A decade or two ago, IT executives spent about 80 percent of their time on innovation: building new systems, strategies, and technologies to take their company forward. Today, they spend most of their time on maintenance and troubleshooting. Gone are the days when interviewers ask about your creativity and passion for innovation. Now they just want to know if you're okay putting in 80 hours per week in case the system goes down.

Things need to change. IT is the backbone of the organization (if you don't believe that, just let the network go out for a couple of hours), and they can be a valuable partner in taking the business into the future with the right technologies. What's stopping them? More importantly, how can the network administrator get back into the innovation game?

Steps to Brilliant Innovation in the IT Department Begin With Good Policies

You spent all that time finding and recruiting the right people. They're smart, creative, and savvy problem solvers. That means they won't be happy spending the rest of their careers maintaining the network and troubleshooting. They need to have a creative outlet.

Great innovation begins with the right policies. Are workers in your department rewarded for coming up with out of the box solutions to problems, or are they ridiculed for stepping outside the mainstream line of thinking? Bad policies crush innovation before it even sprouts. As the network administrator, make sure your policies and departmental mindset are conducive to the kind of innovative thinking that finds better ways to do things, as well as coming up with better things to do in the first place.

Give Them Time to Innovate

Do you have processes and procedures that could be automated to free up more time for creative thinking and problem solving? Make sure the budget allows for enough upgrades and improvements each quarter that progress can be made towards more automation and less labor-intensive processes. You must get rid of the maintenance work that consumes 80 percent of your workers' time before you can devote time and effort to innovation.

Develop Processes for Fostering Innovation

IT needs innovative solutions to the network infrastructure, how to tackle the organization's technical debt, and coming up with new technologies to push their companies into the future.

Innovation comes from brainstorming. The problem is, brainstorming produces more inferior ideas than great ideas (hence, we only have one Google and a boatload of Angry Birds and Candy Crushes). There needs to be an established process for evaluating, testing, refining, and perfecting ideas. Some innovative ideas take off and fly. Others need some pruning and reshaping to become viable. Still more need to be scrapped after they don't pass the testing process. Establish steps to take ideas through the processes to determine which is which, empower the good ones, and scrap the bad.

Finally, innovation needs to be rewarded. Even bad innovation needs a pat on the back. If you punish or fail to recognize innovative ideas (even the half-baked and poorly hashed ones), your true innovators will take their ideas and go somewhere else -- most likely to your competitors.

Have you got a great team of network specialists? If so, as the network administrator, you can provide them with good training and empower them to be innovative as well as industrious. You can begin now at our training section.