Opinion: Tapping a rich source of IT innovation

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Opinion: Tapping a rich source of IT innovation

IT departments are brimming with smart ideas ­ if only those in management were more inclined to take the time to listen to them.

A recent survey of global executives concluded that IT is not a major contributor to innovation.

They clearly have not been listening to the same IT professionals as me.

The ones I meet on a regular basis are mostly bursting with ideas about how they could deliver business improvements or use new technology for money-making purposes ­if only they had the time.

In my experience, a lot of potentially good ideas are discussed away from the office, over lunch, in the pub or smoking room ­ – or at least, the part of the pavement or car park that is the modern-day equivalent of the smoking room.

Some aren't helpful but others pinpoint specific problems observed and experienced at the sharp end of daily IT service provision, accompanied by logical or innovative suggestions on ways to solve them, or centre on ideas for new hardware and software that may be able to exploit dormant commercial opportunities.

The trouble is, those ideas are always left on the table with the soggy beer mats and grubby coffee cups. Once back in the office, the volume and urgency of the workload forces all thought of putting the world to rights on the back burner, not to be even thought of again, much less acted on.

It is an old complaint, but IT staff continue to spend most of, if not all, their time fire fighting – ­ just keeping mission-critical systems and applications up and running, and clearing up those myriad issues that affect user desktops, laptops and handheld PCs on a regular basis.

And in these difficult economic times, when pretty much every resource you can think of is pared to the bone, having a lean, mean IT operation that focuses on performing its core duty seems the natural option.

So much so that anybody who can find the time within their working hours to think about how IT can help improve the business must be feeling pretty nervous about their jobs right now. If this is you, and you’re not feeling nervous, please accept my apologies for sowing any seeds of doubt.

And that is precisely what makes criticism from global executives even harder to stomach.

Perhaps instead of lamenting what they clearly feel to be an unacceptable situation, these boardroom mandarins should take the time to listen to what their IT staff say and find out if they have any innovative ideas in the first place.

Admittedly, that approach would require a business leader who was able to spot a good idea when they encountered it, something that a few could not do if one hit them in the face with a cricket bat.

Of course the meeting does not have to take place in the pub, and for the sake of mutual courtesy and respect, it might be better if it didn’t.

But bearing in mind the time constraints involved on both sides of the equation, some form of lunch hour meeting ­ – preferably with either free or subsidised refreshments in order to ensure good attendance –­ is probably the only way to take things forward.

Having taken the trouble to open their ears, making some commitment to the additional manpower and resources needed to put those innovative ideas into practice then becomes paramount –­ paying overtime if necessary.

It must be remembered that not everyone is so scared of losing their job that they will work extra hours for nothing.

The expertise and creativity that can help drag ailing businesses out of the financial quagmire are often right under their own noses. Executives should stop carping and put more effort into digging them up and harnessing their potential.
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