by L. Pender

Laying Down the Foundation for Innovation During Tough Times

Aug 15, 20013 mins

Right now, while other companies are cutting IT budgets and initiatives, it’s the perfect time for companies to establish the innovative products and processes that will carry them into the future.

  • FIRST, FIND THE MONEY The CIOs at 3M, Dollar Rent A Car, FedEx and TruServ have all cut back on user services?including maintenance, upgrades and new applications for internal customers?in order to continue to innovate with flat budgets.

    “If we reduce the amount of time we spend on maintenance, that will give us more resources for development,” says TruServ Senior Vice President and CIO Neil Hastie.

    Another way to find the cash is to improve your processes. Companies can get cocky in good times and let important processes, such as application maintenance and involving the business side in software development, slide. When the financial belt tightens, so should internal processes.

  • THEN, GET CEO BUY-IN Senior-level buy-in is critical, especially if a CIO has to cut basic services such as user support in order to remain innovative. If that buy-in isn’t part of the corporate culture, a CIO must fight for it.

    Chris Curran, managing director for technology innovation at Chicago-based consultancy DiamondCluster International, says CIOs might have to work through layers of management to get the chance to bend a CEO’s ear. “If the CEO isn’t providing support, the next best thing is to get his direct reports to tell him how wonderful [new technology] is,” Curran says. “CIOs should dialogue with business lieutenants in the company.”

    CIOs don’t need to hit a home run their first time at bat, either. Singles and doubles will work fine when the goal is to win the attention of department managers and vice presidents. Curran suggests setting up prototypes for small projects. Detailing a long, expensive project?no matter how innovative?might scare off lower-level business leaders and CEOs alike.

  • FINALLY, PRIORITIZE The most important step a company can take in a downturn is to separate necessary projects from those that were just hanging around because once upon a time there was money to fund them. Whether it’s trimming user support or buying less hardware, cutting the fat from an IT department is the best way to survive a downturn while still being able to innovate. Without exception, that’s the message from this year’s CIO-100 honorees.

    “I’d rather live in good times and have a big budget,” says 3M Vice President of IT David P. Drew. “But a lot of times we make the most progress when things are tighter. It forces you to focus. It forces you to eliminate things you probably shouldn’t be doing. I don’t wish for these times, but it isn’t all a bad experience.”