It’s a safe bet that change is in the air when marketing gets a bigger IT budget than the IT department, and spends that budget on cloud services without keeping the CIO in the loop.
The same can be said when people come to work asking for the same sleek hardware and intuitive applications they use at home, and when new technology allows fledgling startups to leap, with relative ease, over entry barriers in the most established industries.
Many IT leaders have felt the sting in 2014. Disruption is everywhere and anybody with responsibility in IT needs to stimulate innovation in their organisation ahead of those outside it.
While most IT leaders get that idea at some level, too many are tied up with day-to-day tasks and can find neither the time nor the resources to innovate.
With a new year upon us, every IT leader should commit to two resolutions for 2015.
First, free up time to innovate, then innovate.
Freeing up time to innovate
How does one free up time with all the day-to-day responsibilities that come with running IT teams in an established business? As with most resolutions, the best way to stay committed is to start out with a few short-term wins to get everybody on board.
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Following that, set your sights on more substantial medium-term wins and, finally, use your momentum to tackle the long-term issues and make the most substantial changes.
For short-term wins, look for ways of tightening up your team by borrowing from time management methodologies, such as Getting Things Done (GTD). According to GTD founder David Allen, organisations can minimise drag by employing some very simple time-management techniques.
Allen says people can get their work under control by thinking about a five-step process, with each step calling for a different set of behaviours. By compartmentalising – that is, by thinking only about the step you’re working on now – you free yourself to do a good job on what’s in front of you, and to do so with less stress.
The first step in GTD is to capture the things that are not on cruise control. As new ideas come to you, write them down as goals. Keep track of all your goals, big and small. It doesn’t matter how you track them – you can keep notes on your favourite mobile device or you can jot ideas down on the back of an envelope. What’s important is that you write them down so you no longer have to think about them. As Allen puts it, "make use of the techniques and the tools to build an external brain."
Free up time and resources to give yourself the headroom to innovate from the outside in, which means innovating close to the customer
Phil Jordan, Telefónica
The second step is to clarify each of the things you’ve captured. From time to time, take a look at your list of goals resulting from the first step. Take each goal and think about the tasks you need to carry out to accomplish the goal. Think about who else you need to involve and develop a very basic project plan. The most important undertaking during this second step is to identify what your next action needs to be for each of your projects.
The third step is to organise the results into appropriate categories. Given the set of projects you have, and the set of tasks you need to carry out to finish the projects, try to group your actions by context.
The fourth step is to reflect and review all of your commitments in the different categories. Take a look at your different tasks in the different contexts and prioritise your next actions. Review your commitments frequently as you finish work and as things change around you. Re-prioritise your next actions as appropriate.
Finally, the fifth step is to make intuitive decisions every day on which of the next actions from your different categories you’ll work on now.
"All of those five steps are quite different steps," says Allen. "It’s not just about going out to get organised or going out and setting priorities. Each of those steps has a specific pattern of behaviour and specific techniques to apply. In other words, capturing thoughts and ideas and potentially meaningful items is very different from organising the results or thinking through those things."
Medium and long-term transitions
Once you tighten up your team through better time management, turn your attention to medium and long-term wins. Telefónica Group CIO Phil Jordan has worked out a strategy that can be re-used by all IT leaders to help them with the medium and long-term transitions.
"IT leaders need to move from IT to I3, where I3 is integration, innovation and information," says Jordan. "Start out by standardising and commoditising the 'T' (technology). This frees IT leaders to then focus on the three 'I's – integration, innovation and information."
A second aspect of Jordan’s strategy is to work more closely with the customer. According to Jordan, "IT needs to stop thinking from the inside out and start thinking from the outside in. Free up time and resources to give yourself the headroom to innovate from the outside in, which means innovating close to the customer."
Developing a culture of innovation
Now that we have more time on our hands, how do we innovate? The answer is to develop a culture of innovation that suits your employee population and your industry.
Some inventions occur by accident, but to consistently come up with winning ideas one must make a conscious effort to innovate
There’s no one right approach – organisations around the world have developed their own unique cultures of innovation. Take Google, for example. One of its better-known policies from the early years was to give each employee free time every week to create and incubate a new project. A famous outcome of this policy is AdSense, which now accounts for 25% of Google’s revenue.
Another company with a unique culture of innovation is 3M. A 112-year-old company that started out by manufacturing abrasives, 3M quickly learned the value of innovation. In 1925, it invented masking tape and, since then, has brought the world an array of products ranging from the sticky notes on your desk to new drug-delivery systems that use nanotechnology to make injections less painful.
One important aspect of the 3M culture is the notion that research must be tied to the customer. Rather than build ivory towers where scientists and engineers dream up ideas in a vacuum, 3M relies on an outside-in approach similar to what Phil Jordan promotes in his IT organisation at Telefónica.
And finally, let’s turn our attention to another telco to see how it is able to come up with more than 200 new products and services a year. Orange Technocentre has nurtured a culture for innovation by borrowing from the global innovation craze Startup Weekend. This is run in more than 100 countries around the world and involves gathering 100 budding entrepreneurs for a weekend and have them share ideas, build a few business plans and get feedback from investors and experts in innovation.
Orange Technocentre director and executive vice-president Luc Bretones says he particularly likes the one-minute pitch used in Startup Weekend for entrepreneurs to explain an idea to other attendees. Consequently, Bretones has trained his teams to present new product and service ideas in just one minute. If a pitch is accepted, teams work on the project using agile to iterate on releases and to keep the customer involved in defining the product or service.
Some inventions occur by accident, but to consistently come up with winning ideas one must make a conscious effort to innovate. So, if like many IT leaders you’ve felt a sting from disruption in 2014, there’s no better way to start 2015 than by committing to two resolutions. Free up time to innovate and then innovate.