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

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.

"He hit a gold mine," says Shaygan Kheradpir, CIO at Verizon Communications Inc.

Kheradpir says the junior programmer's ability to run with an innovative idea wasn't a fluke; Verizon's IT shop is designed to enable that kind of innovation to happen again and again.

"The underlying mission for Verizon IT is to look for opportunities where IT can make a quantum leap in performance for the business," Kheradpir says.

IT leaders at other companies share Kheradpir's outlook. The keys to making innovation a sustainable process, they say, include understanding the business inside and out, setting up a team dedicated to trying new ideas, and not being afraid to fail.

Verizon Communications

For Kheradpir, innovation in IT is all about giving workers opportunities to see and develop ideas that they think can make a difference in the company's business, whether it's in product offerings, customer service or cost control.

But to do that, Kheradpir says, his staffers can't be isolated from the employees working in the company's other divisions. So he sends his teams into the field to see how their business-side colleagues do their jobs.

"You're going to dream a lot better stuff if you're side by side with the front line -- in the call center, in the stores, in the trucks, doing installations in people's homes," Kheradpir says. "That's where you see the real problems and opportunities. And that's where you can make a difference."

Indeed, the junior programmer who developed the click-to-order function had been riding around with a technician doing home installations, which gave him the opportunity to ponder how to make FiOS TV installations more effective.

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