Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

Overcoming the Innovation Hurdle

Innovation. Ideally it’s at the top of every CIO’s To-do list. It’s at the top because strategic innovation can set a business apart in the marketplace, launch it far ahead of the competition, drive new revenue and keep a business evolving and improving.

However, all too often, innovation activities and investments often get pushed to the bottom of the list as the year progresses. Why? Because many businesses—especially small and mid-size companies—are cautious with their budgets, concerned with keeping current systems flowing and, frankly, not investing time or energy into staying abreast of technology and the ways it can create revenue. This can be seen in how the ongoing global economic challenges have resulted in widespread cost-savings and efficiency mindsets among IT leaders. But the reality of competition will inevitably drive companies to innovate. The question is will you be a leader or a follower? Will your company seize market share or relinquish it?

This spring, Harvey Nash took a hard look at the innovation challenges businesses face today in our annual CIO Survey. Nearly three quarters of the 2000-plus survey respondents said that if they don’t innovate and embrace technology their companies will lose market share. The dual challenge facing CIOs is that of maintaining cost efficiency and driving innovation, so how do they best balance that act?

CIOs that have a broad vision have many ways to increase innovation without busting budget limits.
Here are a few:

• Take a Global Perspective. Look past the IT budget and consider how IT innovation can solve the global challenges of the business. If IT can help sales or marketing expand inroads into new industries or prospect groups, business groups will likely contribute to those innovation investments. Innovation most often takes root outside of the confines of IT—in the business organizations where competitive, sales and industry challenges and opportunities are shaping the marketplace. CIOs need to work at becoming highly visible throughout the business organizations so that when the earliest signs of innovation appear, IT can help cultivate and contribute to those efforts.

• Embrace Social Media. It does not require a huge investment to get into the social media game, and the innovation payoff can be high. Social media offers businesses ways to rapidly build an engaged network of experts, staff, partners and clients whose ideas and collaboration can launch projects, track market events, increase valuable dialogue and keep the business well tuned to the marketplace.

• Revamp Processes and Procedures. One way to increase innovative thinking and collaboration is to improve business processes. Tired routines can squash creative thinking. Examine projects that are being addressed and consider whether it is time to change teams and how they interact. Could increasing collaboration early on foster innovative thinking? Could more input from business units improve project results? Scrutinize what can be done to increase creativity and ingenuity in daily IT routines; it may be the most productive, lucrative activity you engage in for the health of the business.

• Keep a Close Eye on Competitors. Avoid tunnel vision (innovation work can be intoxicating and sometimes all encompassing). It’s important to remember to keep a close eye on your competitors to ensure you don’t miss key opportunities and developments. Watch what market trends competitors are emulating and with what technologies are they experimenting. It’s amazing how many innovative ideas come from building on the successes of competitors. You only need to look as far as the mobile phone or e-book industries to confirm it.

• Consider the Cloud. Despite growing pains and security challenges, cloud computing is entering the mainstream. With Apple just recently introducing the iCloud and joining the ranks of Amazon, IBM, Google and others offering business-oriented cloud services, the floodgates are officially wide open. Now is the time for businesses to examine their own cloud capabilities and opportunities. How might their services and solutions be affected by the cloud? Can they be enhanced through the cloud?

• Gear Up Your Sales Staff. Increase the efficiency, mobility and flexibility of your sales team with iPad and other tablet devices. Innovative, fun business tools can spark new ideas. As users “play” with applications they often cross pollinate personal and business ideas.

To CIOs wondering if now is the time to push innovative programs; the answer is absolutely YES! Go for it. Your business depends on it, your job depends on it and your customers are depending on it. The 2011 Harvey Nash CIO Survey shows that IT budgets are expanding and revenue numbers are increasing. Now is the time to jump on the growth wave and introduce programs and innovations that will push your businesses ahead of the competition and leave recession-centric thinking in the dust.