by David Clarke

The innovation imperative

Aug 29, 20124 mins
CareersIT Strategy

Innovation is trumpeted as a major virtue in any area of the economy, and the IT industry has been one of its great sources over the few past decades.

It has provided disruptive technologies that have changed the way that we work and play, from early word processing and spreadsheet programmes, to internet applications, mobile devices with increasing capabilities, and apps for smartphones and tablet computers.

It has opened up new business opportunities and been a great driver of economic growth.

This comes with a risk. There are a hundred things that can go wrong in developing an idea, and when a company launches a radically new product or service there is no guarantee that it will find a market.

In big companies a failure can affect the share price, reduce the scope for other ventures and lead to job losses. For start-ups, it can make the difference between long term growth and an early termination.

But there is also a risk in playing it safe; companies that do not look to innovate are in danger of being left behind when a disruptive technology changes their markets.

Innovation is a business imperative. This makes it important to find ways to promote innovation and manage the inherent risk, and there can be different approaches for different types of companies.

Strategies for the corporate sector Larger companies usually have resources devoted to product development, but are often constrained by an attitude in which innovation is confined to specific teams and given less priority than exploiting existing markets.

A Forrester Research report emphasises the potential of breaking these constraints through open innovation, which involves throwing the process open for all employees and partners to make a contribution.

Companies can adopt a playbook to support this approach and they can formalise their strategies for innovation by building them into processes for product development.

Smaller companies and start-ups face a different challenge. They are less formal, often driven by new ideas, and innovation is ingrained in the way they work.

But the people who start them are usually taking their own risks, leaving secure employment for an uncertain future in their own business and sometimes taking out heavy loans against their personal assets. They often need support to make an idea a viable commercial proposition.

It may be in developing a business case, finding finance or tapping into expertise on a specific element of technology.

BCS is aiming to provide support in this area with BCS Entrepreneurs, a recently launched programme to foster the growth of entrepreneurial communities and encourage innovation among start-ups.

Its purpose is to reinforce initiatives from the corporate sector, government and capital providers by building a network that taps into the knowledge and capabilities of the organisation’s 70,000 members.

Its committee will be developing further activities over the coming months, but there are already firm thoughts about the paths it is likely to take.

One of these will be to encourage mentoring for young IT entrepreneurs.

While young people have ideas they often lack in-depth knowledge about a technology or an area of business in which they could have a market, and BCS has members from all sector who could be well placed to provide the relevant insights.

Tech/business alignment It wants to bring the technology experts and business people together with the start-ups to help hone their products and services and exploit the opportunities in individual markets.

The group will also look towards helping start-ups find the young IT professionals with the right skills to work on their projects or join their staff.

BCS has plenty of students and recent graduates among its members, and has the potential to match internships to the demands of new businesses, and lay the ground for longer term recruitment to help them develop.

Training also comes into the equation, tying up with BCS’ aim to build the IT profession.

In its future training programmes it will bear in mind how these could help entrepreneurs develop their own skills, and those of their staff, to help their businesses mature.

Looking to the medium term, BCS Entrepreneurs aims to emerge as the voice of the community in feeding into policy development, both for the organisation and to influence government.

In the long term, it hopes to help remove the hurdles that start-ups and SMEs face in bidding for business with government and the large corporates.

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