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When innovation outpaces rules and regulations

Gavin Payne

Now more than ever citizens, employees and leaders are ready and happy to use the digital era’s newest capabilities.  Rule makers at every level in life need to be supporting innovation rather assuming the worst and trying to stall it – or worse banning it.


New solutions can’t be ignored

Whether it’s finding a cheap hotel room, checking email while on the move or analysing a business’s data – today’s latest solutions to common problems are radically different to those a few years ago.

In the digital era, being able to easily monetise solutions to common problems encourages people to create mobile apps that promise to change lives.  Many are interesting but few are truly great.  Getting an alert when there’s a raincloud nearby is a great way of avoiding a downpour but not a game changer for society.  Fortunately, there are solutions being created that do more than prevent wet socks.  They’re challenging how we’ve always done things and providing credible alternatives.  Others have been less tactful, making their strength and earning market share solely by not having their traditional competition’s weaknesses.

One of the commonly mentioned game changers is Uber.  The global company uses its smartphone app to connect a city’s “car drivers” to a city’s “car riders” – what we used to call taxi drivers and people wanting a taxi.  Uber are currently worth billions despite outsourcing most of what they do to local car drivers.  Their success however hasn’t been universally welcomed.  While their approach is innovative it often avoids the need to comply with local taxi laws.  It’s no surprise then that both local taxi drivers and local law makers haven’t been too happy.

We should welcome people ready to challenge how things have always been done

While some of their approach needs re-thinking, society should be encouraging and supporting Uber and their digital buddies.  We should welcome people ready to challenge how things have always been done and who are ready to innovate and make the world a better place.  Instead, Uber are mostly hitting the headlines because another capital city has banned them or taken a step closer to it.  You can’t ban innovation just because it doesn’t fit with your existing plans or ways of thinking.

Today’s rule makers

The power of innovation is increasingly un-stoppable. What cities should be doing is accepting the influence of innovation and helping their licensed taxi drivers adapt to a world where people prefer to hail a taxi using their smartphone rather than their right arm.  The benefits of successful creativity have become too addictive to allow innovators to worry about how things have always been done or upsetting the apple cart – they’re not going to slow down.

Change is
happening too
fast for the
rule makers

Often though, we find ourselves in a world where the first answer is no because the question isn’t understood – rather than researching the question and then making a decision.   Just a few years after Napster were quite rightly sued for their approach to using the internet to deliver music, the same music companies were back knocking on their door.  This time,  rather then trying to stall (the legal parts of) Napster’s thinking they were desperately trying to broker deals with online music providers once they accepted the internet was going to replace physical music media.  Their solution in the end was quite rightly to regulate the inevitable role of the internet in music distribution - not to ban it in an attempt to indefinitely protect their physical music sales.


No innovation should involve breaking laws, but Napster’s initial popularity should have been a valuable insight into how people’s music distribution preferences were starting to change.  Instead, it wasn’t really until a previously un-related company, Apple, launched the iPod that much happened.

Impacting IT strategy

These observations may feel un-related to an organisation’s IT strategy – or the rules about how IT operates within an organisation – but they shouldn’t and mustn’t.  Instead, IT organisations need to recognise that the pace of innovation around them is now, or soon will be, faster than more of their planning cycles.  The concept of having a three year detailed and all-encompassing IT strategy or outsourcing deal where nothing else can get considered are over.  (That kind of thinking is still about if you look for it.)  A close to home example is that anyone right now looking at renewing a three year licensing should be checking their cloud-use rights very closely.

Shadow IT – the stereotypical example of it being marketing using the company credit card to buy salesforce.com seats because IT can’t provide a modern CRM system – is here to stay.  Similarly, the consumerisation of IT is almost finished with employees having just about won.  IT leaders are also consumers so know what it’s like to overlook the latest and greatest, and stick with the out-dated.  Some old IT systems are great, but these are the hidden value engines back in the factory not those being shown in company brochures.  The bring your own device trend is demonstrates what’s happened at the front shiny end of the business.  Organisations are increasingly accepting they need to allow employees to use their own smartphones or provide equally as desirable handsets.  Alternatively, accepting the productivity-killing perception their employees will have of IT at a time when IT is trying to become a business transformation function.  Apply the same concept to analytics tools or CRM systems and we can see how the likes of Salesforce.com, Google Analytics and Tableau have often appeared in application portfolios by stealth.


Forward looking regulation and planning is the answer

So what does this all mean?

The era of being able to use a single strategic vendor for all an organisation’s software needs won’t last for much longer (it may if you’ve backed a vendor who likes buying smaller companies but you still need to adopt their new products). Competitive pressure often means businesses need what only the latest technologies can provide, which leaves no option but to adopt them.

Innovation is the new norm and the levels of disruption around us are only going to get higher.  IT planning and decision making needs to support and welcome this as well as accommodate it.  The approach should be to regulate the integration of new technologies into their environments – not reject them because they’re not on the three year plan.  Society’s rule makes need to get comfortable with regulating new ideas, not banning them because they challenge a few generations of stability.  Caution, rigour and assurance are needed as much as never, but that shouldn’t stifle productivity.

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