Five acts of CIO best practices

You’ve read about and perhaps attended one or more of the one million acts of innovation sessions. OMAI has attracted a lot of interest and press. What hasn’t yet happened is a translation of concept into actions. The Web site is up, but unless you know to go and look for it, you don’t know about the 200 plus ideas already there.

Translating good ideas into reality is not easy, even when the returns are obvious.  Innovation is viewed as risky. Business innovation is about intelligent risk taking, but is innovation being the third elephant to test the bridge? Most change within an organization is innovative – to that organization. What may be an industry best practice, already adopted by many, could be innovation for your company. That best practice doesn’t have to be complex or large: something that will create a positive change in your company.  Part of innovation is in mitigating the risk of going into uncharted territory for your company, even with demonstrated success elsewhere.  

Best practice is the same as innovation? For the most part, yes. For as much as we implement them differently, most of our IT requirements are pretty much the same.  A suite of corporate administrative functions: HR, finance, etc.  IT facilities to provide tools and access to information: email, access to customer/product/service databases, corporate web site, telephony. And industry specific needs: manufacturing, actuarial, inventory, as appropriate to the business. The opportunities for innovation are everywhere, pick five.  
Why five?  One million is a concept; five is concrete – you can count it on the fingers of one hand.  Find five changes that will improve your organization’s ability to do its business.  Little things that save 2 minutes per day per workstation, streamlining access to databases, or… so many possibilities.  Think in practical, doable terms.  Five things that you can do quickly, cheaply, effectively that will improve your co-worker’s ability to get their work done. You may not have to look far as, in many cases, it means fixing five things that IT (or your software vendor) imposes on users that slow them down or require them to work around to do their work. Ask your users, the front line workers, what they would like to see changed to remove time wasters and annoyances from their work.  If talking to the front line troops about how to make their IT tools better is an innovation in itself, then it’s about time.     
The focus on a few (five) best practices is necessary. One million is too big to be meaningful in any one organization. Also, innovation is on its way to becoming a meaningless buzzword.  Everyone wants to be innovative, and every vendors’ solutions are innovative. Like creativity, innovation not something that you can assign to a group of analysts and say give me one by Friday.    
One approach is translating best practices from another industry. For example, re-building an alternator is a standard process using a kit of replacement parts based on experience of the most likely things required to replace in an old alternator and produce one that is equivalent to brand new.  That parts kit won’t work every time.  For any given unit, some parts in the kit may not be needed and some units can’t be fixed. Why the business works is that for most cases, the materials in the kit will produce a refurbished unit at a known cost in materials and time.  
Innovation is taking this and applying it to something completely different: knee replacement surgery. A surgeon needs a kit of parts to cover every possible situation. When dealing with people, there isn’t option to say that this one isn’t worth fixing.  But a full kit where many parts may not be used is costly (those not used must be thrown away). Innovation starts by applying the alternator practice of a standard kit that covers most situations based on historic analysis, individualized to each surgeon, and backing it up with a second kit of everything else, to be used when needed. The surgeon still has a full complement, but now packaged in a way that reduces unused components that would have to be thrown away.
The result maximizes everyone’s outcome. There is no impact to how patient care is given.  The patient is up and walking, regardless of what was needed to repair their knee. The surgeon is still in control of how the surgery is done and has everything available that may be needed.  Establishing a “most-cases” kit plus a backup for less common situations reduces the overall costs without the risk that a patient might have to go back for a second surgery. Innovation is in learning from experience and re-packaging the materials to create cost savings with the surgeons’ complete involvement in the process to ensure that the change wouldn’t reduce the quality.     
Innovation is about opening up your thinking. If each of us finds five things that we can borrow from another’s success and do them this year, one million acts of innovation will be reality.  After all, if innovation is defined as bringing into your company ideas and best practices that will make your fellow employees’ lives easier and more productive, isn’t that already your job?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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