2012 – A Year For Innovation

According to Wikipedia, Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas.  When thinking about a New Year’s resolution, I thought that making it a year of innovation would be perfect.

Think about this.  Is your job merely responding to the needs and wants of others?  Do you find yourself doing nothing more than responding to other people’s problems?  When was the last time you came up with a new idea, a new process, or a new technique that went beyond merely helping someone get their job done the same way that it has been done for months or even years?  When was the last time you were able to transform the way they do their job to save you or them time or money?

If you cannot remember, it has been too long.

Perhaps another way to look at this question is to ask whether management in your organization thinks of you, assuming they think of you at all, as merely someone who comes in and gets their job done, or do they look at you as an innovator coming up with new ways to do things that can save time and money.  Why is this important?  In an economy that is still struggling, management is always looking for ways to cut costs.  If you are not providing innovation to the organization, maybe they might just decide to outsource the work you are doing to someone else who can do it cheaper or faster and eliminate the overhead of your position.  That’s a scary thought.  So what can you do?

First, take a look at the job you are doing.  Is there a way you can do things better?  For example, if part of your job is to help other users with their problems using various systems in your organization, there are two ways to can change your job.  One way is to build better systems that are easier to use and have been tested more thoroughly so that they do not fail as often.  If you don’t have the ability or authority to make changes to systems, can you create a self-help on-line document that users can find their own answers?  Perhaps all you need is a Frequently Asked Questions page.  Maybe a SharePoint Wiki site could serve as a living, growing source of help for people’s questions.  Publishing an in-house newsletter with tips and tricks can also over time help people solve their own problems.  Consider that innovation means bringing to your company something that is new to them.  You can certainly learn from what other companies and people in your industry are doing and apply what you learned to your situation.  To the rest of your company, that is still innovation.  And who knows, maybe by using some of the things you learn from others, you will come up with your own twist on a technique or procedure that goes beyond what anyone else has done.  But you have to start somewhere.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to focus on helping others within our organization learn how to effectively use Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts.  I intend to show them how to analyze their own data rather than rely on reports that need to be coded by a developer assuming that development time can even be scheduled within a reasonable time frame.  Even though pivot tables and pivot charts have been around for several years, few people know how to use them.  Even fewer know how to use PowerPivot to create their own end-user business intelligence platform.  In fact, in the week before I left for Christmas vacation, I already laid the groundwork for one department to look at using PowerPivot tables to replace reports for one of their systems.  We will be meeting early in January to discuss this project. To help illustrate how pivot tables can change their world, I created a ‘sample’ database filled with ‘generated’ data in a SQL Server development system that I then imported into a PowerPivot table using Excel 2010.  I easily came up with over a dozen different views of their data by changing the dimensions I use for the columns and rows as well as switching the measures calculated in the body of the table all of which require no programming on the part of the ‘customer’.

Another resolution is to help more people in our organization build simple forms with InfoPath to collect data for applications rather than using one of the .NET languages to write application-based forms to collect data.  I’m not saying that application development is never needed.  However, for many simplier systems or in cases where people already have to fill in paper forms, the use of electronic forms can save time, validate entered data instanteously and avoid development backlogs to get the product to production sooner.  I’ve been in discussions with several groups to help them eliminate paper forms by going to Word and InfoPath forms to collect data.  By eliminating paper forms, we can make it easier to transfer information between people and processes.  We can eliminate the need to allocation floor space and buy additional file cabinets.  We can save time by making it easier to search for the completed forms using SharePoint search.  Of course, we also can reduce the amount of paper purchased and the cost of creating pre-printed forms.  And best of all most forms don’t require programming experience to develop.

Finally, I’m continuing with my resolution from last year to move people away from using folders with SharePoint libraries more than 2 levels deep.  I’ve made some progress in the past year, but not as much as I wanted.  This is a major paradigm shift for many people who have been trained over the years to store documents in nested folders.  However, I have a few ‘converts’ who are spreading the word to other departments that libraries with metadata make finding your information far easier than nested folders.

No other department in most organizations is in a better position to promote changes like the ones mentioned above than IT who is after all responsible for gathering, manipulating and reporting on data throughout the organization.  IT can use many of the tools they already have without having to buy anything new to turn raw data into knowledge to help management make decision.  In our case, the primary tools we need to use include Microsoft Office, SQL Server and SharePoint, all of which we already own.

If your IT organization can provide value to your organization and not just be a cost center, then management will look at IT and you as a valuable partner in its attempt to dig out of the current economic doldrums we all seem to be in.  IT can lead your organization out of the current recession by bringing innovation to all products, processes, services, technologies, and ideas.  Won’t you join me with your own resolutions this year to innovate?


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