Kim Stevenson is VP and CIO at Intel, a company whose name has become synonymous with innovation. I asked her recently if she believes that innovation is a top-down strategy or a bottoms-up process. Here’s a brief summary of her reply:
“Strategy and process are not mutually exclusive. They co-exist, and they both serve the same purpose: helping the company execute on its business plan. That’s why I don’t like it when people say that ‘IT is aligned with the business.’ That’s a weak expression. IT is part of the business. IT is everywhere in the company, helping the business execute its strategy and achieve its objectives. When innovation is part of the business strategy, IT is right there, helping company execute.”
I really appreciate Kim’s frank response. From her perspective, the idea of separating strategy, execution and IT doesn’t make sense. IT is part of the company and it plays a crucial role in executing company strategy.
IT’s role isn’t achieving alignment with the business – IT’s role is helping the business achieve its objectives and accomplish its mission.
When innovation is required, IT supports that innovation. When pure execution is required, IT makes it happen. The relationship between IT and the business is both simple and powerful: work together, get it done.
“The business creates the space for people to think creatively,” says Kim. “The Intel culture has a high tolerance for risk. That’s one of the reasons we are innovative. But our innovations are driven by our business plans. Our plans are strong, and that strength empowers us to innovate successfully.”
If strong business plans are a prerequisite for successful innovation, I think it’s fair to say that weak business plans would make it awfully difficult for a company to pursue an innovation strategy with any real hope of success.
Here’s the net takeaway from my conversation with Kim: Innovation starts with business strategy – you cannot innovate in a vacuum. The idea of separating innovation, business strategy and execution is a non-starter because they are truly inseparable, and inextricably bound together in the modern enterprise.