Technology permeats innovation

Casimir Artmann asked “is this innovation” on his blog. This sparked a debate on Yammer (sorry, internal, cannot share it with you) about what the IT department can do in the innovation space. One of the commenters pointed out that innovation cannot start in IT. It has to flow from business needs to technology solutions. But will that happen or will such innovation just be a “happy accident“?

The distinction or dichotomy between business and technology is artificial. This goes for IT and for other technology areas that permeate an enterprise. IT is the operating system that drives and controls an enterprise. There is no innovation without IT, just as there is no (non-trivial) business without IT. Clear proof that the distinction between business and technology is silly when we speak about innovation? Innovation might be done without technology, but it can never scale to the enterprise level without technology.

The ingrained habit of reverence of the business, despite sound engineering concerns, is what brought about such horrors as the Sampoong dept store collapse. It is an unfortunate fact that many companies do not understand this and puts IT in a subjugate position as “non-core”. It will be their loss when they are only able to do “faster-better-cheaper” innovation. Enterprises are switching away from the “cost centric”, “special department” way of organizing IT. Many have already started on this transformation journey. The cloud brings increased standardization of basic / common services (what everyone does) and all those services which hitherto have been delivered by/through the intrinsic IT department will in the future be delivered by the outside eco-system.

What’s left in the company will be the IT as a differentiator. Platforms where companies will do their innovation. The question for all of us on the tech side of the debate – are we aware of this ongoing transition and are we in a position to follow “the business” on the journey or are we left behind with the soon to be dismantled IT department? When the change wave rolls, resistance is futile.

Part of a series

This post is part 14 of an ongoing conversation between myself and Gene Hughson.

Previous posts in this series: (thanks to Gene for compiling the list)

  1. “We Deliver Decisions (Who Needs Architects?)” – I discussed how the practice of software architecture involved decision-making. It combines analysis with the need for situational awareness to deal with the emergent factors and avoiding cognitive biases.
  2. “Serendipity with Woody Zuill” – Greger pointed me to a short video of him and Woody Zuill discussing serendipity in software development.
  3. “Fixing IT – Too Big to Succeed?” – Woody’s comments in the video re: the stifling effects of bureaucracy in IT inspired me to discuss the need for embedded IT to address those effects and to promote better customer-centricity than what’s normal for project-oriented IT shops.
  4. “Serendipity and successful innovation” – Greger’s post pointed out that structure is insufficient to promote innovation, organizations must be prepared to recognize and respond to opportunities and that innovation must be able to scale.
  5. “Inflection Points and the Ingredients of Innovation” – I expanded on Greger’s post, using WWI as an example of a time where innovation yielded uneven results because effective innovation requires technology, understanding of how to employ it, and an organizational structure that allows it to be used well.
  6. “Social innovation and tech go hand-in-hand” – Greger continued with the same theme, the social and technological aspects of innovation.
  7. “Organizations and Innovation – Swim or Die!” – I discussed the ongoing need of organizations to adapt to their changing contexts or risk “death”.
  8. “Innovation – Resistance is Futile” – Continuing on in the same vein, Greger points out that resistance to change is futile (though probably inevitable). He quotes a professor of his that asserted that you can’t change people or groups, thus you have to change the organization.
  9. “Changing Organizations Without Changing People” – I followed up on Greger’s post, agreeing that enterprise architectures must work “with the grain” of human nature and that culture is “walking the walk”, not just “talking the talk”.
  10. “Developing the ‘innovation habit’” – Greger talks about creating an intentional, collaborative innovation program.
  11. “Innovation on Tap” – I responded to Greger’s post by discussing the need for collaboration across an organization as a structural enabler of innovation. Without open lines of communication, decisions can be made without a feel for customer wants and needs.
  12. “Worthless ideas and valuable innovation” – Greger makes the point that ideas, by themselves, have little or no worth. It’s one thing to have an idea, quite another to be able to turn it into a valuable innovation.
  13. “Accidental Innovation?” — Gene points out that people are key to innovation. “Without the people who provide the intuition, experience and judgement, we are lacking a critical component in the system.”

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...

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