The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

The need for an innovative look at innovation efforts

innovation unlock.pngI’ve been in a number of discussion lately looking at innovation activities. In today’s dynamic business environment, the status quo is riskier than changing – sometimes it may not matter which direction you move, as long as you’re not standing still.

 

I am a big advocate for gamification, but most of these efforts are based on a bottoms-up approach that tries to leverage the ‘intelligence of the crowd’. Some interesting things definitely do come out of these efforts, but rarely are they directed on what is really needed. If 5% can be implemented, you’re doing great with these approaches.

 

That is where top down approaches to innovation come into play. They try to focus the innovation flow around a specific concern or issue. I used the term flow, because it’s happening, whether we tap into it or not – innovation is just part of being human. Top down in combination with a bottoms-up approach are more effective. Yet – they’re not effective enough.

 

I have figured out a few things (that are probably obvious to most):

  • Innovation needs a strategic focus. At the same time, the chance of getting it right the first time is slim, so an approach needs to be both strategic and agile (at the same time).
  • Innovation needs to be part of the mindset of the people involved. For many organizations, innovation doesn't feature anywhere in their plans and that’s a shame. This can be true for entrepreneurial organizations as well as large corporations. I mentioned strategic importance of innovation, yet culture eats strategy for lunch.
  • If you want to grow, you need to find a way of embedding innovation in your strategic priorities – and that means investment. It also needs to be focused on what you do and how you do it. This is one of the most frustration parts of working in the IT space. We think that being innovative in IT is something that should be recognized by the rest of the business. In many ways, they pay us (particularly service organizations) so they don’t need to see it at all – let alone view it as innovative.
  • Innovation efforts need to be measurable. Just because ideas are new, doesn’t mean there won’t be a ruler to measure progress. There will be one, why not plan on it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the first laws of technical leadership is “don’t discourage them”. The same can be true about the approach to innovation. At the same time, innovation efforts need to be focused on outcomes -- we actually need to do something and not just think about it.

 

I have come to the conclusion that we need a more innovative approach to innovation, since the whole concept is full of conflicts. One of the first things that is probably always true though is the need to develop a common understanding and definition of innovation, since it can mean so much to so many .

Where did the IoT come from?

I was talking with some folks about the Internet of Things the other day and they showed me some analysis that made it look like it was relatively recent.

 

where did the IoT come from.jpg

 

My view is that its foundations go back a long way. I worked on (SCADA) Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems back in the 80s, which were gathering data off the factory floor, analyzing it and performing predictive analytics, even way back then.


In the 70s, passive RFID came into being and one of the first places it was used was tracking cows for the department of agriculture to ensure they were given the right dosage of medicine and hormones – since cows could talk for themselves.

 

In the late 70s and early 80s barcodes become widely used to identify objects, allowing greater tracking of manufacturing lines as well as consumers in stores.

 

In the 90s, higher speed and greater range allowed for toll tags to be placed on cars, allowing for greater ease of identification but still very little use of sensors to collect additional information.

 

At the turn of the century, the military and Walmart required the use of RFID to track products and that caused significant increase in their adoption. About the same time, low powered sensing capabilities were developed since RFID only provided identification and the scanner provided location, people began to look at other information that could be collected like temperature, humidity as well as ways to gather information remotely like smart metering in the utilities space (although even that started much earlier).

 

Most technology adoption follows an S curve for investment and value generation. We’re just now entering the steep part of the S curve where the real business models and excitement is generated. It is not really all that new it is just that the capabilities have caught up with demand and that is making us think about everything differently (and proactively).

IoT and IT’s ability to foresee unintended consequences

Internet of things.pngI was recently talking with someone about an Internet of Things study that is coming out and it really made me wonder. HP has been doing work in the IoT for decades and gets relatively little credit for the efforts. In fact where I started work back in the 80s was writing statistical analysis tools for plant floor (SCADA) data collection – essentially the high value, big data space of its time, back when a 1 MIPS minicomputer was a high $$ investment.

 

The issues we deal with today are a far cry from that era, now we’re as likely to analysis data in the field about well head performance or robotics but many of the fundamentals remain the same. I’ve mentioned the issue of passive oversharing in the past, and addressing that issue needs to be at the foundation of today’s IoT efforts as well as value optimization issues.

 

I was in a discussion about vehicle to vehicle communications requirements a few months back and the whole issue of privacy looms much larger than the first thoughts of preventing accidents. I think everyone would agree that putting on the breaks by those vehicles affected is a good idea. Should the stop lights recognize bad behavior and visually send a signal to other drivers? There are a wide range of innovations possible with a network like this.

 

There are also negative possibilities to be considered:

  • Is passing along this driver performance to the police a good idea? What about insurance companies?
  • What about just that fact that your car knows it is speeding, is that something that others should know?
  • Or the information about where you’re driving to, now that your car is sharing this information with other cars and infrastructure (cell phones already do this by the way).
  • What if a driver can ‘socially engineer’ the limits of the system to maximize the performance for them. An example of this might be if you were to push the system so that yellow lights would stay yellow a bit longer because you’re accelerating into the intersection – is that OK?

Some unintended consciences are going to happen. We should be able to see many of them coming, if we think creatively. IT organizations will need to develop their implication assessment skills, for their social as well as business effects. The IT team should have better comprehension of the analysis and data sharing that has happened elsewhere and the implications, regardless of the business or industry and be able to advise accordingly. They need to reach out early and often.

Dimensions of assessing an agile architecture?

measurement.pngI keep hearing that organizations have greater expectations from their IT organizations than are being delivered. Shadow IT is the response as the business-side of the enterprise decides to go-it-alone. Many times those investments are done in a relative vacuum when compared to the rest of the organization’s portfolio.

 

As businesses move to be more agile and make better informed decisions, the focus is on being flexible in a number of dimensions:

  • Location – where and when works takes place
  • Social – relationships with and between customers, partners, devices and employees
  • Secure – what, why and how much in good enough
  • Process – for the past, now and in the future
  • Insight – what is and will be happening, and why

In continuing to think along the lines of the post on agile architecture, it makes me wonder how an architecture can be measured along these lines in the dimensions of time and value. Even though the requirements for the architecture can’t be nailed down do the perspectives (like those listed) remain constant? Should we also build into our thinking how long we think the architecture element is viable? That can be a tough issue as evidenced by the continued contributions of mainframes, COBOL and other technologies that are pretty far along the ripe cycle.

 

I recently read a thought provoking article titled: Management in the Second Machine Age that made me wonder about the effects of automation on IT architects as well. If you can measure it, you are closer to being able to automate it.

Strategy, Execution and IT

strategic thinking.pngRecently, I was looking at a video about business strategy and execution from the Strategy+Business blog. It talked about the five major questions a business strategy needs to answer:

  1. What businesses should we be in?

  2. How will we add value to that business?

  3. What is our target customer?

  4. What’s the value proposition for those customers?

  5. What are the capabilities we need to be distinctive for those customers?

It also discussed how easy it can be to confuse what it takes to execute a strategy with the strategy itself (e.g., a plan).

 

The video made me think about the role of IT today and how it may be perceived. Do we look at our various investments from the perspective of answering these kinds of questions or do we just look to cut costs. That difference in behavior is one of the greatest differences between an IT organization that is crucial to the business and one that is just an enabler of the business.

 

Many times I’ve mentioned the need for portfolio management within the applications of an enterprise and the fact that it may be as important what you turn off as what you turn on. In a recent discussion with an analyst about Enterprise Architecture they really downplayed the role of the current situation analysis and listening to this video just reinforced how much this value added assessment of the current portfolio can be, since by turning off those systems you free up resources to actually be strategic.

 

The business should be able to relate to a decision based on this strategic perspective, since that’s likely how they think about what they deliver to the market.

 

When planning for the future it can often require an active decision to totally break from the past approach and try a new one. This can be very risky, but there are also risks hanging on to changes that are long overdue – because we’ve always done it that way.

 

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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