I was recently doing some work in my yard and had to relocate a portion of the Invisible Fence cable we use to ensure that our extroverted, I-don’t-know-you-but-I-love-you golden doodle stays on our property. After spending over an hour tussling with a spade that was in desperate need of sharpening, the job was complete.
While I was proudly admiring my work, it hit me. I could have gotten the job done in about five minutes if I had used the gas powered trench-digger-cable-laying contraption that the Invisible Fence team used when they originally installed the cable. So much for my feeling of a job well done!
In my experience, successful organizations view information technology (IT) as a tool to enable their business. The better the tool is aligned to the job at hand (gas-powered contraption vs. dull-edged spade), the bigger the advantage an organization has over the competition.
Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t consider IT as a tool to enable the business – they view IT as a construct within which the business must operate. These organizations have layers of subject-matter experts that will wax on poetically (or the technical equivalent thereof) about why a new business concept can’t be accomplished. This risk aversion is certainly more common in large organizations, where, granted, more control is required to comply with a variety of regulations, audit requirements, etc. I will submit, however, that this is a contributing factor as to why innovation occurs more often in smaller organizations that view IT as an enabler to realize their business objectives; not a construct within which the business must operate.
To avoid this construct mentality, IT leaders need to work closely with business leaders to understand the business objective being pursued. Once the concept is clearly understood, it is the IT leader’s job to determine how that objective can be accomplished. Can it be done with minimal risk, or does it require introducing new and/or significant risks to the organization? What resources will be required to support the business objective, and how much time will be required until the new venture can be launched?
Having answered these kinds of question, a constructive dialogue can occur between the IT and business leaders regarding the validity of the new business objective.
This is not to say that IT leaders are not capable of developing innovative ideas on their own; obviously they are, and they do. The point, however, is that so many IT leaders are too quick to explain why innovative ideas developed by business leaders cannot be accomplished instead of working together to make the vision happen. As a seasoned entrepreneur, I can confidently state that with enough time, talent and resources, any business objective can be accomplished. The competitive advantage falls to those that most effectively use the tools available to them.
And with that, I think it’s time to go sharpen that spade!