Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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9/6/2013
10:31 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Beware The Faux Innovators

Before we can understand what innovation is, we must first understand what it's not.

What makes InformationWeek 500 companies technology innovators? In most cases, it's not because they've set up a formal innovation organization. It's because they have new markets to conquer and nagging problems to solve -- and a bunch of smart, determined, focused (and financially resourced) people committed to getting from point A to point B.

Here's a snapshot of what our Top Five companies are up to.

-- At UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), IT innovation means not just improving the efficiency and service quality of its hospitals and health insurance plan, but also generating new sources of income in creative ways. Having paid $30.5 million in 2006 for part of integration software maker dbMotion, for example, UPMC sold its stake this year to Allscripts for a tidy $67.8 million, but not before it had refined the software for its own use and for use by other hospital groups.

-- At ConocoPhillips, IT innovation is about tapping new sources of energy, of course, but it's also about extracting maximum value from legacy gas and oil fields. Under its PLOT (Plunger Lift Optimization Tool) initiative, the company already is gathering reams more data from 4,500 natural gas wells, and then applying analytics to that data to increase production as much as 30%. ConocoPhillips is now extending PLOT, which introduced 43 performance dashboards for individual wells and gas fields, to thousands of additional plunger-lift wells in the U.S. and Canada.

-- At Gap, IT innovation involves making the inventory it keeps in certain stores available to people shopping online, so that it's far less likely a Web shopper will get an out-of-stock notice. Gap's innovation lies in figuring out the optimal number of ship-from-store options to offer and how best to integrate those options into its e-commerce operation.

-- At Penske Truck Leasing, IT innovation means becoming a Web merchandising, search and social networking expert to drive a whole new line of business: selling off-lease trucks directly to businesses and other would-be end customers rather than through wholesalers.

-- At Miami Children's Hospital, IT innovation means becoming a telemedicine pioneer to improve care and generate new revenue. It has built a $2 million "command center" equipped with high-def cameras and large monitors to enable physician-to-patient and physician-to-physician communications worldwide, as well as remote reading of diagnostic tests.

Read more on our special InformationWeek 500 site. Trust us: You won't find any salt, sugar or fat.

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RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2013 | 4:17:49 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
...and the iPhone (the example I used...I didn't cite the iPad) established the notion that phones are less for making voice calls and more for consuming mobile applications and entertainment. Nothing Palm invented established that phenomenon.
Midnight
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Midnight,
User Rank: Guru
9/11/2013 | 3:25:50 AM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
I agree and concede there is a distinction, however, the process
typically runs that an innovation leads to an invention. I see innovation as the way a visionary Science Fiction author creates a whole concept that is radically different from the norm. Consider H.G. Wells as a case study. He innovated the very workable concepts of nuclear powered submarines, space flight missions, and more. Concepts that could not be realized due to technological limitations of the era. The inventions that followed changed the world as we know it.

So in context I consider the core innovations for a device we call a
smartphone come from; the realization of a decent handheld computer (envisioned in fantasy genre' but invented by Palm), mixed with a wireless phone (Thanks Alex G. Bell, walkie talkies, Motorola for the cell concept, and Samsung for the 3G technology), using the esthetics of Stanley Kubrick's monolith and video streaming, and powered by a tiny massively dense battery. This was an evolution, not an innovation. The complete vision was already there. We just needed the pieces invented to assemble the solution. There will be more refinements and improvements for sure, but true innovation will be hard to come by until we finish checking off the existing list waiting for manifestation.

A recent realization of actual innovation is the near field communication technology, and the inventions are tumbling from the minds of developers to discover how to use it successfully. Even it owes it's innovative existence to fiction, watch the old series TekWar and you will see people using NFC to exchange digital currency in an imaginary futuristic setting. A collection of concept nonexistent technologies, a well defined use case, and a publicly accepted infrastructure all modeled and presented as a future norm just waiting to be realized. That is what I call innovation absolutely begging to be invented. Not just an improvement, upgrade, retooling or revision, but an actual connect the dots innovation to invention path being realized today.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/10/2013 | 9:56:44 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
But Apple also drove an entirely new business model -- the 99 cent digital music single. The music industry didn't want it, but Apple made it reality.
Non profit techie
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Non profit techie,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/10/2013 | 9:18:12 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
I agree with Midnight. I consider Apple more focused on design and usability than tech. In the world of design, there is a famous phrase, "Good designers copy, great ones steal".
Brian45242
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Brian45242,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/10/2013 | 7:50:50 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
Midnight...i think you might be blurring the lines of what i have always looked at as inventing versus innovating. Inventing is creating something new and never seen before. (That's hard and done much less often!) Innovation is finding new ways to use something (say a technology) or improving on an existing solution. While not an Apple customer myself, I would have to give them the nod on being quite innovative...even if they were inspired by the works of others.
Midnight
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Midnight,
User Rank: Guru
9/9/2013 | 10:04:31 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
Anytime anyone uses the word innovation and Apple corp. in the same sentence instantly loses journalistic credibility. Why is this? Consider the blockbuster products and the true sources; the successful "hand held computer" was pioneered by Palm and later greatly improved on by HP with the iPaq, the mp3 player was pioneered by Real audio, and the iPad owes it's existence to Stanley Kubric and Star Trek.

I agree the innovation cycle take many years to mature as truly useful technology simply because the concept products either do not have the existing supporting technology or implemented ecosystem to "realize the vision". But once it does we owe recognition to the pioneering innovators as the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. Companies that come later, steal the base concept and fill in known gaps should publicly acknowledge and tip the hat to the true innovation sources at the very least.
OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/9/2013 | 8:39:05 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
It's the press release-ization of our culture. Unmitigated, unwarranted hype is just more accepted than it used to be. "Innovative" has become an easy word to toss around, with little to back it up.
ANON1251977588428
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ANON1251977588428,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/9/2013 | 5:36:32 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
Two facts:
1. The first Personal Computer was built in a garage in United States.
2. The Future in Software is writing in a village from Romania.
I have worked for many years to a fundamental invention in software, on a
revolutionary informational model.

I do not talk about another kind of software.
It is more than just software.
It is a natural informational model.

The current software model (based on Data Center, Cloud, Internet of Things, IPv6, Anything as a
Service (XaaS), etc) is becoming more and more complicated, waste of time and
money and a danger for human society.

From a year to the other the number of IT specialists will be bigger and bigger. They must solve the complications from the software model rather than the complexity of the informational real world.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2013 | 3:20:32 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
The best advice I've heard for big data innovation is to go after known problems rather than gadding about for new problems to solve. It's hard enough figuring out how to make the most of new data types without having to come up with a new problem to solve as well. ConocoPhillips (the IW500 winner I covered) is using new data to solve an old problem that reduces gas well productivity. Whole-cloth innovation is hard to come by, and I suspect dedicated innovation groups that try to start at square one aren't as successful as experienced people who have had to try, try again to solve the big, known problems.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2013 | 2:36:24 PM
re: Beware The Faux Innovators
I'm not as down on formal innovation groups/incubators, on innovation as a "repeatable process," as our columnist Coverlet Meshing is. Granted, some of these innovation exercises are window dressing. But I can't fault companies for trying to put some structure and discipline to their innovation efforts.
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