3 min read

Innovational Change

Innovational Change

The consumerization of IT — especially in large enterprises — keeps gaining traction as wide range of mobile devices and technologies are becoming more and more popular. While this trend is currently most apparent with users wanting to utilize their own mobile devices to access enterprise systems and data, this does not capture the entire essence of the issue.

We all are being exposed to a myriad of new tools and technologies every day, be it web or mobile based, as well as new gadgets that significantly change the way we work — just look at how Apple changed the technology landscape with the iPad. And we start expecting the same functionality, user experience and flexibility from our enterprise software and hardware offerings — we, the end users, are becoming too demanding!

In most cases, however, the enterprise IT is not able to meet these needs — sometimes for valid reasons but most of the time due to lack of flexibility in their underlying application and support infrastructure.

Operational vs. Innovational Change

To better describe the issue I would like to talk about two types of change that I am calling operational and innovational change for lack of a better term. I use the term operational change to refer to those activities carried out by the enterprise IT departments to improve operations and infrastructure or to address potential technology and/or business risks.

These might be things such as deploying a better integrated and more secure enterprise-wide single sign-on system or server virtualization to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. There are a lot of competing technologies and vendors in these areas and most enterprise IT departments do a decent job in this area given their operational, financial and technical constraints.

I use innovational change, on the other hand, to refer to capturing opportunities that might not be inherently apparent but is brewing under the surface. While these opportunities are more difficult to identify compared to operational change (e.g. we need to upgrade our desktop OS as we are at the end of our support lifecycle), on occasion they get closer to the surface. Unfortunately they sometimes arrive packaged in a hype that enterprises do not stop to fully grasp the implications or know how to manage innovation.

I certainly remember the hype about the netbooks and their potential impact on enterprise. Not many companies jumped on that bandwagon but I am sure a lot of them seriously considered it. Now we are having a similar trend with iPads, as a lot of enterprises are experimenting with how to integrate them into their workflow. You might be thinking “duh, users want mobility” but it is more than that. Users want to work on their own terms, using tools that are easy to use and they are already comfortable with.

How else would you explain the enterprise IT’s constant fight against Dropbox, Skype, and various other tools that users keep reverting to even though enterprise based alternatives exist?

At this point you might be thinking “so smarta** what is the solution?” and my answer would be to stop following the hype and get to know your business and users. As obvious as this advice might be, I have seen over and over again IT managers evaluating tools or technologies after a skin deep needs analysis as opposed to trying to really understand the issues that necessitated the change in the first place. This is usually followed up by selecting a tool/technology based on this not so well understood need and then deploying very specialized tools that would enable this ‘hot new’ thing in the enterprise. Unfortunately each iteration results in systems and tools that are very tightly coupled and less flexible.

I actually heard a very good presentation by Karen McGrane in a conference recently about two different approaches taken by NPR and Conde Nast. NPR identified their needs and built a content delivery system based on APIs (COPE — Create Once Publish Everywhere), whereas Conde Nast went with developing custom layouts for iPad (one for portrait and once for landscape).

While Conde Nast was facing difficulties creating layouts for all their different publications, the API enabled NPR was able to develop an iPad app in 5 weeks. Furthermore, NPR is at a much better position to develop apps to any new platform to come up. This is just one example of a company looking into their needs and coming with a strategy that solves these problems as opposed to picking a CMS and trying to work around it.

I strongly believe that having this innovational change focus that keeps an eye on industry trends and cross-referencing them against your company’s and users’ needs would yield greater benefits in the long run. Some upfront thinking, combined with well defined metrics would be key to implement this strategy. In NPR’s case for example, the total page views went up by 80% after COPE was implemented. Furthermore they were able to respond to new platforms in a matter of weeks. This is just one example but a powerful one at that.