Innovation Takes Commitment

Opinion: Dollars and time are needed to turn the buzzword into action.

All in favor of innovation, please stand up. Just what I thought, not a person left seated. Now that weve all agreed that innovation is a good thing, lets talk about whether a hacker creating a new computer virus is as worthy an innovator as someone creating a new way to kill that virus. Both sides are advancing the programming art, correct? Now there seems to be some dissent in the room.

Ive written about innovation before, but with a recent push by IBM, it seems a good time to address the topic once again. Innovation is the current theme underlying much of IBMs marketing program.

As Im writing this column, I notice that IBM has announced its 2006 IBM Eclipse UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) Innovation Award program, which includes awards ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, to encourage the use of open-source and open-standards-based tools for academic curricula and research.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about to read about the introduction of the National Innovation Act of 2005 in the US Senate.

IBM isnt the only one talking about innovation. I can count at least two new books that focus on innovation: Geoffrey Moores "Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution" and Thomas Koulopoulos and Tom Roloffs "Smartsourcing: Driving Innovation and Growth Through Outsourcing." Both books talk about the need to infuse the innovative spirit throughout the corporate agenda.

So much for the upside. In the last couple of weeks, Ive had the chance to talk with companies trying to build anti-money-laundering software faster than the bad guys are figuring out new ways (including real estate transactions) to move dirty money around the world.

Ive also had the opportunity to learn about new ways to poke holes in emerging RFID networks, from trying to insert computer viruses into the databases related to the RFID tagging identifiers to the possibility of using cell phones to intercept RFID signal bits. While RFID chips dont have power supplies, they do respond to power stimuli, which could open up a security hole. Clearly, innovation can cut both ways.

For an IT manager, innovation is usually expressed in buying goods or services that either open up new business opportunities or present new cost savings.

Taking innovation off the table as a simple topic for conversation versus an action and making it tangible with money and effort behind it is where innovation becomes a real corporate commitment. Here are some areas of innovation recently highlighted at eWEEK Labs that I think bear further investigation.

DC power in the server room. The costs of power, heating and cooling have moved the server room from a back-table issue to a forefront spending issue. The DC server alternatives from Rackable Systems have performed well in eWEEK Labs tests and are one approach to resolving the bizarre situation where users are forced to buy hot, power- consuming servers and then spend lots of money trying to remove the heat.

And while you are cooling down those servers, maybe you should also take on the costs associated with disk storage. All those spinning disks generate a lot of heat and use a lot of power.

One answer, as recently outlined by eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar, is MAID, an acronym (as if the tech industry needed one more) for massive array of idle disks. Under the MAID scenario, the disks that are not currently storing or retrieving data are kept idle rather than spinning and using power.

Outsourcing via cloning. Innovation does not reside only in the hardware arena. Take a look at Stan Gibsons recent articles on how Hewlett-Packard has helped Procter & Gamble outsource its accounting operations by replicating a little piece of Cincinnati in India.

These articles can be found on our Web site at eWEEK. com. While it is easy to support the concept of innovation, it is difficult to commit dollars and time to innovation in the corporation. Almost by definition, innovation means abandoning older methods and products for new ones, but, for the technology manager, that type of commitment is required to transform innovation from a catchphrase into a corporate action.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at