Innovation: How Environmentally Friendly can IT Be?

By Edward H. Baker  |  Posted 07-19-2006

Welcome to CIOInsight.com's new Innovation Center. Here we will aggregate research, case studies and analysis on the best in corporate innovation. It's a theme that runs through just about everything we do at CIO Insight. Case in point:

We recently completed the July issue of the magazine, which we called "The Green Issue," thanks primarily to the lead story, The Greening of the CIO. Written by Senior Writer Edward Cone, the story looks closely at the growing trend among corporations to embrace the environmental movement and save money at the same time.

As energy prices rise, along with the costs and risks of getting rid of old computers, monitors and other devices, it's getting more and more important to make such issues part of every company's strategic thinking.

But CIOs are not yet at the center of this green movement, we discovered; all too often, executives are too busy making sure the IT lights stay on and keeping pace with new business strategies. There is a growing number of leading-edge CIOs (and IT vendors), however, who are finding innovative ways to run their shops more efficiently, and prepare carefully for so-called "end-of-device-life" issues.

The key to success in being green, of course, is innovation, as it is with so much of what CIOs do for a living. Innovation isn't just about coming up with clever ideas for new products or more efficient business processes. Innovation is really a state of mind, a willingness to entertain new and sometimes radically different ideas and strategies, from both inside and outside one's direct experience, in pursuit of business success.

This month's Expert Voices interview, with M. Lynne Markus, a professor at Bentley College who has spent years researching ways companies can more tightly integrate their operations with those of their supply-chain partners, exemplifies that kind of thinking. Markus's research has led her to a business version of the Golden Rule: "Help your business partners, and they will help you."

Too many companies, she believes, operate their supply chains under the assumption that all the benefits of tighter integration should accrue to themselves. That's unproductive, in her view, and makes partner integration much more difficult to achieve.

Continental Airlines, the subject of this month's case study, has achieved success in a very troubled industry by pursuing similarly innovative thinking.

By investing in customer service at a time when its competitors were stripping flights of everything from meals to pillows, the company is finally on the verge of profitability.

There is risk in innovation. Some fresh ideas may not bear fruit for months or even years to come, and some not at all. But there is often greater risk in declining the challenge. Inertia is the great enemy of business success.