IT innovation: How to avoid being a one-hit wonder

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How top IT organizations come up with bright ideas, time after time

There were no big brainstorming sessions, rah-rah team meetings or executive committees convened to devise a plan to drive FiOS TV customers away from using call centers in favor of self-service ordering, the more cost-effective option.

Instead, a junior programmer came up with the idea to build a click-to-order option that viewers could use instantly with their remotes. The programmer approached his manager and got the OK to build a prototype, which he delivered within months.

The click-to-order feature, which started rolling out in 2007, boosted self-service orders from 5% to 55% in just one month, cutting costs and inspiring click-to-order uses in other areas of the FiOS lineup too.

However, Kheradpir acknowledges that an IT organization has to do more than allow inquisitive programmers insight into operations if it wants to capitalize on breakthrough ideas.

To that end, Verizon has established a way to follow up on innovative proposals, he says. Workers are encouraged to take their ideas to their supervisors, who are expected to help build on them. If it looks like an idea could work, the process keeps going. Workers form partnerships with their connections on the business side, and they develop plans with milestones that allow the team to learn and correct as they go.

"We ask, 'Tomorrow, 8 a.m., what are we going to do different? What are you going to show me next week? So we give them a little bit of leeway and see what they can do," Kheradpir says. "So through this process, if they keep going and we see some proof of concept and we see it's a big idea, we start to give more resources and really blast out the thing."

Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

As part of her job as chief technology officer at Harrah's Entertainment, Katrina Lane oversees a small team of workers who make up the casino operator's innovation group. Lane says this seven-person team looks at the latest technology to figure out whether any of it can further the Las Vegas company's business goals.

This innovation group, which Lane says has only a modest budget, is not expected to calculate investment paybacks or develop business requirements. Its charge is to figure out whether a technology is worth pursuing.

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