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ITís Time for Innovation

IT departments must abandon their perceived status as the gatekeepers of innovation and think toward the future.

If you were to venture a guess, what percentage of their time would you estimate IT departments spend on innovation?

Unfortunately for today's businesses, just a quarter of that time would be too high a response. IT departments "spend 80% of the time just keeping the light on and 20% of the time coming up with new ideas," said Vivek Bhaskaran, co-founder of Ideascale and founder and CEO of Survey Analytics. "Most IT organizations are just trying to keep their heads above water."

Ideally, according to Bhaskaran, IT divisions should spend half their time focusing on day-to-day problems and the other half on experimenting with new ideas. Such a strategy would help them become better business partners and improve collaboration with other sectors of the organization.

There appears to be a disconnect between how IT is viewed by those within the department and how IT is viewed by those outside it. Bhaskaran cited a recent study in which corporate CIOs were asked whether IT had a strong partnership with their business division. Though 70% of CIOs claimed that the relationship was strong, only 30% of business owners agreed.

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"It's a perception gap," Bhaskaran said. IT organizations are perceived as gatekeepers because they have the power to approve or deny the requests of those in the business. Because tech employees don't often share their progress, business employees become frustrated, because they don't understand how they spend their time.

There are plenty of ways that IT can change their reputation and make time for new ventures, as Bhaskaran will discuss in his Interop New York session, "IT Innovation Crisis: Getting to the Culture of Yes," which will take place on Friday, Oct. 3, from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. EDT. "It's not really about changing the way you work, but changing the way you talk about your work."

Aside from their assistance with technical problems, IT organizations have little interaction with the rest of the business. By communicating successes through simple tactics such as weekly emails, they can increase their transparency and improve working relationships with business colleagues.

Bhaskaran provided an example of an IT team that sends weekly messages quizzing other employees with questions such as "Guess how many spam emails were filtered this week?" Small efforts such as these are both fun and effective in sharing progress.

In terms of improving innovation, however, Bhaskaran recommends face-to-face collaboration between the IT and business departments. IT teams need to sit down with management and explain that innovation is the future of the company. If they can't make that sell to executives, they won't be able to explain it to anyone.

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
9/16/2014 | 8:51:11 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
A big part of retaining IT talent depends on the type of work they are doing. if your top technologists are spending their time working on maintaining legacy systems, or are stressed out because they are overloaded (due to staff cuts), it will be hard to retain the top talent.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
9/16/2014 | 8:28:26 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
Yes, having an innovation "team" is silly. I'm purposely being vague here, but the exec I referenced is the head of a technology "lab" inside a large financial firm. So it is definitely a little more than a 'team.'
jhellman1
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jhellman1,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/16/2014 | 8:13:36 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
We've had some success with innovation initiatives being driven from the top down, but to gain even more traction, we started a grass roots volunteer effort to get our voice heard.  This was important as it was the only way to cross the silos and garner true cooperation and collaboration.

Leadership is listening, but we still have some big hurdles to overcome, such as allowing the IT professional who submitted the idea time to mature it and bring their idea to life instead of handing it off to someone else or outsourcing it.  Many times the ideas are not about getting a new product, but rather productivity innovation.

With staff cuts to the bone, managers don't want to (or can't afford to) loose manpower even for short periods of time.  I think what will eventually turn the tide is attrition versus retention.  Companies still feel it cheaper to lose someone and hire someone else that it is to retain top talent.  It's not always about getting more money... I think many times it's about feeling respected and a better quality of (work) life, and there is no better way to demonstrate that than by nurturing your existing top talent base.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 11:39:48 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
Too true, that has been a point in most of the innovation-related conversations I've had. If management doesn't believe in innovation, then it won't go very far. 
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 9:23:43 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
"innovation" must be a top-down priority at any organization or it will ultimately be a fruitless endeavor.
janderson088
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janderson088,
User Rank: Moderator
9/11/2014 | 2:09:33 PM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
I think we need to clarify what realm of innovation we are talking about. If this is the realm of technology innovation, this is mostly an IT play (led by IT). Leading innovative capabilities the business model will benefit from can become a joint effort but innovation in the business model is led by the business.
Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2014 | 12:19:36 PM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
Most insurers with an enterprise focus on innovation are equipped to accept ideas from anyone in the enterprise. The mandate of innovation teams at these companies is to vet and prioritize ideas and get them into the right hands for development.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2014 | 10:55:20 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
Interesting point, David. Maybe the team Greg mentioned is composed of employees from all departments who want to contribute to innovation, as opposed to a specific group of people assigned to the task? I'm not sure of the dynamics of that specific team, but I agree that everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to innovation. You never know where transformational ideas might come from! 
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2014 | 10:13:08 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
Does it really make sense to have an "innovation team"? How about giving everyone permission to have innovative thoughts?
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2014 | 9:49:13 AM
Re: Innovation? Hardly
It's a shame to learn that some IT departments are receiving more restrictions on innovation, and kudos to him for staying motivated and trying to encourage new ideas despite setbacks. Perhaps it's in situations like these that greater collaboration between business and IT could make a difference. If the business understood how IT projects could boost efficiency throughout the organization, maybe more of them would be given the go-ahead.  
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