generated by marketing and sales or by business functions. But IT has a wealth of knowledge to contribute too. Security, integration, compliance, education, support, project and vendor management, risk management, usability, information quality and management.... the list goes on. By making positive contributions about how innovations can be successfully developed, introduced and managed, IT can play a significant role.

4. Be innovative about innovation. According to PWC's 2013 Innovation Survey, the most innovative companies go well beyond thinking simply about new products and services. They look for breakthrough ideas that can set them apart from the competition, or create new markets or new business models with new and different dynamics. In this kind of environment, IT management's broad understanding of business processes across the organization together with its nonpartisan view of the business can be distinct advantages. Getting to know more about the competition and the customers - from the data that IT stewards - might be more valuable than seeking expertise in how the business currently functions.

5. Optimize for growth. It goes without saying that IT is good at resource optimization. However, many of the actions that IT takes - standardization, protection, limitation - are made precisely because of resource constraints and can prevent innovation and growth potential. Start-ups favor lean development approaches where agility, flexibility and nimbleness are key. IT must both support and enable similar approaches. In addition, the IT team should review its own operations to identify where changes can free up human resources to participate in growth and innovation strategy work. For example by:

  • Investing in fewer comprehensive management tools versus a myriad of discrete point products
  • Developing self-service cloud options and/or by using public cloud services
  • Leveraging third-party resources to off-load routine tasks such as upgrades.

IT budgets in mid-size enterprises will always be constrained, but continuous innovation is necessary for long-term viability and survival. IT has a key role to play and CIOs can help drive innovation strategies by using their teams to enable success.

References

More Stories By Ray Wright

Ray Wright is a high tech industry and marketing expert with over 20 years’ experience marketing to and through MSPs and resellers. His background includes senior marketing roles at Motorola, Cabletron and CA where he focused on the needs of the IT functions at enterprises and SMBs in a wide variety of industry segments. His product responsibilities have included both network and system management solutions, security solutions, tethered, wireless and mobile solutions, and software, hardware and services.

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