Monday, March 31, 2008

Research labs and innovation priorities in an IT organization

Earlier this month HP announced that HP labs is going to focus on 20-30 large projects going forward instead of focusing on large number of small projects. If you compare the top 10 strategic priorities for 2008 that Gartner announced late last year you would find a lot of similarities even though HP's projects are not necessarily designed to address only the short term priorities. Quick comparison:

HP : Gartner
  • Sustainability: Green IT
  • Dynamic Cloud Services: Web Platform & SOA + Real World Web
  • Information explosion: Metadata management + Business Process Modeling
“The steps we’re taking today will further strengthen Labs and help ensure that HP is focused on groundbreaking research that addresses customer needs and creates new growth opportunities for the company.”

The role of a traditional "lab" in an IT organization has changed over last few years to focus on the growth and value projects that strategically aligns with company's operational, strategic, management, and product innovation priorities. The researchers have been under pressure to contribute significantly to the efforts that are directly linked to the product lines. There are pros and cons of being research-oriented versus product-oriented and it is critical that researchers balance their efforts. I firmly believe that labs should be very much an integral part of an organization and anything that they do should have a direct connection to the organization.

“To deliver these new, rich experiences, the technology industry must address significant challenges in every area of IT – from devices to networks to content distribution. HP Labs is now aligned to sharpen its focus on solving these complex problems so HP and its customers can capitalize on this shift.”
Traditionally labs have been perceived a cool place to work where you can do whatever you want without any accountability towards company's strategy and this poses a serious credibility issues for some labs regarding their ability to contribute towards the bottom line. I agree that the research organization should be shielded from the rest of the organization or incubated to a certain extent to protect the disruption in the ongoing business and allow researchers to focus and flourish in their efforts but eventually the efforts should be integrated well into the organization with the stakeholders having enough skin in adopting, productizing, and possibly commercializing what comes out of a lab. Credibility of a lab in an organization goes long way since the product development organizations largely control what customers would actually use, at least in IT organizations. Many innovations that come out of a lab may not even see the light of day if the research organization does not have credibility to deliver what customers actually want. Innovation by itself is not very useful until it is contextualized with the customers' and users' needs to solve specific problems.


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