How IT can help make more room for innovation
Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent couldn’t have said it better when he recently mentioned that “innovation is becoming the spearhead of competition – at a regional level, on a national level, and for companies. How to deal with that challenge will determine the destiny of competiveness for all players.”
This statement, that could certainly govern the universal truth behind the role that technology can play today for the business. But before we get there, let’s take a brief look at how this region fares in the innovation game in general. The signs are encouraging.
Innovation by the numbers
According to the recent Global Innovation Index 2012 (GII): Stronger Innovation Linkages for Global Growth- published by INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), for the second year running, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates lead the Middle East in overall innovation performance.
While the list of overall GII top 10 performers has changed little from last year with Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore leading, the GII report also includes 15 economies from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), of which two—Qatar (33rd) and the United Arab Emirates (37th) —rank among the top 40 overall and rank in the top 20 on several pillars.
At the pillar level, Qatar ranks 14th, 8th and 19th among 141 countries in Human capital and research, Business sophistication and Creative outputs respectively. Similarly, the UAE shines in Infrastructure, Business sophistication and Creative outputs where it ranks 17th, 16th and 20threspectively.
Other MENA countries managed to secure high rankings in several pillars. For example, Oman scored a high 33rdposition in Institutions, Saudi Arabia ranks 36th in market sophistication and first in MENA. Similarly, Bahrain’s human capital and research ranks 18th overall, second only to Qatar in the region. In Knowledge and technology outputs, Lebanon comes first in MENA at position 48 overall.
Technology needs to finds its space
While the report may have largely focused on innovation as a result of improvements in institutional frameworks, skilled labour force and deeper integration with local and global investment and trade markets, the GII 2012 report’s knowledge partners including Alcatel-Lucent, Booz & Co and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), certainly cement the value for bringing technology into the innovation play ground.
What this simply means is that as we improve the way innovation is measured, we need to capture an environment which is context-driven, problem-focused and interdisciplinary. Quite rightly, the 2012 variables were broadened in an effort to find the right mix which captures innovation as it happens today. So how can we define the value of technology in this very mix?
That’s perhaps the biggest question for organisations and the driving mandate for CIOs in the industry today. Let’s face it – while technology may have for long been the backroom success, the alignment of IT with the business is paving the way for the CIO to assume a more front-end role as a champion of new ideas for business.
Can IT help change the innovation destiny?
We believe it can. While this certainly means great news for the tech savvy organizations, it also represents the classic challenge. With typically over 70% of IT departments consumed in support and maintenance, how do they prevent innovation from falling through the cracks? The answer it appears, according to a recent survey I executed with 150 IT decision makers and heads across UAE in association with HP Software, is by leveraging automation to gain better time to value and move resources from maintenance to more business-lead projects that drive innovation.
In trying to understand what the major barriers to entry were for CIOs, the survey found that most organisations are being challenged by the fact that IT was spending most of its time fire fighting with little time for innovation. Manual processes that are prone to error and the lack of prioritisation of tasks are also adding to the problem.
Another important outcome of the survey was also about understanding how customers expect to add value and improve their organisations. 38% said that they wanted to do so by automating IT processes, 32% focus on playing a more proactive role, 14% were pegging their contribution to Performance-based indicators while 16% are pushing for proper prioritisation of IT and business alignment projects and reduction in Capex
In my opinion, backed by customer input, the results from the survey dovetail perfectly into the point we started out with and most importantly set the agenda for many a discussion during GITEX TECHNOLOGY WEEK 2012. For innovation to be truly effective, we cannot underestimate the role that IT management will play in helping organisations strike the balance between maintenance and innovation value. Similarily, we can’t forget that our up-coming week with technology is less about IT and more about the forces that will shape the industry in the months to come.