We're living in one of the most exciting times of tech change in recent memory, on par or perhaps exceeding the innovation that occurred with the commercialization of the internet in the late 1990s. Not only are technologies evolving at a rapid pace, but a generation of workers who grew up with technology is filling the workforce, and consumers and employees are likely to be tech savvy. Emerging technologies now become commonplace in a year or two, and in some case wane in importance just as quickly.
It can seem overwhelming as an IT leader to build an organization that can embrace, adapt, and implement these rapidly evolving technologies, and it can be tempting to ignore the evolution rather than try to keep up. However, step off the train, and you and your organization will quickly be left behind. Here are three ways to keep yourself and your organization prepared for the future.
1: Adopt an innovation culture
Key to preparing for future technological advancements is to allow for innovation and experimentation in your organization. You simply cannot track and implement these new technologies if innovation is ignored or punished due to your current organizational culture.
To start embracing a culture for innovation, you must allow for intelligent risk taking and acceptable failure. Without these two ingredients, anything new, technological or otherwise, becomes anathema to success. A lack of innovation often manifests itself in a focus on the operational and celebrating fighting yesterday's problems.
If you find your staff bragging about the thousands of unread emails in their inbox, how they spent the last month "firefighting," or the hours of meetings they've attended, innovation is likely nowhere to be found. Shifting culturally needs to start at the top of the organization, so rather than celebrate these behaviors, highlight people who are looking to innovatively address problems rather than those who jump into the breach of the same disaster every month.
2: Activate your "future radar"
As technology accelerates, it can be difficult to keep track of what's occurring outside, and even inside your own organization. With consumer technologies leading many sectors, it's become a bit easier to see trends and new technologies in the general media; however, many of these technologies are being implemented in novel ways in the enterprise space.
At a minimum, make forward-thinking a recurring part of your leadership and team meetings. Spend a few hours or a half-day each quarter focused on future trends, be they new technologies or broad market trends that could affect your industry. External analysts, authors, and consultants are often dying to speak with companies about these trends, and are often willing to provide overviews or facilitate discussions with little or no funding. If nothing else, forcing yourself and your staff to consider the future on a regular basis will help engender the cultural shift toward innovation, and get your staff at all levels to consider how the future will impact them and their organization.
3: Build formal innovation projects
While shifting toward a culture that embraces innovation is a great step forward, it's unlikely to prepare your organization for the future if it relies solely on grassroots efforts to implement new technologies. Even in times of scarce budgets, merely sanctioning employees to spend time exploring and experimenting with new technologies can go a long way. Ideally, you'll create a method for employees and external peers to suggest pilot programs to solve organizational problems with new technologies, and fund the best programs that result.
Leverage your partners, whether they're non-IT peers who are trying to make sense of rapid technological change that will fund some experimentation, or a trusted consulting partner who has a track record and process for enabling innovation. Dozens of organizations have innovation labs and "big thinkers" who can help you refine your ideas to actionable pilot programs that may ultimately lead to successful projects.
The bottom line
We've all seen entire industries and business models created and destroyed at a shocking pace, and it's likely this trend will continue. As an IT leader, it's no longer good enough to successfully run what you have today — an ability to observe and react to future trends is critical for success. While this may seem a daunting challenge at first, this is one of the rare times in history when we have a chance to define and implement the future of our industry.
- Smithsonian Innovation Festival: 10 projects changing humanity's future
- Naked CIO: Where's the innovation in IT?
- CIOs feel pressure to innovate amidst disruptive technology threat
- 10 ways to achieve growth through innovation
- How to build trust and fight tribalism to stimulate innovation
- The history of 'The Innovators' tells us that collaboration is core to innovation
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.