Creativity and IT

by  \  21 Jul, 2010 \  4:46pm EDT

Why is Now a Better Time than Ever to Release your Inner IT Creativity

IBM recently interviewed over 1500 CEOs and industry leaders in a report titled, “Capitalizing on Complexity” that had the CEOs prioritize their organization’s criteria for success.  Interestingly enough, the single most important criteria selected by the CEOs was “creativity” to enable business model innovation.  That’s right – not buy more companies, attending more leadership training, or driving costs down further – but creativity.

Creativity – The Good and Bad in an IT Group

If as the CEO of a company, you only consider IT as a cost center in need of cost reductions then you’re bottling up an area of opportunity that is truly the fuel for your enterprise’s creativity engine.

Unfortunately, IT creativity is sometimes considered dangerous. It is assumed that a creative IT department is a group prone to taking unnecessary risks, or will get itself into trouble by wanting to “invent everything here”.  Also, there is the specter of spiraling costs because of a lack of standards or control.

Allowing Your IT Group to Be Creative Doesn’t Mean They Do Everything Themselves

Its important to address what jobs, and therefore, what projects we want our internal creativity to influence. There is significant opportunity to move more of the IT function closer to the business to be more creative and minimize the manual, repetitive and mundane functions significantly.  Many IT organizations are trying to make the shift, but are held hostage with the majority of their current budget and resources consumed by maintenance and support of their IT infrastructure.

Information technology can in fact be a tremendous catalyst for unleashing creativity.  Just in case you’re thinking that I might be a little colored in my opinion of IT, let’s take a quick walk through some major IT milestones:

1970’s: Mainframes with timesharing

1980’s: Personal Computing and distributed access to productivity tools, along with a tremendous uptick in application development.

1990’s: Real portability of computers and the Internet or “Information Age” was born

2000’s: Virtualization, handheld devices, Cloud computing and an application explosion or what I like to call the “Real Democratization of IT”.

There is a clear pattern here. Change and creativity in IT is at the core of many of the most explosive waves of growth and opportunity for businesses. The issue is how do you position IT to be most effective for your enterprise? Each company will have to grapple with that question to find the right answer, but suffice it to say, for most companies, it means moving your technical staff up the value stack. If your team is like most IT organizations, their budget is probably split 70/30 with the 70 focused on “maintenance” activities. The 70/30 equation needs to be reversed.

Enabling enterprise creativity requires a well conceived IT strategy that highlights the use of very responsive, flexible, and scalable IT operating models and infrastructure.  It doesn’t mean that you need to hire an army of IT talent and try to beat Microsoft, Google, Apple, or whoever your industry goliath is. An effective global use of technology does mean that you find a way to provide IT services in a just-in-time fashion.  Your IT resource needs to be like the camera in your phone, it’s ready whenever you need it, where ever you happen to be. In the past many important Kodak moments were missed because we didn’t have a camera ready. Your IT needs to respond to business creativity and innovation like the camera in your phone – instantly, easily, and inexpensively.

Instantly, Easily, and Inexpensively – How the Heck Do We Do That?

It starts with IT leadership. If you don’t expect your IT team to be creative, then you might get good cost management and solid availability of applications but not much else. If you do ask your IT team to be creative, then you need to demonstrate you mean it by putting in the right reward systems.  Next, you’ll have to think beyond having solid infrastructure and highly available applications. Enabling an instant, easy to use, and inexpensive IT environment doesn’t happen overnight, but the tools and resources are available and largely proven; and for many industries and organizations the time is right.

Help your IT team make the move to an “Agile” infrastructure and “Everything as a Service” IT operating  model.  This is more than just new tools. It’s a new way of delivering and enabling the creativity locked in your organization. If you want to react instantly to new ideas and business opportunities, then you need an IT environment that can keep up.

If the CEO needs to be creative, then why lock up the single best tool for helping to build on those creative ideas? Go ahead and release your organization’s inner IT creativity. You might be very surprised at the positive impact on your business.

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