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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."

Gartner's approach to innovation

The Gartner 'little elephants' report says that "CIOs in emerging markets are 54 per cent more likely to recognise the transformative potential of IT to create revenue in the next three to five years." One has to love reports that are so precise. Another Gartner report suggests that an 'innovation charter' should be "three to nine pages". If only everything about innovation was so quantifiable.

Nonetheless, the 2010 Gartner report says that metrics are an essential part of an innovation charter because they address how the enterprise and the innovation team should define success or failure.

And strangely, despite the earlier comment, it says that "it is critical that metrics be set out a priori, since innovation is particularly prone to foggy or unclear measurement."

Difficult to do? Essential to do? Thereby hangs the problems of mixing innovation, inherent risk and assurances of business continuity and growth. Metrics are measures of achievement, and that means qualitative as much as quantitative variables need to be considered.

"The most important thing for an innovation team to measure," Gartner says, "is the quality of the innovations coming out of the initiative."

However, while business impact is the probably the only meaningful metric, in reality there might not be a clear line of sight between an IT innovation project, its deployment in the organisation and its ultimate benefit to the enterprise. It can even be years before any measurements along those lines can be made.

Despite the problems of such measurement (and the justification of a project before it begins), the suggestion is that quality can be measured as a function of outcomes, such as adoption by end users (measured quarterly); delivery of financial benefits like ROI, revenue generation, cost savings, new customers and operational benefits like decreased cycle time (biannually); the degree to which others, outside of the originators, comment and provide suggestions on an idea (quarterly); and establishing what percentage of company revenue/profit comes from IT innovations (annually).

There are other metrics suggested by Gartner, but these are often very abstract (measuring learning) or micro, such as the number of staff members involved or the number of ideas processed, regardless of adoption. These latter could be seem to be more indicators of unqualified enthusiasm or a response to management insistence than necessarily of the quality and actual benefit realised.

Metrics or not, innovation is inherently risky; any new venture, by its very nature, is a step into the unknown. But innovation is necessary -- if you're not going forward, you're going backwards. And as Hillard says: "Not doing risky things is more risky."

Perhaps we should end as we started, with a quote from another movie figure, producer Sam Goldwyn, who once said, "Never make forecasts, especially about the future."

But once the future is here, you'd better be ready to grab it.


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