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It can be damaging to talk about business innovation in technology terms.

Unless you’re a company like Apple, which designs or manufactures technology products, your colleagues outside the IT department are likely to question your motivation. They’ll rightly assert that innovation is only legitimate when it supports the business goals.

But creativity works in mysterious ways. It relies on thought-provoking stimuli arriving from many unexpected angles.

So just because an organisation’s goals won’t usually be expressed in terms of technology, that doesn’t mean it’s not fruitful to seek new sources of business benefit by exploring enabling technologies. Indeed, this seems to be what the C-suite is crying out for, especially in these days of truly disruptive technology megatrends like utility computing, social media and unstructured analytics. Consider these quotes from McKinsey:

“If there’s any issue that routinely frustrates executives in many organizations, it’s how to get a true fix on the value that information technology adds to the businesses it serves”, 2009*

“most leaders […] say their organizations do not have a repeatable process for extracting value from innovation and do not devote enough resources to it compared with running day-to-day operations”, 2012**

So CIOs need not be shy of ‘technology-led’ innovation. Instead, they we should fuel it, harness it and steer it gently towards the business goals (before it heads-off at a tangent!).

They should continuously monitor emerging and incubating ideas to evaluate their likely business value, and support technologists in gaining business buy-in for the most valuable ideas.

The alternative would be to dismiss or discourage innovative ideas from IT. That’s hardly a responsible course for anyone seeking to improve the lot of the shareholders, consumers or citizens, who depend upon you to create the greatest value from your technology investment.

Fortunately there are several simple, reliable techniques to support successful ‘technology-led’ innovation. They can be used to stimulate new ideas, to adapt ideas from elsewhere in industry, to discover how specific technologies could address (or even expand) your business goals, and to predict the likely net benefit of an apparently innovative idea.

I’m sure you could find these techniques with some careful web browsing. But I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. Just get in touch if you’d like a hand.

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