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The Role of IT in Innovation: Friend or Foe?

The Role of IT in Innovation: Friend or Foe?

A lack of IT agility can stop growth dead in its tracks, but so can a business that fails to see IT as a strategic partner

Using IT to Fix the Fix We're In

What's important now is fixing the problem and placing IT where it belongs: at the centre of innovation with other drivers of business, innovation experts say. That doesn't mean putting technology at the centre; technology, after all, should be in service to the greater strategic goals. What it does mean is making the CIO (and team) a full partner of innovation efforts. They can work with the business to create new technology-enabled growth areas, a key in today's economy.

Medtronic, Zipcar, IBM and other innovative companies are marked by agile and responsive IT departments placed at the centre of business operations, says Rae. As the economy becomes more reliant on services and less reliant on products, CIOs and IT departments are more important than ever, she adds.

Shapiro says that although IT systems have been siloed, the IT department can help with important enablers of innovation: service-oriented architecture, knowledge management systems and applications that foster end-user collaboration, for example. IT can also help with Web 2.0 tools, which can help streamline and consolidate information at a low cost, say their proponents. The ability to find standard data forms is a key to innovation, Shapiro says. "Standardized data is far more important than standardized [business] processes."

This is because as he, Rae and Puryear point out, untapped data can yield insights that can change a company's or industry's strategy. Puryear points to American Express as a company that redefined itself by analyzing customer spending data to develop new products, reward programs and co-branded partnerships.

Innovation is about using the right tool in the right way at the right time to solve a problem. And that will usually involve IT. "You can't say IT is just about keeping the lights on," says Agnoli whose law firm built an information-sharing system. There's the increasing use of the Web and how it binds the world together, there's the acceleration of change, there's the ubiquity of connectivity. "In this environment, IT is a key component of business innovation and a key revenue driver."

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