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Innovation: The next big thing

Tim Mendham | April 15, 2013
Nobody knows anything. These were the first words in American novelist, playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman's book, Adventures in the Screen Trade."

Not every corporate culture considers IT as a strategic force. Some may have low tolerance for the CIO driving an innovation agenda.

Some CIOs were once intrigued by the chance to challenge the status quo and lead from the front. But many returned quickly to practical reality, unsure how to respond to the call to arms.

Some CIOs are not well-positioned for revolutionary behaviour, either because of market conditions or company culture.

Lack of interest, poor culture, conservative personality, jaundiced experience -- it doesn't sound promising. But Hillard says the CIO's role can be much the opposite of this dreary prognosis.

"You have to make it fun; work with passion. CIOs need to be very good connectors; they need to be able to observe patterns, not only in the trends and demands but also in the linkages.

They need to be the owner of innovation by understanding shareholder value." But whoever is the originator of an innovative concept -- IT staff, the CIO, or other departments -- Hillard reckons it is not the general trend for them to continue throughout the process. "If you are going to innovate, you need to establish a platform, a number of= stages. The originator is too close; they see their innovation as the answer to everything."

In other words, once you've thought up a new idea, it is likely it will be others who take it to the next steps.

The return on innovation

One of the issues with innovation is that it is often in response to existing conditions. It tries to rectify or replace a current process or technology, and assumes that those improvements will lead to benefits down the road. A truly visionary innovation is far less certain and inherently risky.

Measuring the return on such innovations is almost impossible. As per the quote from William Goldman at the start of this article, anyone can make Star Wars when someone else has already made it. It's not innovative, but you can do it, but it's also unlikely that you'll get the same return. But making it in the first place is where the risk is (and where the fun is?) and the potential payback. In the early stages of any innovative project, the degree of innovation is in indirect proportion to the level of measurement.

"There are lag indicators of success," says Hillard. "You can certainly spot what has worked, but will that be a predictor of what will work?"

A 2010 Gartner publication on establishing an IT innovation charter makes the same observation: "Innovation metrics are notoriously difficult to create because of the uncertain outcomes that accompany innovation efforts. Since ROI is often unsure, it is difficult to add a priori metrics."


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