Smart Enterprise Magazine

Volume 7, Number 3, 2013

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The common wisdom is that startups attract the most creative, innovative people. But creative, innovative people can be found in large companies, too — if you know where to look. Mann of CA Technologies advises CIOs to "embrace your inner rogue." Look for people who have gone around IT, he advises, people who solved an urgent business problem by, for example, using Software as a Service (SaaS) or developing a cloud-based application. Find out why they broke the rules, too. "These people usually have a good reason for going outside of the normal bounds," Mann says. Another approach is to encourage IT staff to be more entrepreneurial in their thoughts and actions. That's what Brian Lillie does as the CIO of Equinix Inc., a $1.9 billion (revenue) operator of 98 data centers around the world that connect more than 900 network operators. "We want ideas to come out of the everyday problems staff face," he says. The approach has delivered impressive results. When an Equinix engineer noticed recently that one of the company's data-collection platforms wasn't meeting the needs of the business, he asked Lillie for the time and resources to build a reference architecture on big data. The CIO agreed, and "the quality of the deliverable that came back to me was amazing," Lillie says. The engineer presented a detailed reference architecture that not only handled all the data, but also promised to save money. Equinix now plans to roll out the finished platform in the Americas by the end of this year. Lillie believes the platform will enable Equinix to stop using certain software and services, and that the resulting savings will exceed the cost of developing the platform. Lillie also keeps an eye on developments and ideas outside his company, constantly monitoring entrepreneurial innovations that Collaborate to Innovate How is innovation success measured at your company? I Strong Collaborators I Others By the number of ideas brought to life in the market or internally 49% 36% By the explicit business value added 46% 43% By the number of ideas generated 34% 19% Whether innovation spending is on budget 26% 17% Number of patents filed 22% 13% 0% 10 20 30 40 50 DATA: PwC, "5th Annual Digital IQ Survey," 1,108 IT leaders and business leaders worldwide, fall 2012. More than 75% of respondents work in organizations with annual revenue in excess of $1 billion NOTE: "Strong collaborators" are those who said that the CIO has a strong relationship (4.5 out of 5 or better across all relationship pairs) with members across the C-suite: CEO, CFO, CMO, CRO, CSO, CISO and business-unit leaders. "Others" are those with less than an aggregate score of 4.5 across CIO and C-suite relationships. 30 SMARTENTERPRISEMAG.COM threaten to disrupt enterprise IT. And he has a ringside seat, given that Equinix is based in Silicon Valley, ground zero for the IT startup culture. To get an inside look, Lillie has cultivated relationships with some of the local venture capitalists who fund innovative startups. He's also been surprised to discover that IT startups are actually eager to talk to enterprise CIOs like himself. "The No. 1 thing that a stealth company wants more than anything are customers it can learn from and ultimately reference," Lillie says. If Lillie finds a startup that is developing a product or service he thinks might help Equinix solve a business challenge, he signs on as a beta (or, in some cases, alpha) customer. "We've actually implemented solutions prior to their coming out of stealth mode," he says. "Their products have become a part of our infrastructure, and people are like, 'How the hell did you guys do that?'" Two Guys, Five Steps How can CIOs and their large IT organizations act more like startups? The key, say startup executives who have formerly worked for large enterprises, is to focus on five key areas: Promote ownership: Make a point of isolating and recognizing any individual's contribution to a project, advises Kriti Vichare, who left a marketing position at PepsiCo to found IdeaKube, a startup that organizes brainstorming and networking events. Startups can do this easily because, as Vichare adds, "You often own a very juicy chunk of a project, and if you don't complete your part efficiently and quickly, there's a chance the startup might fail. That vested interest really makes a big difference." Foster ideas: Make yourself more open to ideas from anywhere in the organization. Too often, corporate ideas start at the top and are then pushed down, even though senior executives are often far removed from "feet on the street." But at a startup, "if somebody has a great idea, you just get together in the conference room and talk about it," says Greg Fell, who this past April left his job as CIO of Terex, a $7 billion (revenue) construction-equipment manufacturer with some 23,000 employees, to become Chief Strategy Officer for startup Crisply, which develops automated time sheets. Foster new products, too: Too often, mid-level managers pitch an idea for a product to senior management; if it's approved, the company takes six months to build it, "only to realize at the end that their customers don't want it," Vichare says. Startups are by nature closer to customers; many follow the methods recommended in Eric Ries' book, The Lean Startup (Crown Business, 2011). They constantly test and tweak their product based on customer feedback. Best-of-breed IT: Enterprise IT tends to look for big tools from big vendors, while startups take a step-by-step approach, solving each problem with a best-of-breed tool and then stitching solutions together via an open architecture. "We think about how to put tools together in an effective coalition, versus just buying an enormous tool that'll probably do everything for us," Fell says. Fail carefully: Failure is an important component of innovation (see sidebar, p. 29), but that's a lot easier at a startup than it is at most large enterprises. That's why Fell, while still CIO at Terex, created IT "sandboxes." These were experimental labs, walled off from corporate enterprise systems and freed from standard processes and procedures. In fact, it was in such a sandbox that Terex developed a new application for Google Glass. Not exactly two guys in a garage, but pretty innovative nonetheless. I TAM HARBERT is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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