3 Myths about Application-Fueled Enterprise Innovation

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3 Myths about Application-Fueled Enterprise Innovation

/ December 12, 2013

The term innovation gets thrown around a lot in business. Whether they’re changing the world, your company, or your team, innovators are easy to point out once they’ve made an impact. It’s hard though, to define the variables that had an impact on those innovators. There are libraries of knowledge on “best practices” in application-fueled innovation. But the truth is, there’s a great deal of randomness involved, and our business minds don’t like that.

If we were to analyze all the success paths to some application-fueled innovation, we might come to conclusions like “We need a team composed of two parts creative, one part conservative people.” or “We need a framework that truly supports risk-taking.” While these tactics would ring true based on historical data, they say little about the variables that will unfold to enable your next big solution.

Even the most disruptive companies have a hard time discerning what makes innovative application development projects successful. Not all projects are created equal, and the same is true for developers and stakeholders responsible for weaving value from them. In practice, ‘innovative’ is a term that IT leaders have loosely delegated to the ideas that don’t fit between the lines of a present tactic, but have potential returns that outweigh their risks.

That being said, let’s look at some of the most common ‘myths’ of enterprise application innovation, in an effort to minimize those risks and support organizations in evaluating the feasibility of innovative applications in the enterprises. Thinking in terms of prevalence and priority, here are three areas to consider:

1. Innovation is a Department

It’s not just one team that supports innovation… unlike R&D or Marketing functions, innovation needs to be an organizational culture. UL Global CIO Christian Anschuetz describes this problem in a CIO Journal post:

The problem with this common “Innovation Team” approach is that it is based on a profoundly inaccurate assumption; namely, that only a select few in an organization can be innovative. The recipe lacks ingredients. Perhaps it’s understandable though, as most firms’ employees have struggled to innovate over the years.  And when there is a market disrupting innovation, it is often the product of a small group of people, with a big idea, and the ability to execute. Unfortunately for large business, these disruptions tend to come from small startups, very often out of areas like Silicon Valley, Boston, or Beijing.

Simply put, it’s not as easy as creating a start-up within your company. Start-ups have other variables that push them to be innovative –a finite investment with which they have to create value that they’ll use to keep the company alive. A few years ago I visited Hangzhou, China to hear Alibaba.com’s past CEO, David Wei, give a talk on expansion-stage growth strategy. The opinion he had was that funding kills creativity by making small teams lazy – they lose their innovative edge when they don’t exercise it. I tend to agree with him in that teams that are starving to create value will innovate. In the enterprise, teams with budget constraints that are being supported (read: pushed) by upper management will make magic happen to get the job done.

2. Innovation is Linear

The innovations we hear about are the ones that make headlines. There’s a media lens through which much of what we as business people see gets refracted. This has created a representation of innovation that seems linear, when in fact technological innovation compounds on itself, occurring exponentially over time. With one innovation, we can use it to achieve another, and another, and finally something worth talking about, presenting to our boss, or writing a grant proposal for. This usually takes the form of creating tools that allow you to do something profoundly different. Think about the first time an animal used a stick to dig bugs out of a tree.

The same is true in enterprise application development. Project teams play a fulfillment role to business leaders that deem innovative projects worth investing in – yet today’s IT teams have more capacity to execute on creative ideas than anyone. Positioning these teams behind market-differentiating business cases can generate dramatic returns – but for some reason we apply the same application delivery framework to these pinnacle business opportunities as we do routine projects. Why?

We should be using the right platform for that one-off, high-yielding, quick-win customer portal than no one in your industry has ever thought about. As an IT leader, it’s important to look at your equipment – does it enable innovation, or have you yet to adopt your own bug stick?

3. Innovation is Technology-Driven

In enterprise project teams, there is an inherent gap in expertise between business people and IT people. Generally, business people find the opportunity to generate value within their world of processes while IT people have the skills to execute on them. Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London and Visiting Professor at NYU, helps explain the important of business process expertise.

#2. Formal education or training, which are essential for noticing new opportunities or interpreting events as promising opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, most successful innovators are not dropout geniuses, but well-trained experts in their field. Without expertise, it is hard to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information; between noise and signals. This is consistent with research showing that entrepreneurship training does pay off.

In most enterprise project teams, the expertise required to “distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information” often falls on business people, who see business opportunities flying by because they live in that environment. IT people need to be positioned behind these business opportunities to give them wings. Therefore, innovation is business-driven and technology-fueled. Closing the gap in expertise between the two will ultimately give way to innovation. At the end of the day, innovation is a team sport.

It takes quite a bit of diligence to get an entire company to be constantly brainstorming new ideas, optimizing its processes, and executing on those ideas – on top of their daily routines. That’s why so many people are trying to master this formula in enterprise settings. These days, billion-dollar companies are created by a few dozen people while century old empires rot away with ‘big company disease’. For that reason, innovation requires a toolset and a mindset, both of which start with IT leaders embracing change in order to survive.


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