Cutter Consortium looks to unlock innovation

After years of cost-cutting, many CIOs are finding they're better able to contribute to business growth. But as companies look to invest more in their business operations, the trick for IT and corporate leaders is to figure out how to identify pockets of innovation in their organizations and leverage those opportunities for profit. With that in mind, Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter Consortium launched an innovation practice late last month. Computerworld's Thomas Hoffman recently spoke to Rob Austin, the leader of Cutter's new innovation practice and an associate professor at Harvard Business School in Boston, about what corporate execs should be doing.

What was the impetus for launching Cutter's innovation practice? Why now? It's kind of arisen by accident. We've been doing a research project at Harvard Business School since 1998, studying processes and practices used by innovators, from oil painters to drug researchers, designers, colorization guys in media, film directors, etc. There are some people who are pretty good at this thing we call innovation and we're looking to see if there are embedded management principles. There are, though most of these people wouldn't call them this.

As part of this, we've developed methods for assessing the degree to which people have the characteristics of these expert innovators. So when we go into these organizations, we interview the key innovators and managers and create these maps to show the various people in the organization and how teams exhibit these characteristics of expert reliable innovators. Companies are interested in looking at these maps and trying to figure out what they mean. That's given rise that there might be an interesting consulting practice here for executives who believe innovation is critical to creating business value.

The process we've put together has a component of figuring out what the organization's stated objectives are and doing a comparison of what they say they want to do and -- by evaluating these maps -- how ready they are and [how to put] together an action plan for filling the gaps that exist.

In some companies, senior managers and innovators are pretty well aligned. In other instances, they aren't.

Who are some of the advisors? Members of my research team are all listed as people involved with this [as well as] people I encountered through my travels in northern Europe from August 2005 to July 2006 where I studied how designers work. People like Paul Robertson, who is a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School who at one time was first violin for the Medici String Quartet. Daniel Hjorth, a northern European entrepreneur expert, who's also with the Copenhagen Business School.