Part One: Innovation and TransformationCan IT make a difference?

It’s become the modus operandi for most CIOs: Start with your business processes, then implement a technology strategy. It may be time, however, to re-think that premise, according to James McKeen, a professor at Queen’s University School of Business. There may be nothing wrong with letting technology drive your business strategy, says McKeen. In fact, for business-minded CIOs, the reverse can happen: Companies may be too locked into their businesses process and may fail to see technology opportunities that arise.

Which should come first, business case or technology investment? It’s a question that may never be answered.

For many years, it was all about the technology. Companies ploughed ahead with the latest and greatest, implementing new software and systems almost with reckless abandon. For firms that may have had too many IT projects that failed, that may have not been needed in the first place or that did not meet expectations, it was a situation that could not last.

In more recent times, it’s been all about the business case. Companies have relied on CIOs with business backgrounds to run things, resulting in better performance from your information systems and improved return on your investment. No technology of any significance could be implemented without a solid business plan and a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

Then along came the debate over how much IT really mattered. Companies looking to derive competitive advantage from the new generation of technology were bound for disappointment. Although there have been substantial improvements in information technology, everybody just followed everybody else, with all companies using the same software running on the same hardware over the same networks. So where is the advantage?

Companies seeking to draw competitive advantage by merely implementing IT probably are wondering where the benefits are. And McKeen would agree. “There is the infrastructure part of IT that is a utility like a railroad or electricity,” he says.

“But there is also the other 50 per cent of IT, as in, now what do we do?” Which technologies can we use that open up new avenues for business or inspire employees to a new level of performance? This is exactly where innovation comes into the picture.

With this in mind, the IT Business Group is launching the four-part “It’s The New IT: The Innovation and Transformation” series.

Innovation. You need new technology to compete whether it’s in the design of new products, finding alternative ways of reaching customers or changing your business processes.

Transformation. You must look at totally new ways of running your business or you risk becoming obsolete. These days, companies are looking for more than incremental or ad hoc improvements in the business. They want wholesale change.

To help us with this effort, the IT Business Group has engaged the Queen’s School of Business to look at four aspects of innovation and transformation.In coming weeks, we’ll examine:

1. Collective intelligence. What about all the other people in your organization? Are they engaged? How can collective Intelligence technology help you get everybody involved?

2. Leadership. How can CEOs and CIOs better effect change in their operations? Why do leaders need more than a passing knowledge of IT and how can you create a culture of change?

3. Innovation. How does “Innovating” with technology differ from “implementing” technology? Where does the IT advantage come from?

4. Transformation: How do you achieve it? Do you “manage” change or do you inspire it? What is the difference between process improvement and organizational transformation?

We will supplement each article with a case study of a company that is employing this type of leading thinking throughout its operations.

We’re hoping it will help you think of IT in broader terms, and that you and your business will see the benefits.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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