Future-proofing with technology petting zoos

If as a child you loved the feeling of being swarmed by baby animals at the fair, keep reading because the concept may be coming to an enterprise IT shop near you.

In the world of BYOD, product recommendations bubble up from the masses, forcing the CTO’s office to review the most innovative products from the top down and from the bottom up. This turns the CIO’s role as future-proofer on it’s head; the future  now comes from the edge of the enterprise, as well as the center.

The organizational tradeoffs of what could be called Bring Your Own Innovation (BYOI) strategies cannot be underestimated. CIOs around the world get agida just thinking about the dozens of apps sitting on the mobile devices of tens of thousands of users across their companies. Ironically many of those apps might be extremely useful to that user despite the mother-ship’s inability to vet them before download.

CIOs either have the unenviable task of serving as IT Interpol, or they embrace innovation from the periphery. Even better, they can come out from the shadows and actively promote the latest technologies, coming from internal and external sources.

The most obvious way to do this is by starting a “new products” section on the company intranet, with links and pictures. But, as kids know, there’s nothing like that feeling of touching the horns of the baby goat or knocking on the shell of the box turtle — and that’s where the technology petting zoo comes in.

These events can take all kinds of forms. A “gadget guru” colleague and I once hosted one at a major media company designed simply to introduce employees to the latest technologies for gift giving during the holiday season. Technology and accessories included bluetooth speakers, hot new digital photo devices, cool mobile apps, tech-friendly backpacks, consumer drones and handheld LCD projectors.

At the end of the 2-hour session, we had to pry the participants away from the technology and give them links to where to buy them for themselves or family members. Corporate HR evaluations showed that this was one of the most enjoyable and interactive “training sessions” the company had.

I’ve seen successful programs at public libraries. For example, Bloomington, Indiana, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Palo Alto, California, have used this platform with success.

And Lewis Richards, my research colleague at Leading Edge Forum, has developed a very successful model, the LEF Experience Lab. As seen in this video and case study, LEF assembles and delivers a mobile and customized collection of the most relevant edge and cloud technologies to a particular audience. LEF then works with clients to apply the technologies.

As Richards describes it, “Our goal is to spur, identify and nurture the next generation of double-deep digital leaders, help clients see how quickly exciting new things can be done with today’s plug-and-play technologies, and engage IT professionals in front-of-the-firm digital innovation.”

A great idea — and a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Is your firm developing “petting zoos” or internal “technology fairs” to better brand enterprise IT, reinforce the importance of double-deep skills and bring innovation from the outside-in?


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