I heard a great analogy from a client recently; buying new technology is like buying a new car – there are a lot of different strategies. Some people want a new car every couple of years and pay a premium to have it, some choose to lease so they get a new car every few years at a lower payment but they don’t own. Others buy new but plan to drive the wheels off their purchase. The problem is that IT wants to buy a nice reliable sedan and drive it for 200K miles, while some business units want to lease a SUV and others want a Ferrari. It’s an issue of misalignment, but in so many cases IT is not synching up with the business desire to innovate and differentiate with new technology.

Many architects and technology executives relate a cautious approach to introducing new, “bleeding edge” technology because they are in a very conservative business that doesn’t change that much. Ask them about the level of business investment in technology outside of IT, however, and they whistle. “Yup, that’s happening allot.”

Check out this data:

Fact: emerging information technology is everywhere and business spending on it is a juggernaut. The why is obvious – the business has money and it can. This isn’t likely to change anytime soon so it poses a deep issue for CIOs and their teams. Some are still trying to put a screetching halt to this, but many are adopting new approaches. Many firms I speak to are addressing this by creating “technology innovation” executives or teams. This may work, but in many cases it won’t because the fundamental issues of misalignment, missed dependencies, unrealistic expectations, and out of whack risk/reward postures are not addressed. Add to this the fact that everyone in IT wants to bring technology innovation to their business like a dog with a new bone and you have a mess. So what to do?

We think that enterprise architects have a key role to play because success requires linking business innovation with a deep understanding of the capabilities and limitations of complex new technology. Enterprise architects can be good at this; but just offloading innovation EA is a mistake too. Instead:

  • Stay abreast of the emerging technology landscape through research and hands-on evaluation. Don’t go convincing the business they need anything; create a watchlist instead, then kick the tires using an incubation lab.
  • Build trust with the various business teams who are innovating in pockets. Stop trying to kill shadow IT and embrace them. Help them satisfy burning needs and have answers to their problems.
  • Find hot business opportunities where the emerging technology you’ve been watching can have a big impact. Be ready to go on these very quickly, even if your architecture isn’t ready.
  • Help sponsors make a good risk/reward decision with the expectation that failure is possible but that it will be fast. Measure success as a portfolio versus against individual efforts.

These are just a few of the recommendations we make in our Emerging Technology playbook, a set of research reports and tools that help executives take advantage of the emerging technology juggernaut. For those of you that are clients, I hope you find it useful.

How are you taking advantage of emerging technology for innovation and growth? I’d like to hear.