Fail your way to success

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It’s my favorite time of year.  Analysts hang their questions on surveymonkey with care, while visions of harvey balls dance in their heads.  Or something like that.

In one of the first “trendy” reports of the holiday season, IBM released the 2012 Tech Trends report.  You can get your copy here.

The report covers the usual stuff about the shift to cloud, mobile devices everywhere, etc.

But the most striking finding of this study for me was the difference between leaders (or “pacesetters”) and laggards (called the more politically correct “dabblers”) in the area of experimentation.  Check this out:

Pacesetters are nine times more likely to experiment with
technologies that don’t yet have a clear business application,
and twice as likely to proactively develop skills to meet
anticipated needs.

What isn’t discussed in the report is how this kind of experimentation actually gets implemented.  When you do a lot of experimentation, you’re going to fail.  Usually a lot. Articles from the WSJ,  Stanford School of Business, and numerous other studies confirm that the path to success is usually strewn with failures.

One of the most powerful things that technologies like business process management can do is to lower the cost of failure for experimentation.  By reducing the cycle time from ideas to inception, you can try out a LOT more ideas than if you were implementing a massive piece of code.  And this “safe environment” doesn’t have to be something hidden away in a lab somewhere in your organization.  It should be a place where everybody can experiment – technical and non-technical people.

Hopefully 2013 will be a year of trying new ideas, and embracing those “learning moments” “opportunities for growth” “planned enhancements” “challenges” “unplanned outcomes” failures.

Information Week survey: Got Innovation?

Interesting survey out this week put together by the folks at Information Week looking at IT innovation and a the relationship between IT and line of business.  You can get your copy here (registration required).

The report is well worth a read.

One of the stats that really got my attention was this one:

 We’d be dead in the water without IT: 60% of IT pros agree, only 43% of biz pros see it that way.

Let me read that to you again.  Only 60% of IT pros feel that they would be dead in the water without IT.  If you work in IT, and they get rid of it, you are pretty much dead in the water.  Not just mostly dead.  Completely dead.  And in the water.

When asked how important IT is to innovation, 32% of IT pros say extremely important. Only 25% of business pros agree.

This statistic really got me thinking.  If only 1 in 4 people who are supported by IT feel like IT is helping the company innovate, then what do people think the purpose of IT is?  According to the study, most view IT as a maintenance organization.  With the vast majority of IT budgets going to maintaining the status quo of enterprise apps, it is not totally surprising to see this number from the line of business.  But when 68% of IT staffers believe that they are not a source of innovation – now we’ve got a real problem.

Eric Kimberling of Panorama does a nice job on articulating some of the challenges with ERP deployments – a bucket where big chunks of IT spend have been going for the past few years.  Panorama does an annual survey of ERP users and what they find every year is pretty eye-opening.  Roughly half of ERP projects fail to deliver even half of their expected benefits.

Why?  I would argue a big reason is that it takes too long to roll out, and what you are putting into production is often not unique.  The result is what we see in the Information Week report – a lot of people in both IT and LOB end up saying that innovation is not something that IT delivers.  I’m picking on ERP here, but this  challenge is not limited to that domain – long projects that don’t deliver anything unique can happen in a lot of domains.

So how do you fix this innovation gap?  How do you get the mojo back for IT?  I think it starts with focusing more on adoption of technology, a renewed emphasis on doing unique things rather than “best practices”, and moving away from excessively long rollouts of new software.  I know this is easier said than done, but when you think about it, innovation requires three things in order for it to take hold.

  1. First, you have to be doing “new” things and not just maintaining stuff.
  2. The new things you are doing should be unique.  Nobody innovates the cow path.
  3. And third, you have to be trying a lot of new things.  The more people you can engage in the process, the better.

The only way to accomplish all 3 of these things in a way that makes economic sense is to do more projects with smaller scope, engage the broadest possible audience, and focus on the things that can differentiate your business.  All of these things are in the sweet spot for BPM solutions.  Putting in place a BPM solution doesn’t magically make innovation appear, but it creates an environment where innovation has a chance to take hold and grow in IT.