• Technology as a Platform for Innovation

    What does it mean by making technology as a platform for innovation? IT should have a place at the innovation table, providing an agile platform for the business to quickly test new ideas and grow. But so often it doesn’t – technology isn’t an enabler for the business, it’s a cost-center that slows down progress.

    It’s time to change that.

    Traditionally IT departments have been over-burdened with the basics: managing basic IT services like email, file services, and business applications, providing support for ageing systems, and ensuring the company is “secure”.  With the tangled web of applications and services it has to manage and large cost of investments, IT departments have become cumbersome and inflexible.

    Which is exactly why it’s not an innovation enabler.

    If IT wants to be at the table, it’s time for its focus to change from managing the basics to providing a flexible platform and getting involved in the business.  This doesn’t happen overnight – for many companies it will require a significant change to how they invest in technology and the way their IT department operates.

    Here are some steps to help the process:

    Step 1: Get Organized

    It’s vital to understand where your investment, both of time and money, is going.  Some of the basic organization tools IT teams of any size (even one man shops) should have include:

    • Service Catalog – a list of every service offered by IT, such as email, file services, print services, application XYZ. The catalog should track the service level requirements, backup and DR methods, business owner and other key details. Align all your IT investment, including operational costs, back to the service catalog.   Understand the black hole of IT funding.
    • Help Desk System – every request, task, change, and project should be tracked in tickets. If possible, track time to tickets as well.  Every ticket should be aligned back to the service catalog. With this, you can do trend analysis and better root cause analysis. Understand where time is really being spent.
    • Service Level Agreements – Even if they’re only internal to IT, SLAs become a basic tool for accountability within the IT team, and later to the people it services. Accountability builds trust.
    • Report and Manage – The above points give you the data, but you have to use it. Start to understand where your team is spending their time.  Where are the recurring problems?  Where are you meeting, or not meeting, expectations?  Share your findings the company.  Being open builds trust.

    Step 2: Outsource Commodity Services

    Once upon a time, technology was fussy and brittle.  To make it work right, IT departments needed to control it with an iron fist.  That era has passed. Cloud services have reached a maturity point where many of a company’s base services can be hosted for a reasonable monthly fee.

    Leveraging cloud services reduces IT capital costs, while (usually) providing a more stable, agile platform for basic services such as email, file services, backup, VPN, instant messaging/collaboration and even business applications like CRM and ERP.  Even the platform (entire servers) can be hosted in the cloud on services like Amazon and Microsoft Azure.

    Having fewer servers and applications to manage means IT has more time on getting involved with, and providing value to, the business.

    Step 3: Be Involved with the Business

    It many companies, IT is kept in a box in the corner; not involved in “the business”.  In many ways, it’s our own fault.  But by not being as involved in the day to day management, IT can start to get involved in other areas of the business.

    It’s time to build relationships and get involved.  It’s not going to happen overnight – trust needs to be created, relationships strengthened, and the IT team has to change from being techies to … something different.

    Some great activities for becoming involved include:

    • Job shadowing – have an IT person shadow someone in a different department to better understand what they do, and (hopefully) see opportunities to use technology to improve their job.
    • Spend time with your leadership peers socially. Learn more about them and their challenges.  Ask intelligent questions.  If you lack intelligent questions, simple ones like “How can I help?” or “What’s the worst monkey-work part of your team’s job” or “What can we do better?” are a great start.

    Step 4: Become Agile

    IT should be leading the charge towards a more agile methodology.  What does this mean?

    • Start thinking of projects in a phased approach instead of big bang.
    • Business strategy changes, and IT needs to be able to respond quickly. Build flexibly.
    • Get users involved earlier in the process. More feedback means clear direction means better results.

    IT should be a player at the innovation table, but it needs to earn its place there. With the right tools and processes in place, IT’s role can change from managing fires and holding together the technology to providing value to the organization.

    Done right, IT provides the platform for innovation – something that the company can count on, leverage, and scale with.  Done poorly, it’s a cost center and distraction.  Which would you prefer?

    Mike is a problem solver, technology guru and project superhero.  As a partner at Incrementa Consulting, his focus is on leveraging technology and great processes to grow your business.  You can connect with Mike on Twitter or read more of his thoughts on the Incrementa website or on MikeKnapp.ca.

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