Ask the IT Consultant

Jun 20 2011   9:00PM GMT

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast – IT innovation in the real world

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question: How can established companies create a culture that encourages and rewards innovation?

Years ago, Fred Tuffile, my entrepreneurship professor at Bentley University once said the biggest advantage that new start-up companies have over established businesses is a blank piece of paper.  They might not have any money or customers, but they do have some ideas and a capability for innovation.  Typically, as companies grow and mature over time, they develop processes, bureaucracies and the dreaded, “that’s not the way we do it here” attitude.  Things do not always need to end up this way.  The companies that do maintain an innovative culture consistently out perform their more conservative counterparts.  With the right sponsorship and support from management, it is possible to create a culture that nurtures and encourages innovation in IT and all areas of the business.

At the recent MHT – New England CIO Innovation Summit, unlike the buttoned down MIT CIO Symposium a few months ago, the panelists were all sending a clear message that businesses need to embrace innovation throughout the organization.  Bill Oakes the CIO of the City of Boston, found that even the most traditional cultures are accepting of innovation when the benefits are clear to the rank and file city workers.  Tsvi Gal, the keynote speaker, noted that 85% of IT services are the same across all organizations, but it is the last 15% that are the critical differentiators.  Think of the cloud as a way to make that 85% of the IT infrastructure completely transparent, so that the corporate IT resources that really know the business can concentrate on the 15% that really delivers business value.

No matter where you are on the corporate cultural spectrum, it is possible to drive innovative thinking.  The key is to work at different levels of the organization simultaneously.  If the executive management is actively encouraging an innovative culture, even the most hide-bound staff will catch the excitement.  At the other end of the spectrum, those skunk works projects that bubble up from the groups of smart engineers continually generate 80% of the new ideas in a company.  Those groups are creating the future products.  If they are not nurtured within the corporate structure, they will eventually take their good ideas someplace else or strike out on their own.  You need corporate executives to support smart staff so they can be creative and innovative with in the enterprise ecosystem, and the smart innovators need to know they are supported.  Together you will take over the world.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc.  Moving companies’ IT services into the cloud the right way, the first time!

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