Unleashing the innovative power of the IT organization is a goal for many CIOs. But how is it supposed to happen? According to a recent study by Forrester Research, the solution could be to let the enterprise architects play a key role as coordinators and facilitators for a company’s innovation initiatives.
The architects are the people within the IT organization who are best suited for the mission, says Forrester analyst Alex Cullen, because they have an overall view of the company and are plugged into business strategy. And because they are technology generalists, they are better at seeing—and dealing with—new things than more specialized IT managers.
The enterprise architecture group’s role is mainly as a facilitator: to build an innovation team, says Cullen. Participants in this so-called innovation network should come from all over the company and include both business and IT people. The team’s role is to behave as a funnel, channeling ideas from a variety of sources, including technical publications, other companies, academia or the consumer market.
“What happens in the beginning is that the people in charge of the process will bring in a lot of ideas themselves that they find in different places,” Cullen observes. “If it goes well, other people will be encouraged and do the same thing,” but in the beginning, the enterprise architects should prime the pump.
Promising ideas need to be bounced against potential business uses, he adds. If a company decides to pursue them, then the enterprise architecture group’s role is to deliver the technologies and IT services necessary to execute the ideas. For example, a sales management organization might be alerted to the potential for podcasting as the means for continuous sales training, but it will need a technical infrastructure and the production of training materials to turn the idea into reality.
For Cullen, the bottom line is that IT needs to contribute to innovation equally with business leaders. Letting the enterprise architects take a leadership role is a first step toward aligning IT with the business innovation process.