The launch of Raspberry Pi (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17190918) was one those rare events that makes me realise that British innovation is alive and well and (more often than not) living in Cambridge. Its remarkable in its simplicity, perfectly timed and could prove to be a seminal moment in the British technology industry.
It also reminded me that true innovation usually comes from a couple of people who are left alone in a small room with a good idea. No disrespect to the likes of Google, Microsoft et al (after all most of them were founded on one such idea) but once you get to certain size you are more likely to buy good ideas than generate them (and perhaps more ominously, stand accused of killing those you can’t buy).
The fact is a lot of what these companies provide is more utility than innovation. These companies are now too big to be real innovators and most of their new stuff comes from acquiring technologies and then re engineering them into their product lines. The CIO’s internal innovation is based more around the business; coming up with ideas for technology that changes the game or pushing the IT dept to do something about the fact that the systems they are using are driving them mad! I call it App store mentality, make my experience stimulating so that I think about the business and my life free of IT related stress. I have enough things to worry about in the current climate without software updates being one of them!
I am meeting more and more start-ups that are showing the way forward with the big trends – social apps, mobile/tablet, new thinking about databases, new thinking about data etc etc. It cuts through the hype and actually shows the reality. They will not all succeed but they will challenge the status quo in both your IT dept and across the business more widely.
Get these start-ups and smaller innovators in to present in a Dragons Den format (ok – maybe that’s a little theatrical). Put a real prize on offer; the winner will be adopted for a trial, skunk works project and you will pay for it (I can hear the sharp intake of breath but stay with me folks). If successful the winner can PR the case study so not only are you creating innovative thinking and potentially giving your business something truly game changing, but you are also supporting our own innovation industry. This is just about technology; involve the business and IT on the panel, get people working together and understanding each other, and build empathy. Commit properly, spend some money on it and make it a real win for the participating start-ups, and people will take it seriously.
As a CIO you have to inspire not just lead, you have to understand technology futures better than the CEO’ s kids and you need a better vision than we run the ERP, web site and company IT infrastructure. Otherwise you will be left behind ‘implementing the business requirements and managing the outsource vendors’ and what could be worse than that…