Innovators tend to think that information technology systems are too orderly and controlling even to cope with the messy process of innovation — much less enable it. But as some leading companies show, smart managers bring the whole IT menu to the challenge.
Information systems are traditionally designed to impose structure on processes, while innovation activities require a tolerance for ambiguity and failure and the flexibility to redefine goals when opportunities or roadblocks arise. Yet the potential of information systems to improve the innovation process is too great to dismiss them out of hand.
Undertaking research to learn how leading innovators have used IT to make their innovation activities more effective and efficient, the authors found that companies require three things in order to do so. First, they need specific IT-enabled organizational capabilities, which are formed by combining their IT assets with non-IT assets to enable the across-the-board processes essential to developing and applying innovations. Second, companies need a strong set of IT-based tools to effectively sustain the central activities required for innovation and to support the analytical work that innovators need to transform ideas into products, processes and services. Third, companies need a system of control that allows workers to access and use the IT resources effectively. The authors’ research provides numerous lessons for an organization’s innovation leaders, IT managers and top leadership — particularly the CEO. The primary lesson for innovators, for example, is that the IT department can be an active partner in innovation, not an enemy. When all of these stakeholders understand the role that information technology can play in streamlining and accelerating the innovation process, a company will be well on its way toward producing more innovations, and better innovations, with the resources at its disposal.