Top 10 Ways IT Sparks Innovation

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The pressure to become a digital business is pushing IT leaders to innovate more than ever before.

The advent of digital business – data interconnected with strategy – is top-of-mind for today’s IT leaders, and the push to become a digital business is directly reflected in the concerns and priorities of IT executives and managers.

The themes of digital transformation and innovation bubbled up, along with the need to balance new initiatives with cost consciousness. And while cost control was a major goal, respondents said they are moving away from exclusively working to “keep the lights on” and are implementing new ways to provide the business with revenue streams and customer engagement, in addition to more traditional projects like improving speed, agility and web operations.


10. Engage Customers in New Ways

Coming in at number 10 on our list of top ways IT plans to innovate in 2017 is “engage customers in new ways.” The fact that this one is so low on the list may not come as a surprise considering the primary function of IT is to support the needs of the business and employees, so IT pros tend to focus internally. However, IT teams are beginning to look outside the walls of the enterprise, as well as work cross-functionally to think about technology’s role in providing better customer service and support to those who buy or use their companies’ products and services (see numbers three and four on our list).

9. Get Better Return on IT Investments

An IT investment doesn’t have to be technology; it can also be the process you implement or talent you train to get the most out of the systems you have in place.

Eduardo Ruiz, senior director of IT for the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), says that moving to the cloud laid the groundwork for his organization to not only become more cost effective but to find ways to contribute to the bottom line. It also set them up to fully embrace DevOps.

“Once we moved to the cloud, we started focusing on DevOps and were able to revamp our services,” says Ruiz, adding that it was the first key step for their group in being able to innovate. Now, he says they’re looking at ways to use predictive analytics through AWS machine learning to help universities tackle the challenge of low enrollment and target students that are most likely to say yes to an offer letter from their school.

8. Create a New Business Model/Revenue Stream for the Company

For a division that’s so focused on supporting the business, this way of innovating can be harder to tackle, but sometimes business models or revenue streams come to you.

Ruiz says that his group has built a data center that’s very useful for its members, and did a good job of training members on how to use data. As a result, they found that other associations took notice, and are beginning to look to them as a leader in data analytics.

“We’ve begun thinking about how they can provide consultancy to small associations to that don’t have the skills or funding to be able to do similar types of data projects on their own,” says Ruiz. “Several associations already reached out on how we can help them move the ball forward on their data analytics project.”

7. Improve Web Operations/Customer Experience

While only about 18% of our respondents said that they plan to innovate by improving Web operations/customer experience, it shows that there’s a growing interest in IT to get beyond the silo. UX designers and web designers are looking to IT to help them come up with innovative solutions to customer experience challenges.

6. Increase IT Speed and Agility

Increasing the speed of IT products and services is the stalwart of IT goals, so it makes sense that it comes in at number six on our list. What’s new is agility, and this might signal that all the talk of DevOps is coming to an end and real implementation is beginning.

5. Make Business Processes More Efficient 

We’re no longer in an age where people have time or patience for clunky legacy systems. As millennials continue to enter the workforce in droves and begin leading more organizations, IT will be there to help them overhaul old systems and launch companies with the most efficient business applications.

4. Introduce New IT-Led Products/Services for Customers

The fact that “introduce new IT-led products/services for customers” is all the way up at number four is a clear indicator that IT is looking for ways to contribute to the bottom line and help organizations deliver better customer service. 

One example of how IT can offer products and services to customers comes from a story we published earlier this week about the CFA Institute. CFA offers the Chartered Financial Analyst exam and credentials, along with conferences, seminars, webcasts, and publications, to its 140,000 members. In the midst of building a cloud platform that serves its central organization and standardizes technology across its network of 147 local chapters, the design team discovered that what their customers really wanted were better ways to interact with other members and learn about what those members were reading and sharing. “The team changed course and was able to include developing a native app that combines community and content for members as part of its digital transformation,” says Elaine Cheng, managing director and CIO at the CFA Institute.

3. Improve Customer Service

In this day and age when a bad customer experience can go viral, it’s no surprise that the goal to find innovative ways to improve on customer service is near the top at number three on our list.

Whether you’re thinking of ways to keep your customers’ data secure, keep your services running (for Netflix, keeping the lights on is a serious endeavor), or making sure they don’t wait on hold for eons, staying out of the headlines as well as knowing your customers are having a great experience is the way to go and is top of mind for IT pros.

2. Improve IT Sustainability

As the planet gets warmer and evidence of climate change becomes more severe, businesses are pledging to do their part to become more energy efficient. It also doesn’t hurt that a sustainable IT operation tends to be a cheaper IT operation.

Eduardo Ruiz of ASPPH says that moving to the cloud was far more sustainable than managing their data center on-premises, citing that there’s also flexibility to pivot when you need to, and you’re not stuck with thousands of dollars worth of hardware.

1. Lower IT and Business Costs

Coming in at number one, IT pros said that the top way they innovate is by lowering IT and business costs. While cutting cots may not be the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to innovation, finding newer and more efficient ways to run IT is always a priority. The trend may also be representative of the major transition that IT is undergoing from hardware to software and on-premises to cloud, and demonstrate the need for IT teams to convert themselves from traditional ogranizations to sleek, modernized departments.

“Lowering IT and business costs go hand and hand with innovation,” says Ruiz. However, he cautions that cost control should not be the main focus: “To me, it seems more of a byproduct, and not necessarily an input.”