Technology is the backbone of innovation. Advancing data analysis is increasing marketing effectiveness. Deeper automation is enhancing accounting efficiency. Machine learning is providing sales teams with stronger leads.
Much of this innovation, though, is happening without any intervention from the IT department. A particular division of a company will find an enterprise SaaS application that its team is excited about. Management will purchase it, and the team then train themselves and start using it. This trend has put IT in the backseat. Instead of leading digital transformations and assisting the company with tech innovations, IT oversees data security, device management, and the like.
This act of siloing off IT, while it may appear to provide other departments with more autonomy, does not help an organisation to achieve its mission. The IT department should take centre stage in driving innovation to safeguard security and create a shared digital vision throughout the organisation.
To encourage the IT teams to take this role and to illustrate to the workforce that they will be the ones guiding digital transformation, IT management and company leadership must take specific steps. Below are a few tips that will help business leaders inject innovation processes into their IT department to reroute how their business works, designs, and thinks.
1. Make The New Role Of IT ClearIT management and company leadership need to collaborate to make the IT department the innovation department. IT management should determine how to shape the new role within the IT department, and then leadership can communicate this change to the rest of the organisation.
IT managers need to define new priorities for the various teams and their members. Security will always remain a top priority but, with new services like DaaS, device management can be outsourced and replaced by the task of choosing and implementing new software. Then the department needs to make decisions about task delegation. Will each team member be responsible for a different aspect of the original plan? Will they all be expected to contribute to the various tasks?
One area that IT should pursue is the in-house development of new products or services. They can identify what the obstacles are that the company faces, especially concerning internal processes and systems. When these are defined, they can create proofs of concept for improved technology and systems. In other words, they can search for ways to innovate a process or system that would make it more efficient or effective.
The most impactful way to do this might be to concentrate on a technology and see how they could retool it to serve various departments. If they choose automation, IT could look at singular systems within each department that would benefit from automation and then develop methods for automating it. The same goes for blockchain, machine learning, virtual reality, or any other number of technologies. It is these types of projects that will excite the IT department and inspire further innovations.
2. Prioritise DataThe marketing department uses data. So do the product development, sales, and customer service divisions— and practically all others. IT should be using data too . It will drive innovation into the IT department and, from there, throughout the rest of the organisation.
Data innately comes from the IT department's work--their daily activities of overseeing network security, supervising the company website, and managing devices create data about their workforce and systems, as well as about their target market. Unfortunately, IT teams that utilise this data for IT purposes are few and far between. To address this, leadership should promote/move one of the IT professionals to a data oversight role. This individual can curate data, analyse it, cultivate insights, and provide data governance. While much of the IT department is often viewed as a cost centre, where money is budgeted to and spent, the new data role can turn it into a profit centre, where the data specialist identifies ways to save and even make money.
The convenient aspect of this new operation is that the IT division already has all of the data the newly appointed data specialist will need. The workforce systems and back-office production are overflowing with valuable information. Moreover, when this IT data is organised and analysed, it can be combined with the data streams from other divisions to provide richer insights that drive business strategy.
3. Craft A Definition For InnovationInnovation is a buzzword that is vaguely defined. This lack of clarity is a hurdle for innovation in any IT department. IT management needs to work together with organisational leadership to create a precise, tangible definition of what innovation looks like. Unless everyone has the same definition of innovation, employees will not be using the same roadmap to achieve it.
IT management should decide how broad or narrow innovation in the division and across the organisation should be. Should the team concentrate on a singular type of innovation, with the entire organisation getting on board? Alternatively, should smaller groups be able to form and pursue innovative ideas? How should the company measure innovation regarding the ROI? What is the budget for innovation? What practices should be implemented to encourage innovation (i.e. mentoring, brainstorming sessions, innovation 'free time', innovation labs, a formal innovation requirement as a job duty, outsourced innovation speakers and training, innovation days, hackathons, and so on)?
IT management has the unique ability to help leadership answer these questions because they have a cross-departmental perspective and are experts in emerging technologies. When they step up to the task of defining innovation, IT can bring clarity to the entire company and motivate their own department to embrace innovation.
4. Do Not Pursue Innovation Just For Innovation's SakeToo many companies are tumbling into a digital transformation, experimenting ad hoc with any technology that looks shiny and new. This will lead nowhere—or at least
nowhere good. IT management needs to see innovation as a process and appreciate the steps required to be successful. Therefore, each innovation project should place the ROI as the prime concern.
Any pursued innovation needs to solve a problem or make a measurable improvement. It takes laser-like focus and slow and steady determination. However, it also requires the IT team to be integrated with the rest of the organisation, allowing them to spot problems, hurdles, and obstacles to remedy. Once the problem is discovered, the IT team can then take a deep dive into it, identify potential solutions, discuss with the stakeholders, estimate the ROI, implement the solution, and measure the outcome.
5. Effectively Mold An Innovative CultureCreating or changing a workforce culture can be tricky or even impossible if not approached with the right tools. Culture is intangible, chiefly because it is challenging to quantify with its amalgam of interests, personalities, and visions. So instead of trying to change any of these aspects of culture, IT managers should concentrate on the most concrete way to transform organisational culture— collaboration.
When individuals from the workforce work together, they share ideas and create a unified vision. It helps people realise that they have more in common than initially assumed and that their end goals can likely be aligned. To accomplish this, IT management should create opportunities for individuals from different divisions and different levels of hierarchy to work together.
For IT to initiate this collaboration across the organisation, they should open up their doors and invite the workforce in. They can ask for suggestions for improvement from others in the organisation. They can identify individuals in other departments who are passionate about innovation and create a collaborative innovation committee. IT should not wait for others to get this collaborative process up and running--they can get the ball rolling themselves.
6. Harness TrustTrust drives innovation. Without it, the workforce will resist. IT leaders need to think of trust as a currency—they should use it to encourage innovation adoption, and they will collect it when the innovation is thriving.
To harness the power of trust to ignite innovation, IT managers should identify the most trusted individuals in the workforce and bring them on board to help communicate the innovation to the workforce. The innovation will see significantly higher adoption rates and the IT division will see considerably lower rates of disgruntled employees.
The IT department then earns significant trust as the workforce begins to reap the benefits of the innovation. IT professionals can leverage this earned trust to introduce more innovation and become the go-to innovation experts and leaders in the company.
IT leaders and departments have the knowledge and the positioning to become innovation guides. They can help their business to transform digitally. To do this, they must thoughtfully inject innovative processes and think about their department and across the organisation.
To find out more about digital transformation, please download our eBook linked below, or for more information, contact us.