Innovation That Matters

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2006-04-05

Innovation 1: a creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation [syn: invention] 2: the creation of something in the mind
Source: WordNet 2.0, 2003 Princeton University

Remember that definition because, in upcoming months, folks may start thinking "innovation" means "marketing pitch." And if were not careful, "innovation" may become as meaningless as the dreaded "paradigm shift."

Technology vendors are throwing the word "innovation" around to the point where technology managers may become numb to the concept. IBM is touting its R&D efforts as a fountain of innovation. Not to be outdone, Microsoft is going the same route as it pitches its software as a way to enable people to innovate.

IBM is putting its money where its mouth is, however, in giving its channel partners access to its researchers to develop new solutions—and perhaps sell some services and hardware along the way.

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate responds to the tech industrys plea for more federal investment in research and development and greater incentives for innovation. Click here to read more.

But theres a big difference between vendor-driven innovation that is intended to move products off the shelves and user-driven innovation that saves money or enables a new approach to doing business.

The Society for Information Managements SIMposium conference in Boston last September also had innovation as a theme. Most of the CIOs in attendance were looking at ways to start innovating after years of cost cutting.

A few take-aways: You cant just write a check and get innovation in return. Innovation is different for every company; it may require new people—you may need to turn over your technology team; and innovation—and any products billed as innovative—had better make the business more efficient.

The fact is, business advantage often emerges from a series of small innovations such as a better checkout process, a faster way to keep tabs on customers or a cheaper way to manage infrastructure. Whats innovative to Boeing may not work for Barnes & Noble.

There is no silver bullet to innovation. Technology managers should ask whether they need IBM—or any vendor, for that matter—to innovate. Does it really make sense for an IT professional charged with delivering business value to trust someone else as a source of innovation?

After all, some technology titans are having innovation problems of their own. Microsoft has been trying to innovate with its Vista version of Windows—specifically, by making it more secure—but the software giant has stumbled and has had to delay the operating systems release.

In the end, the products from IBM and Microsoft are just arrows in the innovation quiver. What you do with those arrows depends on you. If new technology doesnt make your business run better, its nothing but noise.

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