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10/3/2012
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Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation

Most employees outside of IT don’t call their IT teams very innovative, yet most believe technology is growing in importance, our research shows. Can IT still be the hero?

Who's To Blame?

At too many companies in our survey, no one's in charge of innovation, there are scant funds to pursue it, and training is mostly do-it-yourself. But at least one survey finding is encouraging: Most respondents think business and IT departments are equally at fault for their dearth of innovation.

When we asked survey takers if their company "actively helps its IT professionals develop the business or soft skills needed to stay current and aid innovation," 55% of IT respondents said there's no formal program but they do what they can, and 22% have no program at all. Only 19% said their company has a program in place.

Dedicated IT funding for innovative new projects is scarce--only 13% of IT and 14% of non-IT respondents said their companies have such a fund. Similarly, 16% of IT respondents and 13% of non-IT respondents said such projects are a fairly easy sell despite no dedicated fund. The lion's share of respondents said funding is project-dependent (37% of IT and 29% of non-IT). However, a notably large percentage of respondents (24% of IT, 17% of non-IT) takes the dim view that projects take so many executive approvals that "by that time, they're no longer innovative."

IT Is In Demand

The idea that the IT organization is overlooked as an innovation driver and is being bypassed by business units comes at an odd time when you consider the robust employment prospects for IT professionals. Between 2001 and 2011, more than 742,000 new U.S. IT jobs were created, an increase of 29.1%, while employment as a whole grew just 0.2%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures contained in a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The report notes that the number of IT jobs has grown throughout the recent recession--6.8% from May 2007 to May 2011--as the U.S. job market shrank by 4.5%. At the same time, average IT worker salaries were 74% higher than the overall average. Offshore IT outsourcing hasn't displaced nearly as many American IT workers as critics have feared.

But make no mistake: IT pros must keep on evolving and adapting.

By The Numbers

The biggest change is moving from being a service builder to a service integrator, as more of what IT provisions comes from cloud-based software, says Michael Skaff, CIO of e-commerce startup LesConcierges. Also a challenge is balancing corporate-wide computing requirements with requests from individual departments for rapid software implementation and BYOD, he says.

But Skaff's no stranger to using technology to drive cultural change. In his previous role as CIO of the San Francisco Symphony, he was instrumental in melding innovation within the conservative confines of a symphony hall. For example, instead of being steadfast about patrons turning off smartphones during a concert, those in the second level of the venue were encouraged to use Twitter and Facebook--with audio alerts turned off.

As other departments (most notably marketing) have embarked on technology strategies, the role of the CIO has also evolved into a collaborative and consulting role with those departments. "We are moving from classic design, develop, and deploy to collaborate, integrate, and secure," says Gregory Smith, CIO of The Pew Charitable Trusts and author of the CIO career guide Straight To The Top. In particular, the CIO should be involved in vendor selection based on criteria of security and corporate integration capabilities that a CMO might not consider.

As employees buy their own mobile devices, and cloud software runs in a vendor's database, these trends free IT from some of their duties of running--and fixing--day-to-day IT systems. Inside enterprise data centers, private cloud architectures are automating more work, also freeing IT pros up from manual tasks.

In a keynote speech at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, author and MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson forecast a scenario where technology innovation will accelerate, replacing ever more human tasks and functions. While the idea of self-learning and self-healing systems has been around for a while, it's only now that those systems are leaving the R&D labs and entering the mainstream. The biggest threat to the traditional American IT employee won't be an offshore worker, Brynjolfsson said, but the very systems they're building and managing.

So how does IT move forward amid the uncertainty and doubt about its innovative firepower? That's one area where there's almost no debate in our survey. Nine out of 10 IT pros and non-IT pros either "completely agree" or "somewhat agree" that IT should work closely with business executives to develop innovative applications. That's a no-brainer, but companies doing it well are putting structures in place to make sure that cooperation happens.

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marc112
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marc112,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2014 | 1:33:41 PM
Considering how much these days businesses rely on internet
Considering  how much these days businesses rely on internet to conduct their activity, IT will play a major role inside any company years from now too. The IT department is the one to smooth things over for the others to do their job without encountering any unpleasant events. They are the ones to know which tools on http://www.trendmicro.com/us/home/products/software/password-manager/index.html to making things easier for everyone.
IT Reformer
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IT Reformer,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 5:21:52 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
This is a very insightful article on the perennial challenges the IT Ecosystem faces with many CIO's chasing "shiny objects" and IT mission owners often feeling dis-serviced by the traditional marketing approaches aimed at CIOs.

Four years ago, a dozen standards bodies, think tanks and universities forged a public/private partnership at the urging of Congress and the White House called the IT Acquisition Advisory Council (IT-AAC). This was driven by recognition the statistics showing 75% failure rates of all major federal IT programs. IT-AAC establishes a true IT honest broker that service the needs of the IT consumer, providing a shared cost knowledge exchange that is fills a huge void in the $3.8Trillion dollar IT market. Though the Federal IT market is often years behind the commercial IT market, this initiative could help them leap frog commercial IT in an effort to avert Sequestration's impact.
mchesmore503
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mchesmore503,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2012 | 6:33:12 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Several points are dead on here. How do you not treat IT as a service organization or support function when SLA stands for Service Level Agreement. In many peopleG«÷s view IT is a service/support function and thatG«÷s where it ends, they are not a partner, the business pays them for a service. Wright or wrong that is the truth in many organizations. Should that change? Maybe.
An area that needs to be addressed, although I do not frequently see it even mentioned in conversations such as this one, is security. Full disclosure, this is my field and discipline by choice. I fully understand that we (security folks) are a major impediment in letting a company operate at the bleeding edge. Believe me; we hear your frustration with us. The problem I see with this article and frankly this way of thinking is that it only takes into account the part of the picture that supports the authorG«÷s point of view. There is no mention of risk management nor the threat to an organization by not performing solid due diligence. What about the risk to the organization as a whole by just running forward with an idea that seems to improve productivity? If you try and inject any measure of risk management or threat assessment/awareness you are branded as a G«£drag on innovationG«• or G«£that bunch that always says noG«•. Fifteen years ago we lived and worked in a different world. Cyber threat was a bunch of kids looking to use your hacked server to share MP3G«÷s. Today the landscape is so dramatically different that you cannot even compare the two. TodayG«÷s cyber threat is well organized, well-funded, with an excellent strategic plan and 1000 times the resources you have to defend against them. The threat today is only interested in separating your organization from every penny they have. Threats have no rules, laws, morals, ethics nor feelings to answer to. They are an extreme model of being focused solely on results. The result comes unfortunately at our organizations cost. Cost not only in real dollars but in losses to productivity and innovation precisely because we have to take such extreme precautions to not become a victim. Of course the business unit sees any type of risk management as an obstacle; we are designed to be just such a thing. Keep in mind that a speed bump slows traffic in both directions equally well. Surely many readers will throw up their hands at this statement and think to themselves, same old security crap, but unfortunately this is the world we live in. Ignoring something does not make it go away. We would all prefer that there were no bad people in the world and that the only risk associated with innovation was a failed attempt at doing something different but that is simply not the case.
While I too am saddened that IT has fallen from our once really fun role as innovators and champions of the latest greatest new IT gadget or thing, after almost 20 years in multiple IT disciplines I have hopefully grown mature enough to look at the whole picture and not just the immediate gratification.

Doublewood
jacoblamm
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jacoblamm,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/12/2012 | 12:33:03 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
I suspect that part of the disconnect between IT perceiving itself as an innovator and the Business perceiving IT as an innovator has to do with IT classifying G«£inventionsG«• and G«£improvementsG«• as G«£innovationsG«•. Business has a higher bar G«Ű only those inventions and improvements that end up having a market disruptive effect truly qualify as G«£innovationsG«•.
Jacob Lamm
Mark Montgomery
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Mark Montgomery,
User Rank: Strategist
10/11/2012 | 8:22:57 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Nice work Eric

We've been working at the confluence of IT and organizational management for nearly 20 years now. It's really good to see the industry trade publications placing the topic appropriately at the top of the pile of priorities. Some of the related challenges have been cultural, some structural as in hardware and software architecture in neural networks, some educational and unfortunately some cross the line of unhealthy industry alliances that favor IT managers working for vendors despite being on the paycheck of employers. More than one leading consultant/analyst has stated the latter in public. High turnover rates haven't helped, nor has ignorance of IT on boards and the ad spend of incumbents and related influence- conferences, and everything else in the ecosystem -- paid bloggers, etc., certainly hasn't done anything for those of us working to overcome the problem.

The good news apart from higher visibility as shown in this story is that a combination of basic R&D in the public sector and applied R&D in labs like ours have finally come together with advances in underlying hardware, data standards, education/awareness, and frankly economic necessity to overcome the challenges of sameness in IT, commoditization in the enterprise-but ever rising costs, with an emerging new generation of technologies designed from inception for the network environment--not just for innovation, but also crises prevention, differentiation and continuous improvement. If all goes reasonably well it should not be too far in the future that we see wide adoption of intelligent neural networks that better align interests between individuals and their organizations, including IT teams.
Wisesooth
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Wisesooth,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 5:09:00 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Customers of IT are results oriented and militantly cherish their freedom from IT restrictions. IT is more process oriented, project by project, to keep the company afloat, agile, reliable, and safe from cyber preditors. IT customers couldn't care less about IT effort; they are concerned about their own effort. They hate being called "users" and other "snarl words." IT customers can buy an app for their home device for a nominal amount. They do not understand or even want to know why IT costs so much and takes forever to deliver.

The only way I know that can heal this disconnect is to involve the user community in the process with hands-on participation. That approach promotes customer "buy in" along with an appreciation of the effort required to manage change, protect the company jewels, and provide the agility to compete successfully in the marketplace.

The IT group needs to work on its image ongoing, not milestone by milestone. IT needs to show people how their work affects the organization's capabilities. Above all else, IT should stop using acronyms and talk to non-IT people in their language. Don't say "gigabit"; say 1000-speed. Don't say the backbone of the network is "xGbps"; say the network hardware talks to the computers and each other at 10,000-speed. Get the general idea?
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:14:24 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good point. Staffs that labor without notice are not good for the staff or the company. Trying to develop a reward system around projects is a good idea.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:13:04 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good note and good luck getting back into the workforce.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:11:01 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Sounds like you have something to teach those in corporate IT and their managers.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:10:04 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Interesting. Business becomes more and more tech driven while putting more and more distance between tech and business staffs.
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Google in the Enterprise Survey
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