May 27, 2011 (08:05 PM EDT)
4 Steps To Spark Innovation

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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Corporate IT is about to face a surge in demand for innovation, but is it ready? In the first quarter of 2011, 20% of S&P 500 companies reported that their revenue exceeded prerecession peaks. Many more will reach this milestone before the end of 2011. When this happens, the brakes come off capital spending. In fact, that elite 20% grew capital spending up to 65% faster than the rest.

With greater capital spending comes more appetite for innovation, and at most companies IT is expected to play a full part. But despite all the hype about IT innovation and the CIO as "Chief Innovation Officer," the reality is that corporate IT's ability to innovate has atrophied. In many organizations, years of cost cutting, standardization, and simplification came at the expense of innovation. Deploying ERP, consolidating data centers, or completing an outsourcing deal are difficult and worthwhile but rarely innovative.

Besides not being innovative, they may actually be harmful to innovation. The behaviors and processes required--efficiency, repetition, process discipline, and risk aversion--are contrary to the flexibility and creativity that lead to innovation. One leading CIO told us recently that many innovators and critical thinkers left her organization as they battled their way through a multiyear ERP implementation.

To be truly effective at innovation, CIOs must rethink the way IT works with the rest of the business, incentivizes staff, and evaluates investments. CIOs must do this without sacrificing the efficiency and operational excellence they have so painstakingly acquired. In recent research, Corporate Executive Board's Information Technology practice examined how exemplar IT organizations are successfully navigating this dilemma.

1. Foster Openness To Innovation

Andrew Horne, Corporate Executive Board
Andrew Horne, Corporate Executive Board
Innovation entails creative tension and a willingness to take risks. For example, business-facing IT staff must be able to "challenge" their business partners, not just build relationships and seek consensus. More broadly, IT leaders should take another look at IT staff performance criteria to ensure that creative thinking and appropriate risk-taking are encouraged, not penalized.

2. Expand The Pipeline Of New Ideas

Innovation requires openness and collaboration within and beyond IT. We have seen a number of techniques, including regular newsletters highlighting innovations in IT and idea-sharing partnerships with external parties, as well as less conventional approaches, such as spotlighting when employees are working around IT systems, in order to uncover unstated end user needs.