To break IT bottlenecks, try user-driven innovation

Your company's cubicles are filled with hidden IT assets. It's time to let them do the IT work you never get to

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System enhancements, on the other hand, have not required much attention. We're very good at enhancements. If we bothered to construct metrics around such things, most IT shops would have an enhancement success rate of roughly 100 percent. So long as we have some formal process for submitting requests and managing the queue, we're in fine shape.

But what have we been doing about the small stuff? Bupkis. And here's where UDI comes in.

Reducing the friction between IT and business

When you encourage UDI, you're transforming your users into their own processing lines, vastly increasing IT's throughput -- its capacity for deploying technical solutions to business challenges. In particular, UDI can dramatically increase IT's capacity for the small stuff. In fact, it's perfect for it. Here's why:

IT has to handle both the big stuff and most enhancements. It has to be IT, because the big stuff and enhancements both deal with massive, complex systems. Nobody but IT staff should muck around in there. Luckily, nobody other than IT staff will want to do so.

The small stuff is different. While some of it would benefit from interfaces into one or more massive, complex systems, quite a lot of it can be created outside of them.

Small stuff pays off handsomely relative to the investment, too, and with very little risk. And as a lot of supervisors and middle managers want some, IT's inability to do very much of it is an ongoing source of friction between IT and the rest of the business.

Case study in not sweating the small stuff

Just to create a sense of scale, imagine we're talking about a company with 1,500 employees, $1 billion in yearly revenue, and $100 million in pre-tax income.

We'll postulate that a typical "small stuff" effort shaves off five hours a week for each of three workgroup members trying to take care of business. That's 15 staff hours a week multiplied by an average fully loaded cost per employee of, say, $30 per hour; the project has saved the company close to $25,000 per year.

Imagine this hypothetical project required the efforts of three IT developers for six weeks. Figure each developer costs $50 per hour in fully loaded costs. Do some arithmetic and it turns out the resulting system costs the company $36,000, paying for itself in a year and a half. Or, if you like, imagine the system lasts three years. In round numbers, that means the $36,000 investment has returned $75,000: an ROI of more than 100 percent. Not bad.

All that's left is to multiply the benefits of handling a single workgroup's small stuff by the number of workgroups that want said small stuff from IT. If a company that size has 100 workgroups that qualify, the total investment would be $3.6 million, yielding a total three-year pre-tax benefit of $7.5 million, or $2.5 million per year.

For a company with $100 million in pre-tax income, that's an attention-getting number.

The real benefits of user-driven innovation

The problem with the above case study is that it doesn't work that way. Unless the workgroups employ hourly workers who go home when they have nothing to do, all that happens is that the company has less work for the same number of employees.

Don't give up. The small stuff provides very real benefits. They're just as legitimate, even if they are harder to get a handle on. They include the availability of these employees for other responsibilities or, alternatively, a 12.5 percent increase in workgroup capacity; the company can grow enough to add that much to the group's workload without having to increase staff. Add to that, almost certainly, fewer errors in the work. Errors, also known as defects, can be terribly expensive, especially if they become visible to paying customers.

These are significant benefits. But they aren't benefits that can be seen in any of the company's financial statements.

Here's what's particularly beautiful about this: They don't have to be -- user-driven innovation is mostly hidden inside each department or workgroup. All we have to do is (1) allow it; (2) encourage it; and (3) provide a modicum of support in the way of recommended tools and training.

In exchange, company gears will shed lots of sand, and the business as a whole will run that much more smoothly.

This story, "To break IT bottlenecks, try user-driven innovation," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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