Does Your Company Need An Innovation Lab?

Is an innovation lab what your company needs to keep its edge?
Is an innovation lab what your company needs to keep its edge?
Image Credit: Amy

I’m hoping that the company that you work at is currently doing well. Now let’s talk about the future. None of us know what’s coming our way down the road and that can be just a bit scary. For firms that may not be in the high-tech sector, they understand the importance of information technology and they realize that change can happen almost overnight (think of the arrival of Uber) and they don’t want to get caught flat footed. What to do? One thing that a lot of CIOs at these firms are doing is setting up “innovation labs” in order to attract the best young talent and get to work on the problems that they are going to need to solve sooner rather than later.

What Is The Purpose Of An Innovation Lab?

No matter what your firm’s primary line of business is, taking the time to set up and establish an innovation lab can be done for a wide variety of reasons. A number of firms who establish labs like this choose to set their labs up out in either San Francisco or Silicon Valley. The reason that they do this is because this is where they are going to be able to find the technical talent that they’ll need to staff their labs. Additionally, their lab will be operating in an environment with other novel startups and they may be able to find other firms to work with.

A well-run innovation lab can serve to both develop technologies that the company can use as well as to create business strategies. The hope is that this will help the company to recruit new talent. When the lab creates a new innovation, the lab can be used as a place to showcase new technologies that the company is looking into. The goal is for the person in the CIO position to make these innovation labs look and feel like a startup. To accomplish this, they will often have brightly colored offices and will offer catered breakfast and lunches.

Having the person who has the CIO job create an innovation lab is all good. However, there is a fundamental question that is currently unanswered. Since most of the innovation labs that currently exist have only been around for a couple of years, the big question is if they can cause change. They are, after all, part of a much larger company and what everyone is hoping is that the change that the labs create can be applied to the bigger company and somehow create a change in how they go about launching new products.

Drawbacks And Challenges To Running An Innovation Lab

Creating a new innovation lab is not the way that companies always went around trying to bring innovation into their companies. Back in the old days, more often than not outside consultants were brought in to work on specific projects. This is all changing now. The outside consultants are on their way out and they are being replaced with teams of inside engineers. Part of the reason for this change is because CIOs are not only trying to keep up with the latest in new technology, but they are also trying to create a new identity for their company as being a cutting edge innovator.

Creating an innovation lab is generally considered to be a good idea. However, the way that the lab is created can have drawbacks When a lab is created outside of the flow of the main company in order to streamline its operations, this can end up causing problems. When an innovation lab is considered to be separate from the rest of the company, it can end up having very little power. This means that any innovations that it creates may not be able to find their way back into the company in order to influence how it operates.

There are alternatives to going to all of the effort of creating a full-sized innovation lab. Instead of doing this, firms can create a startup accelerator that they then staff with executives that have been given a six week break from their normal jobs to instead work on a single project. This short period of time allows the incubator to recreate the atmosphere of a startup and can break up any bureaucratic inertia that may have been created.

What All Of This Means For You

No matter what industry your company is involved in, there’s a good chance that at some point in time in the future there may be a technological innovation that occurs that changes the playing field. If your company wants to continue to thrive and survive then they are going to have to find a way to stay on top of all of the changes that are happening in their industry. In order to accomplish this, CIOs are setting up innovation labs.

These innovation labs are often located out on the West coast in either San Francisco or Silicon Valley. The offices are decorated in bright colors and they attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a start-up. The hope is that an innovation lab can provide the rest of the company with both new products and a new way of launching those products. Innovation labs are replacing the old way of bringing in outside consultants. However, you need to be careful to integrate the lab into the rest of the company. If a full innovation lab is too much for your company, the CIO can choose to just create a startup accelerator.

There are a lot of different ways to go about trying to stay up on changing technology. CIOs have a responsibility to make sure that their company does not get blind-sided by new technologies that could turn their industry upside down. By creating an innovation lab and then using what it creates, CIOs can make sure that no matter what industry they are in, they can be cutting edge!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: If you were to create an innovation lab, how would you go about measuring if it was being successful?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job, you’ve generally got a lot on your mind. You’ve got budget issues, staffing issues, working with other department issues and everything else that has to do with the importance of information technology. You really don’t have a lot of control over these things. However, there are some issues in your life that you’d like to feel that you do have control over. One such issue would be the quality of the software that your teams deliver. However, if you are like most of us, more often than you’d care to admit, all too often when your team ships new software out to the field, it doesn’t work correctly. Can’t someone do something about this for you?