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End-to-End IT Services and Innovation – Friend or Foe?

Are IT services and innovation incompatible?

Are IT services and innovation incompatible?

“IT services are great for efficiency, but I need a different model for innovation”. This is a common refrain when I discuss end-to-end IT services with CIOs. For many, IT service management originated with the operations team and it is still perceived as a way to deliver stable activities cheaply and at scale.

To innovate, many IT organizations want a separate group that has the freedom to generate disruptive ideas, and the skills and remit to work with parts of the business that don’t give the rest of IT time of day. Aside from the difficulties of structuring and staffing such a group, we think that separating services and innovation creates more problems than it solves. Here are three reasons why end-to-end IT services can be the friend, not the foe, of innovation:

1. Services Deliver Business Outcomes (Which is Exactly What Innovation Should Do)

Perhaps the most common pitfall for an IT innovation team is to start with an emerging technology then search for a business problem to solve. This is the wrong way around. End-to-end services are defined around business outcomes, not technologies, so service managers aren’t beholden to a given technology, and they have the incentives to drive the business outcome their service supports. Instead of spurning innovation in pursuit of service efficiency and stability, they have every incentive to encourage innovations that improve business outcomes.

2. Service Managers Are Ideally Placed to Support Innovation

I have argued before that it is unlikely that an IT team, however highly skilled or business savvy, will come up with a business innovation by themselves. They simply don’t know business operations or customers well enough. IT’s real role in innovation is to be close enough to innovators in the rest of the business to spot good ideas quickly and help them develop and scale. End-to-end IT service managers are well suited to this role. They have close relationships with the business stakeholders for their service and so can spot innovations almost at the moment of creation. And they have the autonomy and clout within IT to quickly ramp up a promising idea.

In a growing number of cases, groups outside IT will create and develop business innovations that involve technology. IT will only become involved if the innovation reaches a certain scale. In this situation, a simple way to manage the handover is to incorporate the innovation into the end-to-end IT service that supports whichever business outcome the innovation relates to.

3. Innovative Services Avoid the Build vs. Run Divide

Another common pitfall for IT innovation teams is that they create something that can’t be delivered reliably or efficiently. While we hear fewer stories these days about capabilities simply being “thrown over the wall” to the operations team, there remains a difference in incentives between those who develop new capabilities and those who run them. In the end-to-end IT services model, the service manager has both responsibilities and so avoid (or at least internalizes) this conflict. An end-to-end IT service manager isn’t going to build something that can’t be run, but nor is she going to resist or be wrong-footed when a new capability needs to enter production.

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