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IT balancing act: Sustaining productivity while driving innovation
As an IT manager, you're tasked with sustaining productivity for your organization every day. Employees within your organization - from the most senior executives to administrative staff - expect your department to keep the network up and running, make files and applications accessible when they need them, and ensure that emails are delivered 24/7. Your role keeps the business going and ensures productivity through the transfer of information and maintenance of business critical systems.
This day-to-day responsibility can be a daunting task, but it's only part of your job. On the flip side, as an IT manager you are equally tasked with looking ahead to identify the technologies the organization needs to deploy next to stay ahead of the competition. This brings an interesting juxtaposition between the need to keep the business running every day - and employees productive - and the need to invest time and resources into researching, developing and testing changes to existing processes, whether they are working efficiently in their current state or not.
The reality is that some of the technology you have today may not cut it in the future. According to Gartner research, approximately 10 billion devices are connected to the Internet today - but that's expected to grow to about 20 billion devices by 2021. Furthermore, by 2014, more than three billion of the world's adult population is expected to be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology. And media tablet sales are expected to top 326 million units in 2015. Is your organization prepared to deal with an influx of connected devices on the network and adopt new ways of doing business in this connected era?
HP research conducted in 2010 found that one out of every two business executives feel their companies suffer from "innovation gridlock" - a situation where the IT organization is blocked from driving new business innovation because the majority of funding is consumed by operating the current environment. The study also revealed that more than one out of every two business and technology executives feel this gridlock is preventing their organizations from keeping up with the competition.
Innovation isn't easy, but in today's competitive environment enterprises must excel at it to succeed. Fostering innovation within your organization doesn't have to compromise day-to-day operations, but it does require creating an environment where innovation can thrive. And this isn't limited to the IT department. Avoid silos within your organization by looking beyond the technology and engaging end-users to find out how they're using the IT solutions provided today as well as how they hope to use them in the future. The best ideas might be actually be hidden within your enterprise, and with the right process these ideas are easily uncovered for the IT department to explore. Whether you engage a technology reseller to help you with this discovery process or develop your own strategic grassroots campaign, be sure that your program is focused around a specific problem or opportunity, and isn't too long or complicated to encourage participation. Lack of follow-through can also compromise the success of your innovation campaign, so be sure to establish appropriate systems to shepherd ideas and ensure that those who take the time to contribute to the innovation project are kept in the loop at each step process.
When it comes to implementing new ideas, remember the "walk before you run" mantra. For example, many IT organizations are struggling to develop a policy that addresses their employees' increasing desire to "bring their own device" into the workplace. Influenced by the rising prevalence of connected devices, today's employees have very specific opinions about what kind of technology they want to use in the workplace and the IT department must be ready to accommodate these new devices without compromising day-to-day operations. One way to do this might be to choose 10 different devices your organization will standardize on - form factors that have been tested and vetted by the IT department for compatibility with your information systems - and allowing employees to choose from a limited list rather than bring any device into the network. By limiting the variety of devices on the network, you've framed the scope of the project for your IT department without sacrificing innovation. You've also set up a platform for evaluating new technologies as they become available, paving the way to expand your company's "bring your own device" policy in the future.
It's important to define the scope for new projects to make sure innovation remains practical and aligned with strategic goals, but at the same time, you must make sure that innovation isn't limited to a specific product or service. Not only must you examine your existing technologies to ensure that new PC will interface with your current investments, you also need to make sure that the technology selected aligns with the overall organizational strategy and direction. For example, do executives at your company plan to cut travel costs over the next two years, making it imperative for employees to have virtual collaboration built into their new PCs? Be sure to take the time to examine what's happening within the greater organization and the industry to make sure your technology will be able to meet employee needs today and in the future.
Innovation doesn't always have to be new - and in some cases the best way to move forward can be to build upon existing capabilities and investments. Keep innovation top of mind within your IT department and the greater organization, and don't be afraid to remind people how critical it is to the overall success of the business. Being the first to the table when it comes to new technologies could be just what your organization needs to get ahead of the competition.
Leyland Brown is vice president and general manager of the Personal Systems Group at HP Canada. Mary Ann Yule is general manager of CDW Canada.