Closing The Innovation Gap

Brian Hopkins
Vice President, Principal Analyst
April 21, 2011

Greetings — thanks for taking the time to read my inaugural blog! Let me introduce myself by way of continuing a discussion that I started at Practicing EA and CIO.com on innovation and technology that I think strikes at the heart of our challenges as enterprise architects. It also provides a good context for my future research, which I discuss at the end.

Closing The Innovation Gap

In part 1 of this post, I claim that a gap opened while we were fighting the overly complex, expensive current state and trying to help our business partners innovate with new technology.

The gap – We cannot deliver new technology and innovation quickly or cheaply enough.

Shadow IT Is The Symptom, Not The Cause

  • The Symptom – We often blame Shadow IT and manual workarounds for increases in complexity, reduction in quality of service, and obscuring true technology costs. These are symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.
  • The Cause – Business users know more about what they need and when they need it and are the most motivated to solve their problems now, not once the budget cycle gets around to funding a project. Central IT, where most EAs practice, is a knowledge store for designing enterprise-scale systems but is constrained in its ability to deliver.

So what is to be done? Do you think this is correct? Before you form an opinion, consider the nature of innovation.

Innovation And Lead Users

In his thought-provoking 2005 book, Democratizing Innovation, Eric Von Hippel makes an interesting point: The most transformative, disruptive, and useful innovation comes from product users, not providers. He points out differences in motivation that explain why this is so.

Product users are simply motivated — they want exact, affordable solutions to their immediate problems, and they want them fast. Product producers, on the other hand, are motivated by many forces; certainly customer satisfaction is important, but economic feasibility is of greater concern, as are other factors such as scalability.

Quite often, these complex motivations cause product producers to innovate for themselves, for example, to reduce costs, enable operations at scale, or create reusable value for other customers — resulting in products that are less acceptable to the users for whom the product was originally conceived. Apply this idea to today’s centralized IT shops, and you can see the parallels. Shadow IT and technology-savvy end users are using Access databases and spreadsheets and even employing more-sophisticated technologies to create tactical or workaround solutions in a fraction of the time.

Von Hippel goes a step further, defining a class of users called Lead Users who are at the forefront of business needs and product innovation. These key people deliver most user-driven innovations (and often the most headaches for product producers.) He provides a lot of data about Lead Users that underscores the importance of this class of people. We all know them; we may even be them. They exist in the business and in IT.

Empowering these Lead Users is the way to close the gap! By that I don’t mean letting technology users do whatever they want but rather: 1) providing a safe environment for innovation and then ensuring that enterprise-class solutions are progressively hardened and moved to an appropriately managed environment; 2) shifting our attitude on standards away from inviolate rules and toward a policy- and principal-driven approach — something my team refers to as “guardrails”; and 3) becoming technology consultants and trusted advisors, promoting the appropriate business accountability for technology decisions as a complement to empowerment.

My Research Coverage

So what is my job in all this? What will I write about? Simply put, I will cover trends and emerging technology to help EAs help their customers become better aligned and more empowered. My research will help EAs: 1) develop an intuitive understanding of a trend or specific technology; 2) understand the market response, issues faced, and impacts; and 3) help the business and IT decide what to do about it, referencing research by others in the EA team and technology details covered by other roles.

What are the emerging technologies that you are most concerned about or interested in? Cloud, mobile, social, and data continue to be top priorities, but what are the specific issues you are grappling with? I look forward to your responses.

Thanks in advance for collaborating with me here, in the Forrester EA Community, and via Twitter.

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