I liked this post by Navi Radjou on “Why Indian CIOs Excel at Driving Business Innovation“.  Navi suggests two reasons for this proclivity for IT-driven innovation:

1. Indian CIOs are obsessed with IT/business alignment.

2. Indian CIOs are effective at orchestrating innovation networks.

While I don’t disagree with these factors, the research we recently completed on Reaching Level 3 Business-IT Maturity (Level 3 maturity correlates strongly with an IT capability that excels at driving innovation) points to another reason – one that I believe is an even stronger factor.

In most mature, Western organizations, a “core” computing capability has evolved over 40 to 50 years.  This core includes the basic IT infrastructure, plus the primary transactional systems that run the business.  The way this core has evolved has left most companies with an extremely fragile and complex IT environment.  (I referred in my previous post about the spaghetti mess underneath my home-office desk – that’s the result of natural technology evolution for just a single user in a trivially simple IT environment – I see that as a personal testament to the huge challenge my enterprise CIO clients face with their billion dollar infrastructures serving tens of thousand of people and, perhaps millions of customers!) For many (most?) CIO’s, the core consumes 80% or more of the IT budget, and most of the IT resources.  All of this is necessary to “run the business” but typically does not satisfy the need to innovate.  Innovation happens “at the edge” where things are not locked down and complex, where people are free to collaborate and experiment without putting the key systems that run the business at risk.  The problem is, this “edge: needs access to core data, and to potentially other IT assets – and there lies the rub.  The “locked down” core limits what can be done at the “open and innovative” edge.  And most of the IT resources that should be working on the edge, are instead consumed by the core. 

However, our research found that in India, a couple of conditions existed that did not typically exist in the West.

  1. The “core” IT infrastructure and transactional systems in large Indian companies are much younger than those commonly found in Western companies.
  2. Rates of growth are so high that enterprises have little choice but to “blow up the core” every few years and start over.  Edge activity can readily take place alongside, or indeed as part of core activity.
  3. There is a mindset (probably fostered by 1 and 2 above) that values innovation to the point that current constraints are not seen as real limitations – more as opportunities for renewal.

I think there are important lessons to be learned from these quirks of industrialization, globalization, and timing.  I will explore this theme in coming posts.