What’s the Most Innovative Thing You’ve Done in the Past 12 Months?

“Innovation is anything, except business as usual.”(Anonymous)


A favorite question I reluctantly yet inquisitively ask IT leaders and practitioners whenever they mention the word innovation is: what is the most innovative thing you’ve done in the past 12 months? ...past 24 months?  Anything?  Ninety nine percent of the time the response includes a pause and a blank stare.


So, why the long pauses and blank stares?


You’d think that it would be an easy question to answer, considering that innovation is the lifeline of the information age and key enabler of the current knowledge based economy. Truth is innovation is embedded in every corner of our society –as it’s fundamentally transforming how we work and play. In the world of IT, the transformational power of innovation has been more subdued and controlled –I might dare claim that “innovation” has NOT been a top priority for IT organizations –but it should be. To illustrate this point, let’s look at one area of IT that may need some innovation: data protection and recovery, specifically backups.  Backups have been around for as long as we’ve had computers and data to store and protect. Yet it seems IT departments still struggle to implement a cohesive backup plan, but why when there are a myriad of solutions to address this problem (albeit at varying costs, levels of complexity and capabilities).


Why are backups a perennial problem?


In my opinion, there is nothing inherently problematic with backups –it’s just that backups have changed dramatically over the past decade while the solutions in the IT toolkit have remained stagnant. The anatomy of the contemporary backup is very different than it was a few years ago (See table 1)

Table 1.

In other words, while the amount of data and operational complexity continues to increase exponentially, IT continues to apply the same solutions as it did a decade ago.

• In the best of circumstances backups work fairly well–in despite of their clumsy, costly and burdensome operational overhead

• In the worst (and most) of circumstances backups are an expensive problem and liability, known to consume lots of IT resources and furthermore data is still at risk. And when data is at risk the business is at risk.


The most diligent IT departments have resolved the backup problem but the most innovative IT departments have ALSO resolved their disaster recovery (DR) challenge, enabled agile test and development, and have set the foundation for effective virtualization of their IT infrastructure. In the end, isn’t that the spirit of innovation?


To solve age old problems in new and innovative ways and at the same time set the foundation for new ways to create and deliver value to the enterprise.


Maybe IT won’t be a cradle of innovation relative to product development or engineering, but it can definitely be ahead of the curve when tackling legacy problems with innovative solutions. There is not much we can do about the past, but there is an opportunity to create a realistic innovation roadmap, perhaps next time you hear the word “innovation” you can talk about the great and innovative things that you plan to do in the next twelve months -exploring and considering new ways to do backups could be an auspicious start.



PS: Innovation facts/resources:

  • Want to share your innovation stories with us? For more information visit: http://www.netapp.com/us/company/our-story/innovation-awards/innovation-awards.html
  • Hungry to read about innovation? There are over 17,000 books (Amazon) with the word “innovation” as part of their title
  • If you live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are fortunate to be in the highest ranked geography for “regional innovation capacity” according to the “Innovation Index”