Tuesday, August 03, 2010

IT, innovation and the internet

After seeing this post by Martin Fowler, I thought I should revisit / update the article I posted here, given that the IT / innovation divide seems to be gaining traction.

My original post was a bit OTT, and primarily a reaction to the conference I’d attended the previous day. I’ve had plenty of time to think through the issues since then, and as a result I now believe in the divide more than ever.

There is an excellent article here that describes some of the issues, but I still think there is a further distinction between companies who make their technical innovation part of their corporate DNA, and those who don’t – those who pursue strategies of operational efficiency and economies of scale.

It seems to me that this distinction is clearest in the case of pure-play internet businesses. The internet is an entire ecosystem within which innovation is key. People talk about “internet time” precisely because the rate of change is so great. And in this environment, I think that the responsibility for innovation (whether that be application development or infrastructure-led) should not sit with the IT department, however clear the distinction. IT should report to the operational director (or COO), “innovation” should report to whoever is responsible for strategy and growth.

I’d almost go so far as to suggest that the Waterfall / Agile schism is a reflection of this change. Perhaps all projects that can / should be scoped in full in advance of implementation should fall under IT, and those with a more ‘uncertain’ outcome should fall under the auspices of the new department, whatever it’s called.

What is clear (to me) is that the fact that a project / program / initiative involves either a computer, or software, does NOT automatically mean that it should come under the banner of IT. When the web was starting, the IT department appropriated web development simply because they knew one end of a computer from the other.

As Ross Pettit points out “IT has no definition on its own … it only has definition as part of a business”.

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