Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

IT Innovation: Like a Cake without Frosting

I don't know about you, but I think the best part about a delicious, moist cake is a rich and creamy frosting. Without it -- the cake in my mind is incomplete. Similarly, IT innovation is an exciting and thought-provoking concept. It gives companies permission to think out-of-the-box, brainstorm great ideas to overcome challenges and gain competitive advantage. But, without budget to support IT innovation -- it's just like a cake without frosting.

I recently had the chance to present to approximately 50 technology leaders from around the country the findings from the Harvey Nash Strategic Insights Survey: A U.S. IT Leadership Perspective, during a Webinar hosted on June 9. Though the survey has a number of key findings, my presentation focused on three important areas: IT innovation, IT influence and efficiency.

Even during what many are calling a time of crisis, innovation appears to be a direct factor on IT influence and efficiency. What's striking to me, however, is that while IT innovation is being chalked up as a go-to solution, it's like the concept is sitting on a pedestal without the support needed to finish the job. The top three challenges of innovation that immediately come to mind for those of us in the IT hot seat include:

• Limited or frozen IT budgets
• Lack of structure around IT innovation
• Difficulty proving ROI

In view of the fact that a majority of Webinar attendees expressed achieving competitive advantage through innovation as one of their top priorities and business goals today, it's an area that demands definition. Furthermore, only 23% of survey participants felt their IT innovations were "very successful." That is a disappointing percentage given the expressed importance of innovation.

So, the question becomes, how can IT move from innovation ideation to innovative execution? IT is under tremendous financial pressure -- yet it's the key ingredient for improvement. It's time to put innovation ideas into action. Here are six ideas that I believe will aid in moving IT innovation to a spot of influence and overcome at least some of the challenges:

1. Create a culture that supports IT innovation. Companies can talk about being supportive of innovation until they're blue in the face. But actually implementing tools and techniques to foster sustainable innovation from the top down is absolutely necessary for IT innovation success.

2. Become a business leader first, technology leader second. CIOs must act as change agents and the drivers of IT innovation. In order to be respected as such, CIOs need to influence business strategy--identifying new opportunities for revenue expansion and cost reduction at the same time. This is a shift we've all likely seen over the years, but now more than ever IT leaders need to be business centric with "polished" leadership styles while incorporating sustainable IT innovation.

3. Don't be tempted to cut strategic planning for IT when thinking about innovation.
The current economic climate makes it appealing to skip this important step and jump right into how IT can achieve operational cost savings. IT innovation should not be focused on process improvements; but rather on a structure for strategies that are going to leap an organization forward.

4. Be creative with IT spend. I was asked during the Webinar if there's any IT spending going on in 2009. That's the $64 million question! While we are seeing some spend across the board, it's certainly limited and nowhere near what we've seen in recent years. However, what we are seeing are creative ways to spend. Companies are looking at projects that can be eliminated and shifting that budget to other projects, freeing up resources for execution of IT innovation.

5. Collaborate with outside companies. This is the one area that I believe reaps the fastest and most effective rewards of innovation. More and more businesses are working together to maximize the limited funds being assigned to IT. Companies are figuring out fundamentally different ways to achieve more with less. Offshoring is a key strategy to accomplish that. It provides a way to drive cost-savings, while better meeting the needs of the business. Business collaboration and offshoring specifically allows companies greater room for negotiation and access to resources that result in efficiencies and performance excellence at the same time.

6. Establish metrics specific to your business for innovation. ROI continues to be difficult to prove with innovation spend. Part of the reason is that defining the right metrics can be tricky. The reality, however, is that IT spend is being closely monitored and to justify investments in innovation, companies need to make sense of strategies to measure its effectiveness.

This is a uniquely important time for IT. We have a chance to make a fresh footprint by enabling true business change unlike ever before. I challenge each of you to create ways to frost the cake that is IT innovation.

Please join me in the next Harvey Nash Webinar series scheduled for July 23 at 11 a.m. EDT where we'll discuss Workforce Management Optimization.