Sirius Business Optimization Services Practice Director Joseph Lagerstrom, and Senior Solution Architect Makarand Kulkarni, share their thoughts on what holds companies back from innovating, stifling their ability to survive in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Read Ann Sheridan’s interview with them (which was originally featured in IBM Middleware Conversations) below.

Fifty years ago the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time. Innovation and disruption are top of mind for leaders across all industries as companies strive to continually reinvent themselves.

Joseph Lagerstrom, Software Solution Services Practice Director and Makarand Kulkarni, Senior Solution Architect, both from Sirius Computer Solutions, share their thoughts on what holds companies back from innovating, stifling their ability to survive in today’s hyper-competitive environment.

Ann: What things do you see today that are stopping innovation?

Joseph: I’d say these are the top five things:

  1. Corporate culture – either an attitude of ‘not invented here’ or an overall culture that doesn’t expect or foster innovation
  2. Cultural barriers between IT and the lines of business
  3. IT gaining internal buy-in
  4. Hesitant leadership
  5. Over-taxed resources – every organization I’ve worked with struggles with this.

Ann: What about lack of funding? Isn’t that on the list for what stops innovation?

Joseph: Definitely. IT funding these days comes from business initiatives, at least anything that counts as innovation. If business stakeholders have not bought into IT’s ability to help them innovate, there won’t be any funding for IT to go innovate on their own. At Sirius, we have found that lines of business can and will get behind initiatives, even if it requires big funding. But they need to see a plan that shows incremental return. If IT can show an immediate return, even if small, they can secure funding.

Makarand: The key here is the phased adoption strategy of tools and products that will deliver value. There are many products that can be used to speed the delivery of solutions to market, like IBM Integration Bus, IBM API Management on the cloud and IBM Digital Experience. By using these types of solutions and delivering business value quickly, the project justifies itself.

Ann: What do you mean by hesitant leadership?

Joseph: Innovation involves taking some risk. The goal that you have to keep in mind, though, is that innovation is about disrupting the market, not being controlled by what your competition is doing. So by its nature, innovation is risky and disruptive. I believe the expectation and desire to innovate needs to come from the top. So if leadership is hesitant about innovation, if they don’t expect or believe that it can be done, or if they are adverse to risk and disruption, it will kill innovation.

Makarand: Many of our clients are innovative leaders that come from both the IT and the business areas. When innovation is embraced by both sides, it is something really powerful.

As an example, we are working with a client around IBM’s API Management solution, which lets clients extend their business outside their enterprise to other partners. Those partners can in turn offer their customers these services. This allows companies to monetize their APIs to reach additional customers and generate incremental revenue.

Ann: Can you say more about ‘overtaxed resources’? In the face of constrained resources, what can be done? 

Joseph: Overtaxed resources are always a challenge. The most effective organizations I’ve witnessed are using a strategic approach. They are freeing up some of their internal resources from more mundane tasks, and taking some of their more experienced people plus some outside help that has been down the road before, and they are creating a rapid learning and rapid adoption environment for new tools. And this is certainly the case with advanced tools like IBM Middleware where it’s a collaborative effort to make that happen. And of course the whole idea behind middleware and tooling such as that is to reduce the load and make the enterprise more efficient, so resources are focused less on basic connectivity and upgrades and more on innovating their business.

Makarand: If you are trying to drive strategic initiatives within an organization, the key is to develop a competency center within the organization – a team that is focused on newer technologies.

Ann: How can an enterprise create a culture that fosters innovation?

Joseph: If you look at some of the new areas like DevOps, things like this can drive a change in culture from a traditional development approach to a more agile, collaborative approach. Another example might be making an organizational change at the same time you start using the public cloud. Things like IBM Bluemix can be used for DevOps in both the private and public cloud environments to fundamentally change the way applications are developed.

Makarand: From a technology standpoint, it’s a matter of addressing the challenges with the right tools and skills. Our recommendation is to match up your internal resources with some external skilled consulting and bring in flexible software tools. This can prove to be a fast on-ramp to innovation vs. starting from zero.

To hear more thoughts on things that can kill innovation, visit our IT, Uncensored – Insights from the front lines site, or view the video below.