Don’t Look to the Business for IT Innovation!

Henry Ford

“If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

It’s the quote famously attributed to Henry Ford on his attitude to innovation. Although I just found out that its accuracy is suspect, the point remains that the automobile was the kind of disruptive innovation that few customers could conceive of.

The same dynamic is found in IT when it deals with its internal customers in the quest for innovation, according to Prof. Joe Peppard at a recent talk at the Irish Computer Society (ICS).

Ironically, it is not all about following bleeding-edge technology, Peppard said. It can be old tech used in new ways, he said. “It’s being fueled by new ideas … ultimately it’s not about the technology.”

Peppard’s comments came during a session on aligning IT and business strategies. And although IT will meet business units for feedback and suggestions, the quality of input is poor, Peppard said.

“There is a dearth of good ideas about how the organization can use IT,” he said. “The big game changers — the automobile — that is where IT has a tremendous role to play.”

Peppard’s research on the IT-business relationship and innovation has lead to the grid below outlining the push-pull driving IT innovation.

Innovation is about harnessing the power of IT, Peppard said. Using technology, engine manufacturers, Rolls Royce, threw out their old business model of selling engines and spare parts.

Engines have sensors built in and are monitored in real time, Peppard said. “Rolls Royce doesn’t sell engines any more. They sell availability,” he said.

Peppard acknowledged, however, that IT selling innovations to management can be a challenge.

One company that puts new ideas under executives’ noses is ASDA, Wal-Mart’s UK subsidiary, he said.

On their way to the video-conference centre, executives must pass through the Innovation Lab, a mock store showcasing technology that could give the company a competitive advantage, Peppard said.

Energy giant BP has an active IT innovation center with 13 full-time employees. They actively search out new innovations by asking Silicon Valley VCs to meet with them once or twice a year, Peppard said.

The VCs are asked to showcase their portfolio companies that may be of interest to BP, he said.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Look to the Business for IT Innovation!

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