by Elana Varon

What Should You Do to Build Your Capacity to Innovate?

Oct 17, 20063 mins

    Let’s assume your IT department is in pretty good shape. But you want to boost your capacity for innovation. Where to start?

    Researchers at the University of Texas, Arlington College of Business Administration are tackling this question with a surveythat probes which of several key IT management capabilities are most important not only to an organization’s ability to innovate, but to its ability to survive.

    Anurag Jain, research associate for the project, is looking for CIOs and senior IT managers to take the survey, which you can find here . I think it’s worth a few minutes of your time because it has potential to generate some concrete action items for IT organizations that are trying to learn how to, or get better at, innovating. Here’s why:

    It’s accepted wisdom that the best IT departments are good at the following:

        Alignment with the business

        Managing change

        Establishing trusted relationships with vendors and outsourcers

        Managing infrastructure systematically

        Assimilating information about new technologies

        Deriving best practices and lessons learned from past performance

        Ensuring their IT staffs up to date technical skills and have good business savvy.

    But there’s little conclusive research, says Jain, as to which of these characteristics have the biggest impact on one’s ability to innovate. So Jain and his colleagues (who include James T.C. Teng, professor of information systems and operations management, and assistant professor Sridhar Nerur) intend to correlate how survey participants rate their proficiency in these areas with what they report about their success at innovation. When the results are tabulated, Jain expects to learn in which areas highly innovative companies do best. (we’ll report the results here sometime in December). We’ll find out, for instance, whether the skills of your internal staff are relatively more important than having strong partnerships with your outsourcers.

    There’s even more value in the next step, however: using the survey as a diagnostic tool to identify what aspects of your own IT organization need shoring up. Jain says that once he knows which capabilities are key to innovation, he’ll develop a free self-assessment tool that CIOs can use to rate their own capabilities. He expects to have the tool ready in the first quarter of 2007, at which point I’ll link to it.

    However, to develop the tool Jain needs data from at least a few hundred participants (as an extra incentive, those who take the survey get a chance to win one of several well-regarded management books and can get their own copy of the survey results). Jain’s also made it easy for you to link back to when you’re done with the questionnaire.

    If you do take the survey, let me know what you think about it.