How enterprise IT gets creative

Creativity is the driving force in top-tier organizations. Here's how five are capturing opportunities for innovation and pulling in fresh new ideas.

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The group is purely focused on driving profitable growth, says Michael Fergang, CIO: "Every group has goals for continuous improvement, but we focus on new technologies that will help Grange differentiate itself in the marketplace." Because of their business acumen, Grange's technologists are in a prime position to link new technology trends with new opportunities, according to Fergang. "The business can't envision what can be done, because by themselves, they can't imagine the applicable technologies," he says.

Because of this skunk-works-type approach, passion is a requirement, Fergang says. "We will never have the capacity to support the demand," he says. "It takes the ingenuity of the individuals and their managers to reshuffle their work. We're not Google, where people get every fifth day to innovate."

How is the innovation group staffed?

Equinix: Rather than appointing someone as "the innovation guy," Lillie says, "we try to hire creative, idea-generating people." For instance, job candidates are asked during the interview process how they would solve particular business problems.

American Cancer Society: The organization's innovation steering committee includes senior leaders from marketing, operations, mission delivery and corporate communications. "I'm the only IT representative, and that was key to showing this wasn't just IT doing new things but a commitment to impacting the organization," Ferro says. Meanwhile, the core innovation team includes just three people, with an additional dozen or so employees from diverse functions and geographic areas rotating in and out of the group, each serving about a year.

"These are folks who live with functions like fundraising and the advocacy mission every day," Ferro says. "That diversity is one of the secret sauces to innovation." Workers from the rank and file, he says, tend to offer more radical ideas, while executives can be more risk-averse. The trick is capturing the best of both worlds, Ferro says. That means securing unquestioned support for innovation from the CEO on down. "That is a core tenet of innovation at ACS," he says.

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