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IT blame: The innovation copout

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Ok, cut it out. I know you are doing it. See … wait, you just did it again. You did it yesterday. You did it today. You’ve been doing it for years. Stop it. Stop.


You love to blame the IT department for why you can’t offer more innovative products, services and business models to your clients. If you happen to be at a meeting with one of the IT people, then you blame it on legal instead. After all, many don’t like confrontation, but everyone loves a common enemy!

Whether it is your email system, the firewall, the legacy administrative systems, a new idea for a product that never gets launched, in-force policy illustrations or just the fact that you are not able to use a Mac, IT has become one of the key targets for innovation blame.

See also: Some investors unimpressed by advisors’ tech savvy

Why? Some may say that it is technology that drives innovation, and therefore, the IT department should just know what to do to fix the problems, adopt the new technologies and move ahead. Your IT department is being put in the position of leading innovation versus being the backbone of it.

Big difference.

Some people confuse innovation with technology. While technology is inherently innovative, innovation should be defined as a product, service or business model that meets a market need and is commercialized properly. Technology doesn’t create innovation. Insights, ideas and communication do.

Your IT department is flooded with ideas for improvement. Often times, the ideas are not in a context of strategy, designed around what customers want and need. The IT leaders are left alone to prioritize. Perhaps it is because they are viewed as a silo. Perhaps it is because their specialized language is a barrier to communication. Or worse, perhaps there is no strategy designed around the customer. A quote from a Dec. 2012 Datamation article, “Is IT Falling Short of Business Expectations?” by Sean Michael Kerner, sums it up:

“The disconnect with IT and organizational growth has a lot to do with a lack of collaboration between business units and IT. […] Only five percent of IT organizations are helping their enterprises in developing competitive strategy, while only nine percent help in identifying new market opportunities.”

The blame game is one of the three key areas of innovation dark space. Dark space is the aspect of your firm’s culture that prevents it from capitalizing on the key market opportunities that nobody else owns (i.e., white space). Dark space is what sucks the energy out of the white space.

So what to do? Recognizing the dark space is a good first step. It is then up to business leaders to join together to create an innovation strategy with IT, ensuring that the end customer is at the center. It is amazing what happens when everyone has their eyes on a specific customer segment and knows it intimately.

Next, gather insights from the segment and determine which pain points, if solved, would give the most return for the innovation dollar. Share those insights with all associates, so everyone understands how ideas will be prioritized. The more specific you are, the more creativity you’ll get.

For those who are on the sales front lines, you may think this does not apply to you. But it does.

1)      Apply it within your own firm. The scale of it may differ, but your own IT person is in a similar position. Your employees may or may not know what your market priorities are.

2)      Use this in your dealings with carriers. If you are not sure of what the strategy is, ask. If a strategy around a consumer segment doesn’t exist, it is a great suggestion for their advisory board or a one-on-one discussion with business leaders.

The bottom line is that objective, direct communication needs to be fostered with anyone you view to be standing in the way of progress. However, you must agree on what matters most. Then, alignment comes naturally. And by the way, this works with legal, compliance, product development … even at home!

An idea without an insight is just an invention. An idea driven by insight is an innovation.

For more from Maria Ferrante-Schepis, see:

Does the need for certainty kill innovation?

Who’s afraid of the big bad annuity?

Do we know what business owners want?