“When people describe me, one of the words I’d like them to use is that I’m insane.”
Michael B. Kovall, the SVP and CIO for Long and Foster, isn’t crazy, but he hopes people look at his ideas and think that they are artistic, radical and innovative. He says the ability of IT people “to be able to create something from nothing, to dream up the next revolution and think up the next disruptive innovation, it’s frankly why I’m in the business.”
IT people need to wear multiple hats, ones that require them to be disciplined and scientific, but also creative. So when it comes to research and development, it’s important to recognize that new ideas and innovation often come from insane places.
“For any such innovation to take place, the technical arm needs to support them and do the innovation,” said Mayur Raichura, Kovall’s VP and IS at Long and Foster. More and more today, IT is asked the initial question of how to innovate in terms of capabilities, times, costs and even ROI.
And for IT to respond to these questions most efficiently, everything depends on where talent sits and how problems are looked at and solved. How is IT integrated within the business? Where is the competency level sitting? Are all of these ideas and solutions coming from the same place? “A very large portion of our IS people are embedded within various parts of the organization. We are actually able to see, evaluate, resolve, ideate and innovate solutions to business problems that often are shared with us on the ideating stage rather than at the execution stage,” Raichura said. “Since we are more embedded with the business community, we are very equipped to come up with solutions to whatever the innovation process is.”
So when it comes to starting a new project, ask yourself who are all the different players involved? Innovation won’t take place outside of the hub of people; it has to be between internal talent and external suppliers. Raichura said that approach can change the culture of an organization and help to bring innovation from its far reaches.
“You do as much as you can with your organization’s traditions and culture, but your gut reaction plays into your decision,” Kovall said. He explained that sometimes something as simple or silly as switching from fax or copy machines to new technology can still be a great way to go against the traditional mindset and find a really radical, expense saving innovation.
This is because innovation doesn’t solely stem from an idea in the R&D department. Many organizations and specific products don’t even have an R&D department, and the only way innovation can happen is if the entire organization is plugged into coming up with the next wave of ideas.
“Listen to all the ideas and have a process to evaluate all the ideas that come from various parts of the organization,” Raichura said. This includes anything from cost reduction, to increasing margins, getting into new markets or improving your existing market segment.
Raichura says there is only one basic question that a CEO will ask of his IT department: “Are you doing everything to enable and help the businesses you’re working closely with to be more successful?” No CEO is going to ask IT to find new products or be the innovation arm, Raichura said, but they will want to know how IT can help the business find value.
Do you agree with Raichura’s assessment? In your experience, has a CEO ever asked IT to act as the innovation arm? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and listen to the rest of the show on “Driving Practical R&D Innovation.”