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Five Ways to Drive an IT Culture of Innovation
May, 14,2013
Corporate Vice President of Product Development and Chief Information Officer at ADP
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There’s never been a more exciting time to direct IT strategy. Today’s CIOs have the ability not only to manage great minds, but also to drive their organizations’ innovation efforts.

Harvard Business Reviewperhaps said it best: “The year-to-year viability of the business all depends on its ability to innovate.

An effective innovation strategy doesn’t hinge on adopting the newest technologies.  And the most sought-after new service or tool doesn’t guarantee long-term value to a company or its customers.  The key is making sure your company’s culture fully embraces innovative thinking.

This is especially true for an organization’s IT department and its role in driving organizational enhancements that lead to increased growth and productivity. The following are five important ways to support your most important innovation asset – your associates:

1.    Break Down Organizational Silos

Maintaining open communication across teams, peers and your customers is crucial to avoiding siloed mindsets and processes, and to evolving a culture of collaboration. If asked by the board or CEO to upgrade your organization’s customer relationship management functionality, the best people to communicate and collaborate with sit beyond the IT department. Likewise, a process that is managed solely within IT likely will run into major communication roadblocks with those outside when it’s time to roll out that new upgrade. Encouraging teams to obtain input from the head of sales, field sales force and, most important, customers early in the process can go a long way toward securing the required buy-in from the stakeholders who matter most. I, myself, target spending about 20 percent of my time each year meeting face to face with customers to learn how ADP can serve their needs more effectively. My product development leaders are also embedded in our business units.  Taking advantage of today’s social networking collaboration tools can also help ensure that staff and teams are optimally engaged and not just relying on email to exchange information and ideas.

2.  Maintain a Flexible Work Environment

Creating an IT work environment that is flexible and conducive to free, creative thinking is the best way to ensure peak performance. That environment may not necessarily be defined by the four walls or office spaces where IT sits. It’s important to offer your people flexible work solutions so they can work in places where they can maximize their creativity and productivity. The benefits may not be immediately apparent, but over the long-term you want to create a work environment that allows each individual to remain fully engaged and wanting to perform at his or her best. Establishing this kind of environment can increase project efficiency, such as a speedier delivery mechanism or go-to-market product plan. It can also help attract other talent with new skillsets.

3. Make Data-driven Decisions

Simply stated, data is the new black and is definitely one of the most valuable assets any organization wields because of its power to inform and guide decisions. The amount of data available today, both inside and outside an organization, is virtually endless.  On the surface it may sound like an impossible task to sort through massive quantities of data and obtain quality insights. Whether it’s structured or unstructured, or found in sales, marketing or HR, what’s important is pulling and utilizing the right data sets to supplement your strategic decision-making and product development processes. In fact, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit study,sponsored by Tableau Software, companies that rate themselves substantially ahead of their peers in their use of data are three times more likely to rate themselves as substantially ahead in financial performance.

4. Take Time Out to Envision the Future

It’s easy to get caught up in your day-to-day IT operations and focus your attention on near-term projects and customer support activities. But it’s important to make sure that long-range planning isn’t sacrificed.  Make time with teams across the department and other peers to go off site. Challenge them to think about what your organization will look like five or six years from now, what tools they might wield, what innovations they envision needing to propel the business forward, and how it will collectively fit together to better serve the customer. You’ll likely wind up with some illuminating thinking and even some potentially innovative outcomes, but more important, you’ll be fostering a more invigorated staff with renewed empowerment to help shape your organization’s future.

5. Think Mobile Today, Tomorrow and Five Years from Now

The desktop and laptop are increasingly giving way to mobile devices as workforces become less dependent on a physical workspace. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2017, close to 1.5 billion smartphones will be shipped, which will make up two-thirds of the worldwide mobile phone market. Including a mobile component or enabling easy accessibility to mobile platforms has become a requisite for practically every service, and mobility is an increasingly vital layer of any innovation effort. If it hasn’t already, your IT function needs to shift to a mobile mentality, where mobile access to services and mobile delivery systems are a seamless part of every strategic roll-out.

Every organization’s approach to innovation will naturally be further defined by its unique business priorities, but embracing an enterprise-wide culture of innovation can give your organization a deep competitive advantage and help drive your business forward – today and tomorrow.

Michael Capone, Corporate VP of Product Development and CIO, ADP