The Case for Innovation as an Information Technology Function

Innovation has sat outside of the core enterprise IT functions for long enough. Arguably this lack of focus has been a barrier to the business and information technology teams realizing the benefits that innovation opportunities would have delivered.

The good news is that IT organizations are beginning to shift! Business leaders are recognizing the potential in IT-centred innovation. IT is increasingly becoming a core process that can open up new business models, deliver new products and services, improve efficiency and agility, and deliver competitive advantage. But without a certain level of focus, IT innovation efforts will fail to deliver their full value.

Innovation IT

Business concerns about IT-driven innovation

There are complaints from the business about IT’s ability to innovate, despite recognizing its importance to surviving and thriving as organizations become increasingly digital-heavy. There are complaints about a lack of impact towards achieving business objectives, and poor alignment with the strategic direction.

Of 250 global business managers surveyed in 2015 by the BPI (Business Performance Innovation) Network, less than half believe the level of innovation in their companies is good or very high, and “only two in five think their IT groups do a good job at helping them become more strategic, responsive or valued as a business partner.”

To give innovation the chance it deserves, we need to think about how we manage it, in order to make it more central to the technology organization’s thinking, decision making and processes.

In many organizations today, ideation initiatives often exist as a discrete, ad-hoc activity where supporting systems are restricted to a select group working on their part.

New ideas are captured via a simple, but silo-oriented process. They are submitted then reviewed by an independent Program Management Board (owned by the program management office (PMO)) which is controlled by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) (further reading: the CIOs role in innovation). The PMO decides on the projects and funding.

Sometimes the Enterprise Architecture team is asked to provide input, including business cases and transition plans. The PMO reviews this data, then hands over approved projects and changes for implementation. Each step is performed independently; each uses its own set of tools to analyze information.

The capture, analysis and approval of ideas is almost always managed separately from their implementation with little visibility among those involved, and organizations can’t trace the process from idea capture through implementation. Questions arise like “will this idea need us to terminate or change an existing project?” “Is there already a planned project that may deliver a similar result?” “Is there a new project that will be affected?” “Who do we need to ask to find this out?”

Lack of systems and processes for IT innovation

There’s no single, robust system in place to handle all the component parts of idea and innovation management. Today the systems used to capture new ideas from employees and stakeholders are entirely separated from the systems we use to evaluate the impact of such ideas on the current and future architecture. In the past this approach may have made sense, but it doesn’t any more.

The next step – delivering on new ideas

Becoming a business enabler requires an approach that is aligned with strategic business goals and that contributes fresh ideas and new solutions that delight customers and make the company more competitive.

Some IT leaders have already taken action and adopted a new focus towards their innovation and ideation process, seeking out a more integrated way of working – a solution that feeds innovation into enterprise architecture.

Innovation and Enterprise Architecture

Innovation Management software integrates extremely well with enterprise architecture solutions. When they are used in conjunction with one another, organizations can realize tremendous benefits. For every good idea you develop, you can understand how to implement it successfully.

Developing a particular idea requires a degree of confidence that a product, service, IT component or business process is going to make it to market or change the business positively. Conversely, IT requires visibility back to the innovation that has driven it. This visibility helps communicate the value of IT and how it drives business growth.

Through this, innovation becomes a defined function of enterprise IT, helping to deliver transformation and growth, and positioning itself as valuable enabler to the business.

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