Innovation needs process change

change aheadJeffrey Philips currently wrote a nice piece titled “Innovate your processes before innovating your products” over on his excellent Innovate on Purpose blog. In that article, Jeffrey argues that before a company can innovate its products/services, it must innovate its processes if it hopes to build a sustainable edge via innovation over its competition.

When I read Jeffrey’s post, I found myself nodding at everything he wrote. While the need to focus on innovation in your product / service line is a real one, many organizations completely miss the need to look at process change to support these innovations.

Jeffrey provides a good example in his article on why process change is needed. He writes:

..most product development processes do a poor job allocating resources and establishing priorities, and are bogged down with poorly defined projects and inadequate staffing levels.  It’s exceptionally rare for products to exit the process on time and on budget.

Anyone that has been involved in an type of project management or product management role will immediately agree with the above statement. Heck..anyone in IT will immediately agree with this statement.   There’s never enough people or resources to do everything, yet it feels like everyone is asked to do everything…and do it now.

In addition to the resource issue, there are many organizations with outdated and ill-informed processes for getting things done.

I recall an IT group in the not too distant past (we are talking 2008-2009 time-frame) that required a change request to be manually filled out with pen/paper and then handed to a secretary. This secretary would then take the change request form around to get signatures from the necessary people and then FAX the change request to the change management team.  Mind you…this team was located in the same building, yet they required a faxed copy of the change request.

The above example might seem like an outlier (and maybe it is) but I’ve run across many outliers like this in my career. Companies are so focused on the new and innovative that they forget to look internally at their own processes.

In order to truly innovate your product and/or service line, you need to look at your own processes first. It may not be as ‘sexy’ as building that new product, but its just as important (or maybe even more important) than that new product.

Back to the example I provided earlier. That company could not have delivered an innovative product or service and sustained that product/service.. In fact, they tried a few different things and even started an ‘innovation group’ to focus on innovation but the majority of ideas that came from this group where stonewalled by the arcane processes found within the company. It wasn’t just the IT group that had out of date processes…every part of the organization needed to have some process re-engineering done. Ultimately, this organization had to step back and rethink many of their internal and back-end processes before they could focus on innovation.

Processes are the lifeblood of an organization. If you don’t step back and take a look at your processes, your innovative ideas might just suffer.

What is the Cloud…Really?

question markI read a lot of blogs and articles talking about the cloud. Many of these articles try to go really deep into the technology stack found within the cloud while others try to keep the discussions at a very high level.

While reading some of these articles, I realized that there is rarely a basic question asked of readers. I never see anyone take a step back and address one of the basic questions that I always hear from many clients.

I often get asked to explain the cloud. People ask me to tell them what the cloud really is. For some of us that may seem a bit strange since the cloud has been around for so long but there are still plenty of people that don’t really understand the cloud.

Take a second to think about the cloud. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what ‘the cloud’ really is? If you have asked that question of yourself (or your team or organization), what type of answer did you come up with? Is the cloud a technology or is the cloud a platform?

Does it really matter whether you can define the cloud? To be honest, I don’t think it matters whether you or your organization can define the cloud and it doesn’t matter what the technical definition of ‘cloud’ really is.

All you (and your company) need to understand about the cloud is what it can do for your business. Sure, you need to understand the basic concept of the cloud, but you shouldn’t need to define the cloud in technical terms to be able to think strategically (and tactically) about what the cloud can do for your business.

The types of questions you and your organization should be focused are strategically and operationally focused. You should be asked questions like how can your organization build new revenue streams using the cloud’? Can you deliver your services more efficiently and effectively via the cloud? Could you build a more efficient and optimized data center operation using aspects of public, private or hybrid cloud based systems?

I’d assume that the answer to these types of questions are going is a resounding ‘yes’ or at least most of you should be able to answer with a resounding ‘probably.’   The cloud can do a great deal for an organization without the majority of the people within the business really understanding the intricacies of cloud technology.

Back to the original question. What is the cloud…really?

The cloud is a platform (or technology or system) that an organization can use to deliver services to their clients (both internal and external) in a way that allows services to be delivered in the right way at the right time.   It really is as simple as that.

There’s no need to go into any more depth into the cloud or the technologies involved. The technical intricacies can be worked out with the IT group’s technically adept professionals and the technical teams from the vendor (or vendors) that your organization may choose for your cloud deployment.

To those people that ask me to explain the cloud and define the cloud, I normally stay very far away from technical descriptions of the cloud and try to define the cloud in terms of what it can do for a business.

How do you usually define the cloud to your colleagues, organization or clients?

This post is brought to you by the VMware vCloud Air Network.

The IT Group as Cost Center – Or Innovation Center?

Cost CenterMark Thiele published a post recently titled “Why we Value IT Incorrectly – Innovation vs Cost Center.”  You should go read it.

If you don’t follow Mark’s writing on his blog or twitter, you should…he has some great insights into IT , IT leadership, the data center and many other aspects of the IT group..

While Mark’s entire post is great, I wanted to point out one particular paragraph from Mark’s post and make a few comments about it. Mark writes that:

Why isn’t IT expected to live up to a higher standard in demonstrating the benefits of projects and being more innovative in applying IT to the task of creating business value? I don’t think IT is expected to live to a higher standard because again, the average C-Suite doesn’t expect anything other than cost and risk management.

I’ve been asking that question for years. I’ve asked it at every company I’ve worked at and asked it of every CIO, CEO, COO and VP I could find.  The answer usually tended to be something along the lines of “because IT is a cost center”.

What poppycock! (I’ve been waiting a long time to use ‘poppycock).  IT isn’t a cost center! Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Maybe IT could be called a cost center in the past when IT was just a ‘cost of doing business’ but not today.Technology IS the backbone of business today and is the driving force behind most of the innovations that have happened over the last few years.

With this in mind, why do companies still view IT as a cost center?  Is it because companies still don’t really understand technology? Or…is it because the IT group hasn’t done enough to make the case for no longer being a cost center? Or is it because it is easier to remain a cost center and fly ‘under the radar’?

For most organizations and CIO’s, I’d argue its that middle option I provided above. Most CIO’s have done a poor job of ‘selling’ the value of their organization.  Either they don’t know how to sell the value of their team or don’t want to. Regardless of the answer, many CIO’s are comfortable remaining a cost center.

That comfort is why many CIO’s are being sidelined today. Those sidelined CIO’s are complaining about the fact that they don’t feel ‘included’ but most have put themselves on the sidelines by not driving change within their teams and within their organizations.

Mark ended his post with a very good comment. He wrote:

Plant the seeds of innovation, hire the right people, accept some level of risk, don’t be afraid to make tough decisions in real time, and maximize the opportunity that is locked up in information technology. This doesn’t mean you do everything internally, and it doesn’t mean the opposite. What it means is that your teams learn to accept the notion that innovative thinking can come from anywhere; how you leverage it is what is really important.

Well said Mark.

IBM’s Four Ways to Innovate using Big Data

Keyboard with Big Data Button.I just read through “Four Ways to Innovate Using Big Data and Analytics” over on Forbes. It’s a good read…you should jump over and read it yourself.

If you don’t have the time (or just don’t want to), I give my thoughts on these ‘four ways” below.

The ‘four ways’ are:

  1. The payback on big data investments is happening quickly
  2. Businesses are increasingly using big data to solve operational challenges
  3. Organizations are reinventing business processes using digital tech
  4. Velocity, not volume, is driving the impact of big data

Before I dive into my thoughts, I have to point out that these ‘four ways’ are really only three as #1 above is really just informational.  I could also argue that #4 is mostly another informational tidbit (and one could argue that #2 and #3 are really the same thing) but I won’t get that picky here.

The fact that many companies are seeing payback on big data investments is wonderful. The article reports on an IBM survey that shows payback is happening very quickly with “some 63 percent of companies surveyed are seeing a return within a year, and 26 percent are getting a payback in six month.” That’s impressive, considering many organizations I’ve worked with and spoke to have no clear idea on how to calculate ROI or payback on big data initiatives when they first begin researching those initiatives.

I do love the fact that companies are using big data to solve operational challenges. That’s one of the real areas of value that you can easily point at and say “we saved X dollars or Y percent due to operational changes due to big data and analytics.”  One of the examples given in the article for this innovative approach is Wellpoint’s use of big data to “make more effective decisions about approving medical procedures and getting patients the care they need more quickly.” Wellpoint’s new system can reportedly ‘provide responses to requests for urgent pre-authorization in seconds instead of 72 hours.’ That’s pretty impressive.

I also love the fact that companies are reinventing business processes using digital tech, big data and analytics.  Companies are using all sorts of data collected from many different locations (e.g., social, mobile, cloud, etc) and then using that data to cut costs, create new services and products and increase revenue.  Solving operational challenges is basically the same thing as reinventing business processes. That said, there’s value in using data and analytics and applying them to your entire business to see if there is any improvements you can find.

The last item isn’t exactly an innovative ‘way’ to use big data but it is an extremely important thing for every organization to consider. Companies not only need to think about the ‘volume’ of data that they’re analyzing…they also need to think about the velocity of the data as it is collected and analyzed. The article again points to an IBM survey that claims “nearly three quarters of respondents say demand for data-driven insights will accelerate during the next 12 to 18 months.” Not only are we collecting more data today then ever before, but we are collecting and analyzing more data at a much faster rate then ever before.

Data analysis is no longer just about the about the size or type of data but about how fast that data can be converted from bits and bytes into useful information for the business. If your organization can quickly and efficiently convert your data into useful, informative and innovative knowledge you’ll be ahead of the big data game.

Links for July 13 2014

Innovators overcome the can’ts
Quote: Merely recognizing the can’ts and addressing them in advance can help, but that’s not enough.  Doubt and prior experience always creep back in, so even if you can stymie the can’ts early on, you’ll need to constantly fight the same battles throughout an innovation activity.  Because while the innovation team may be on board to resist the can’ts, often others that they need data, information or assistance from haven’t been inoculated, and their doubts can infect the team again.

Why Healthcare IT Spending Needs to Shift Its Focus
Quote:  Most healthcare IT spending emphasize architecture and electronic health records. This has the dual effect of adding little value and leaving little room for transformative innovation. With healthcare’s business model on the verge of being turned upside down, this spending trend must change.

Immigration Is Changing Much More Than the Immigration Debate
Quote:The immigration debate, now as then, focuses primarily on illegal immigration from Latin America. Yet most new immigrants aren’t Latinos. Most Latinos aren’t immigrants. And, based on the best available evidence, there are fewer undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today than there were in 2007. Even the latest immigration crisis — a sudden influx of unaccompanied minors, for which President Barack Obama requested $4 billion in emergency funding to address on Tuesday — represents a break from past patterns: The children are from Central America, not Mexico, and are primarily escaping violence in their home countries, rather than seeking jobs in the U.S.

No, *I’ll* tell you the answer!
Quote: When are you going to stop, take a breath, think quietly, shut out the cacophony of expectations and press releases and chest-thumping and “disruption” and biased storytelling, and decide what’s right for you?

Why The Cloud You Want Is Not The Cloud You Deserve
Quote: very enterprise wants to be Amazon these days. Tempted by the promise of cheap, elastic cloud computing, companies are rolling out OpenStack and other private cloud solutions, certain that they’re building a winged unicorn. In reality, many of them are building a donkey.

The Path of Our Lives
Quote: As far as we know, this life isn’t practice for the next one. For entrepreneurs the key to living this one to the fullest is the understanding that you can choose – that you do have a choice to effect the journey and change the rules, that you can decide to give it your best shot to do something, something extraordinary.

Links for June 8 2014

A social media contrarian speaks out on the limited value of tweet analytics
Quote: Tools are becoming more powerful and easier to use, so we have that. Where there’s a shortage is of people who are good at analyzing the data. One of the things I’ve championed for is that the consumer insights/market research folks should play a greater role [here] because they have so much experience analyzing customer behavior already.

Big Ass Fans’ new ceiling fan is really a robot
Quote: The robot invasion has begun, only the form factor may not be what you expected. For example, a ceiling fan company has launched a connected product that learns when to start circulating.

Why Mobile is Driving Innovation
Quote: Innovation is a natural consequence of the factors mentioned and there is no reason to expect things to slow down. With mobile technology expanding outward from phones and tablets to the Internet of Things, wearables, and automotive, we can only expect things to move even faster, driving even more innovation and new and exciting products that enrich our lives.

In Big Companies, The Public Cloud Is Leaving The Private Cloud In The Dust
Quote:AWS delivers the convenience that developers crave. Only those vendors who manage to seamlessly combine the convenience of AWS with the sometime need of behind-the-firewall control of private cloud computing (which Eucalyptus aims to do) will remain relevant.

The One Word Your Marketing Needs to Focus on Now
Quote: When you deliver a relevant message to a relevant audience at a relevant location and a relevant time, you hit the Relevancy Bullseye. This opens the opportunity for your brand to convert at previously unthinkable rates. We’ve preached this at Social Media Explorer for a long time now. For many brands, they’re only just now discovering what we meant.

If left unchecked, cloud fever could make us sick
Quote: For better or worse, cloud computing has rushed toward centralization, leaving us with few options for where our data can live. It’s time to consider more private alternatives to the centralized cloud.

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