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The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward

Focusing on near-term benefits stalls business innovation.

"Our outlook is shifting from: 'What emerging technologies can we implement?' to 'Which ones will deliver results in the next 6 to18 months?' There are simply not enough resources and funding to look beyond that period."

Sound familiar?

It's one of the more common complaints from our CIO members of Gartner's Executive Program. What it means is that today's needs are scorching tomorrow's innovative possibilities. But it doesn't have to be that way. Some CIOs manage to have their cake and eat it too. These CIOs work with the business executives to link innovative technologies to "persistent" business needs. Persistent business needs are the deep-set challenges and opportunities facing every business.

If yours is a business that depends on growth, then the problems and opportunities of growing revenue, attracting and retaining customers, opening new markets and channels, introducing new products and services for your enterprise are persistent problems you have to face year after year.

Or perhaps yours is a brand-driven company. If so, how to protect the value of your brands, their meaning and their integrity is a long-term issue.

Maybe capital is your issue. What are your investment and working capital requirements to run the business? How can you reduce your working capital, reduce your invested capital requirements or put capital investments in the right place?

These and other issues are persistent because they define the nature of the business and are only ever totally solved by shifting the entire business paradigm, which surfaces a new set of persistent needs.

You're probably thinking: This could be the perfect example of the cure being worse than the illness. Obviously, addressing persistent business needs isn't easy. Meeting these challenges and seizing these opportunities requires more than point solutions. But over time, a focus on persistent business needs can be a source of significant innovation and improvement, and a valuable framework to investigate emerging technologies.

Persistent business needs drive early identification of high-value technologies. Persistent business needs give a clear view of the goal, the constraints that have to be removed, and the ability to identify best practices from other industries. Used properly, a focus on persistent business needs is a catalyst for innovation.

Incorporating persistent business needs into your technology-planning process involves an evolution of focus, not a revolution of process. Scan for potential technologies based on persistent business needs. Collaborate with the business to select the technologies that best address those needs. Develop pilots and invest in high-potential technologies.

Use a framework to manage the technology-planning process. Most technology-planning groups follow a process to identify, evaluate and implement emerging technologies. Any such process should seek alignment with business objectives by engaging the business in the discovery process. Framing technology evaluations in terms of how the technology fits the need keeps the focus on outcomes - what has to change, not the details of how it needs to change.

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