In our Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey, Q4 2011, 79% of business executive respondents said that technology will be a key source of innovation for their company, while 71% said that it will be a competitive differentiator. So how well positioned is IT to help firms meet these expectations? Forty-six percent thought that their current IT organization was not well positioned to meet these needs, and 41% thought IT was overly bureaucratic.

I could go on with more data, but the message is clear — business is starving for technology to help it be more innovative, create market differentiation, and lower costs. In the midst of this, IT is mired in a technology mess created by years of underinvestment and business growth by acquisition. What’s going to happen?

The thing I want you to remember is something a client said to me not too long ago that stuck with me, “Starving people will find food.” So the question is: do we feed our starving business or tell them to stay on a diet? And if the latter, what will be the impact if they go scavenging the countryside? We think the answer involves flexibly and rapidly introducing new technology to take advantage of strategic opportunities, while still protecting data, mission-critical applications, and our most precious TCO reduction goals.

Over the last few months I’ve been piecing together Forrester’s agile technology introduction framework to help our clients do just this, and will be unveiling it at my talk on Agile Technology Innovation at the 2012 CIO/EA Forum in Las Vegas on May 3 and 4, and in Paris on June 19 and 20. In advance of that, I wanted to provide a sneak peek at its major components:

  • Watch. Industry and market trends, business capability gaps, and ideas are continuously monitored in a unified fashion and result in the development of a technology watch list that has enterprise visibility. The secret is not to do too much early — just watch, look for opportunity, and keep everyone in the know.
  • Fit. Once opportunities are spotted, such as a project need, or an infrastructure cost reduction play, the Fit activity involves evaluating how the technology plays within your current environment and developing a flexible plan.
  • Incubate. Not every watched technology will immediately be ready for sponsorship, even with a good plan. Incubate makes the funding and technical environment ready to conduct proofs of concept, or pilots to ensure that new technology capability, cost, and risk are acceptable for investment. Incubate and Fit can be done in parallel and/or iteratively.
  • Sponsor. Ultimately, new technology must be funded to introduce a production capability and return value. The goal of Fit and Incubate is to do enough to justify sponsorship, where somebody who controls resources agrees to the risk in return for the potential reward.
  • Measure and adjust. The framework does not end in sponsorship. The impacts of decisions to invest in new technology must be quantified and fed back into budgets, road maps, and the watch list. Assumptions about risk must be monitored and fed into implementation plans as well.

The framework is designed to be agile because the time from watch to sponsor can be really short if the case is strong and the risk is acceptable, or longer if the best approach is a future project on the road map. Fit ensures that your plan accounts for current state challenges, strategic road maps, and technology simplification goals, while providing flexible ways to enable new technology. Incubate ensures that there is a clear and fast path to the resources to prove ideas and understand the risk.

At the end of the day, it’s about moving from processes that slowly create only bulletproof solutions (because we are averse to risk) to ones where we move fast, are free to change direction, talk frankly with the business about risk and reward, and ultimately make the right decision.

Looking forward to your feedback here or at the forum.