A couple of months back, I had the opportunity to speak with some insurance company executives about the somewhat elusive notion of innovation, and how information technology can make it more of a reality.
One thing came through from the discussions: to be the enabler of innovation, IT needs to be able to turn things around faster than ever, and at the same time, let the business guide the process. Gone are the days where IT would spend six to nine months working on an application, then present it to business users to digest and figure out.
“IT has never been early and on budget,” comments Paul Luongo, president and CIO of Shared Technology Services Group, Inc., the IT service company for the Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, based in Boston. “The perception of today's technology is that it's supposed to be easier, more agile, and able to be turned around faster.”
Agility becomes the name of the game, Luongo says. Agility in the sense that IT works right alongside the business, collaboratively, to build the solution. Bahija Noell, VP for IT business partnership management at Aflac, echoed the same sentiment: “We have to figure how how is it that we can provide the most value to the business in a shorter timeframe, without compromising quality and not compromising expense. Its a juggle, a constant struggle we ;put up with.
That message seems to be resonating across a lot of enterprises these days. I just saw a survey, sponsored by Olympus Corporation, that tracked the attitudes and experiences of 304 top executives at Fortune 1000 corporations. These executives were asked which functional areas of the company contribute most to innovation. IT came out on top as the agent for new innovation.
So, despite all the hand-wringing about lack of “business-IT alignment,” there seems to be some measure of alignment taking place. But this honor is not bestowed because executives are enamored by the gee-whiz effects of computers. Rather, it reflects the importance of technology in helping businesses to run faster, smarter, and more agile. And it's hard work to maintain a foundation that will keep springing new innovation year to year, month to month, and even day to day. “We have to learn as IT professionals to see how we can drive that cycle,” Noell says. “We need to keep up with the business.”
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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