Effective IT Leaders Must Innovate Or Risk Obsolescence

The scope for corporate IT has changed rapidly. Gone are the days where operational efficiency, business process automation and cost reduction are the defining goals. In the cloud era the IT organization is seen as a partner that enables enterprise growth. There is no glory in spending 80 percent of the time “keeping the lights on.” IT leaders must become business partners that help organizations become more agile to respond to market demands, and to deliver exceptional customer experiences that maximize value.

Organizational survival depends on responsiveness to environmental change. One of the scariest forces of competition (Porter, 1985) is the “Threat of new entrants.” Unknown competitors that innovate fast surprise large slow moving organizations and completely disrupt their business model overnight. eBay radically changed the way people shop for goods. NetFlix has destroyed the value of physical DVDs. LegalZoom is totally rewriting the rules of a thousand-year-old legal profession by giving people online access to uncomplicated legal assistance and advice.

CIOs must become change agents that drive organizational transformation through empowering employees to innovate. Ideas move at the speed of thought, there is no room for bureaucracy to get in the way of highly intelligent and motivated people. When creativity strikes there must be a seamless way to release resources that can be consumed immediately.

There are six major characteristics that are imperative to create a culture of innovation and to promote creativity (Amabile, 1998):

  • Challenge – Match people with the right assignments and give them stretch goals that motivate them
  • Freedom – Grant employees freedom and autonomy to be creative about reaching a goal, don’t tell them how to get there
  • Resources – Time and project resources (money, tools, etc.) are the two most important means that can be utilized to increase creativity
  • Work-group Features – Design teams that are mutually supportive and that have diverse backgrounds and perspectives
  • Supervisory Encouragement – Freely and generously recognize great work done by individuals and teams. Extrinsic motivation through material reward is not always necessary
  • Organizational Support – Organizational leaders must emphasize the value of creativity as well as put the correct procedures and systems in place

IT organizations can provide support and resources by giving access to development environments; enabling self-service compute, storage and networking infrastructure; and removing red tape. Employees with ideas do not feel compelled to jump through hoops to get access to systems that could potentially enable technology innovations that augment competitive differentiation for an organization. Intrinsic motivation can only go so far before ideas are dashed. Requiring extensive business cases that stipulate CAPEX requirements as well as defining ROI totally defeat the creative spirit.

We are in the cloud era and that empowers innovators by providing them with computing resources in minutes; the only requirements are a credit card and an Internet connection. An organization must be prepared to offer this type of access internally to ensure these resources do not fall outside the boundaries of IT oversight, risking security and compliance issues as well as data loss. Innovation is going to happen – the question is if IT will enable it or if it will be done outside of the prevue of IT.

Private cloud is a new option available to IT that empowers them to deliver resources and enable innovation and agility. An on-premise cloud that provides central management and self-service is quickly becoming essential to remove the hurdles of traditional IT. Computing power and storage can now be released in minutes. They can also be repurposed if projects don’t deliver as expected.

A private cloud allows organizations to place more “small bets” to find the one spin of the wheel that has an exponential level of payback. A private cloud can help IT change from being perceived as a “blocker” to an “enabler” to ensure it remains relevant in the age of technology innovation.

Rackspace Private Cloud powered by OpenStack can offer the level of freedom employees need to gain access to compute on demand, while still maintaining a level of control that is needed to ensure cost consistency and accountability. A self service dashboard provides users with access to infrastructure resources on demand, while ensuring data and applications are protected within the boundaries of IT security.

Building a private cloud can seem like a daunting task. It does not have to be. The Rackspace Private Cloud is a free download that can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Training, certification and technical support are also available from Rackspace. In other words, the investment, time and resources required to start on this journey is relatively small, and the payoff can be significant.

In the cloud era there are no more reasons for IT Leaders to stand in the way of progress. Transform from being an IT department to being a service provider, or risk being relegated to the IT graveyard.

Works Cited
Amabile, T. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review – September/October.
Porter, M. (1985). Competitive Advantage. New York: The Free Press.

Duan van der Westhuizen leads Product and Engineering for the Microsoft Cloud portfolio at Rackspace, which includes Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Private Clouds. Duan holds a number of Microsoft Certifications (MCSE, MCDBA, MCSD), and has spent more than 20 years in IT and in a wide range of avenues including systems engineering, database development and design, web development, business intelligence, product management and product marketing. He has worked in various global locations including Africa, North America and the United Kingdom, where he started in 2006 at the Rackspace office in London.


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