Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Can't Innovation and Productivity Just Get Along?

Why can't you do it like Google?  This is an honest question that my business users often bring up in meetings between Marketing and IT.  Well, for the most part...this is an innocent question that has a pretty valid point.  Why can't an IT department focus on building through innovation and ingenuity.  Why can't they give their business users a strong foundation built on bleeding edge technologies that won't become obsolete within the next 6 months?

First and foremost, Google can take larger risks due to their controversial "trial by fire" approach.  Google has a virtually unlimited R&D budget catering toward an extremely loyal army of users and enthusiasts.  This army more than likely consumes a free suite of Google products and willingly volunteers to participate in Beta testing on every new product.  Chalk it a win-win for Google and its Fanbase: The Beta nerds have bragging rights over their friends, while Google gets its Final QA/UAT for absolutely free.  Considering all aspects of their product development and roll-out ($0 price tag for customers), Google has virtually no risk in IT sector. By the way... any news on the progress of Google Wave? Google Video?  Google Page? Google Latitude?  Friend Connect?  When you have no risk or profit loss, failed projects simply don't make the news.

If you are a normal technology company, you probably sell your products to an audience.  Whereas your R&D budget for IT probably looks similar to Google's, your sales dollars are directly attributed toward the success of your product.  Will your company eat the risk to innovate if you aren't positive that it will pull a return on investment?

On the other hand, maybe you don't work for a Tech or .com firm...now you are limited by budget.  Bottom line, if you work for a company that sells clothing...your company sells T-shirts, Jeans, Shoes, etc.  You are not selling infrastructure, server space, web apps, etc.  Your company's budget is allocated toward selling as much clothing as possible over the next fiscal year.  As such, your IT R&D budget is slim-to-nothing compared to a Tech company.

The good news is...your risk has decreased as you are no longer directly selling your product to customers, right?  Well...not exactly.  IT is a supporting role to an organization that cannot allocate 100% of its resources to the development of new technologies.  They need to keep a pulse on the business, support systems when they go down, and fight with other departments over budget room to complete the next year's initiatives.  Enter Innovation's new risk: Productivity.

So how do you innovate in such a limiting environment, while remaining productive with your current business goals?  That is a little bit of an unsolved question.  Some businesses are taking it upon themselves to breed innovation.

An Australian software company called Atlassian recently installed an annual "Fedex Day" to their corporate calendar.  "Fedex Day" is a day where people divide themselves into teams that must deliver a brand-new product over night.  This is a day dedicated solely on the development of new ideas geared toward improving their business processes or product.  If a Proof of Concept is strong enough, it could gain approval to become the next hot product, intranet implementation, or practice for that company.

Other companies such as Photoshop are dedicating days solely on ideas and "Wouldn't it be great..." sessions alone to breed innovative thought.  The idea of setting aside 1 day to shift priorities and generate ideas is an attractive way to really focus on the innovation initiative without compromising productivity for the rest of the year.

I currently work in an organization that decided to copy this model, and our IT staff revealed at least 3 brand new ideas/technologies that will become full time projects moving into the next year.  If you make an effort to innovate, you never how much momentum it can gain.

And lastly, my favorite approach..It never hurts to admit that you aren't Google.  There is no reason to reinvent the wheel or try to one-up a product that is already out there.  In today's world of mom-and-pop start-up groups innovating around social media, cloud architecture, and new web apps... there are thousands of firms that probably do any given aspect of IT better than you.  Why waste your time with R&D, when you can hire a firm for next-to-nothing to do that work for you.  Why take on the support roll after roll-out when they probably have more experience and expertise in that area? The key to innovation and productivity (in my opinion) is through innovating your ideas, initiatives, and practices...and execution through partnering with an external expert to deliver a quicker, healthier deliverable.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Enjoyed hearing your thoughts . . . Please keep sharing them!