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IT Innovation At Full Speed: InformationWeek Video

Speed is the common factor that links these IT innovation models -- from freight train to ant farm -- at UPMC, Box, General Motors, and Netflix.

metrics like IT as percent of revenue, and the pressure is always to do it for less.

The other tower is innovation. With these new projects, success "has to be measured based on what's the return on investment, just like the other capital and other resource-intensive choices that are discretionary choices that you make as a company," Mott said.

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To innovate at higher speed, GM is upending its entire IT model, going from 90% outsourced to 90% insourced. Mott also crafted enterprise software licensing agreements with about a dozen well-established software vendors, from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, so that if employees start a new project, they don’t have to spend time choosing tools and negotiating contracts -- be it for software or outsourced IT resources.

The Ant Farm: Netflix
Netflix, during its growth surge, has used a concept called "separation of concerns" and "bounded contexts" in order to let developers try new ideas quickly, without breaking the system that serves movies and TV shows to tens of millions of people at a time.

Cockcroft laid out the idea to conference attendees: Some areas of the technology system are very locked down, and some are changing quickly, and the two are kept separate. The people in the fast-changing group have a lot of room to try things, knowing they won't take down the whole. (The videos below show Cockcroft's "what I learned at Netflix" slide while he is speaking.)

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"This is much more like an ant farm than a centrally controlled system," Cockcroft said. "Everyone is swarming at the problem, and everyone sort of knows what the goal of the company is, but we're not centrally controlling every step of the way."

To me, the only proper reaction to all these ideas was neatly captured by one conference attendee -- Jerry Johnson, the recently retired CIO of Pacific Northwest National Labs -- who offered this reaction to Cockcroft's ideas: "You've both inspired me and scared the hell out of me."

Our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue -- our 26th ranking of technology innovators -- shines a spotlight on businesses that are succeeding because of their digital strategies. We take a close at look at the top five companies in this year's ranking and the eight winners of our Business Innovation awards, and offer 20 great ideas that you can use in your company. We also provide a ranked list of our Elite 100 innovators. Read our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue today.