3 Ways To Drive IT Agility In Service Of Innovation

Pat Saporito

At your company, how well does your IT organization serve the business? To answer this question, you first need to know what the business wants—and if yours is like most businesses in the digital economy, what it wants is innovation.

Why? Because since the year 2000, more than half of the Fortune 500 has disappeared. Many of these companies failed to innovate in a way that appeals to today’s customers.

Much of this churn has to do with digital disruption: Big Data, the Internet of Things, machine learning—the list goes on. But it’s important to understand that no technology silver bullet is by itself driving the digital economy. No single technology prevails.

Rather, businesses are finding creative new ways to combine growing data assets with newly available technologies in support of new business models and new forms of customer engagement. The implication here is that we are not so much determined by our technology as by our creativity. This is good news. But on the other hand, the directive is clearly: “Be more creative, right now, or else.” This can be quite debilitating.

Creativity, of course, is another word for innovation—which is what businesses want from IT. To rise to the occasion, IT needs to become more agile. It needs to facilitate change and unleash the creativity of the business for success in the digital economy. Here are a few suggestions for helping to move your IT group in the direction of greater agility.

Go hybrid and move to the cloud—somewhat

Few companies drop their on-premise investment entirely and move everything to the cloud. In most cases, it’s impractical—not to mention impossible. But most companies can benefit from cloud technology when it comes to “innovating at the edge.”

In other words, companies don’t need to rip and replace their on-premise core. Rather they can use cloud technology in parallel with their existing environment to expand operations and quickly deploy new solutions for new products and other targeted purposes.

This model is often referred to as bimodal IT, or two-speed IT, where the business maintains its existing IT investments for core system maintenance, stability, and efficiency, but innovates “on the edge” using the cloud. When an IT group is agile enough to offer a cloud option that builds on the business’s core without disrupting it—that’s innovation.

Get right with your data

In the digital economy, companies use data to engage their customers more effectively, to reimagine their business processes, and to deliver more products and services that lead to better customer outcomes, greater loyalty, and ongoing revenues.

Data, in fact, is at the heart of whatever companies do in the digital economy; it’s the fuel. So what, exactly, do companies need from their data? Good question.

What companies need is to transform data into insight, with abilities to analyze extremely large and diverse data sets in real time. They need the ability to act in the moment—using data to market to segments of one, engage customers on their terms, and ultimately deliver the goods. And they also need to use data to innovate in ways that are not yet foreseen.

When an IT group is agile enough to offer a data platform that can support these needs, that’s innovation too.

Create the environment for innovation

Many IT groups are consumed by the challenge of simply “keeping the lights on.” This is when most IT resources go to—servicing existing systems, with no leftover capacity for innovation. Innovation requires IT agility.

One solution to this challenge is to create a separate space—physically or organizationally—that is dedicated to innovation. For example, you can establish an innovation center of excellence as a separate group, as part of corporate strategy, and use techniques like design thinking to prototype new solutions. You can also partner with outside innovation-focused organizations such as incubators, universities, tech startups, or co-innovation labs that enable you to solve problems in collaboration with partners. IT groups don’t need to do it all in house – and realistically, they can’t be expected to. But what they can do is help vet various external innovation partners.

Culture plays a big role. Some organizations give their employees, say, 10% of their time to focus on innovation. Others establish a specific role of chief innovation officer whose job it is to get new projects off the ground and into fruition. IT groups provide further support with innovation sandboxes and agile development methodologies—such as DevOps—that emphasize communication, collaboration, and quick iterative cycles across product management, software development, and operations professionals.

An IT organization that is a partner with an innovation center of excellence, and supports various avenues for focused innovation, is a true partner with the business.

Know where you stand

Of course, before you get started on an IT agility initiative, it’s important to know where you stand. Are you agile already? Do you have a foundation to build on? Or maybe you need to start from scratch?

For complex IT groups, it’s not always that easy to know where you stand on the agility maturity curve. But this assessment tool just might help. Take 15-20 minutes to answer some core questions for IT; work with your business users to answer questions for them. What you’ll get in return is a report that spells out exactly where your IT group faces its most pressing challenges on the road to greater IT agility.

Good luck—and stay nimble out there.

For more insight on where the agile IT group is headed, see IT Roadmap For The Future.

Pat Saporito

About Pat Saporito

Pat Saporito is a senior director, Global Center of Excellence for Analytics and Analytics Strategy Program Leader at SAP.  She helps customers across industries develop a business and value-driven analytics strategy. Pat has 20+ years in data warehousing and analytics. She is an insurance industry analytics expert and author of the book, Applied Insurance Analytics (FT Press/Pearson). She is on advisory board for Stevens Institute of Technology’s Big Data and Analytics Masters Program and a mentor with the Global Insurance Accelerator an incubator for Insure Tech startups.