Fueling the Innovation Ecosystem

This year marks the 127th anniversary of Thomas Edison's modern light bulb -- the familiar incandescent filament in a glass bulb. Introduction of the modern light bulb on Oct. 21, 1879 was a milestone event, a product of Edison's laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J. Considered to be the world's first research and development lab, Edison’s Menlo Park compound was nothing more than a couple of two-story wooden buildings surrounded by white picket fence. Yet, within those humble confines, Edison and his team invented many practical innovations we're still using today.

Collaboration and focus on innovation -- hallmarks of Edison’s team -- are needed today in the information technology (IT) business. For IT companies, collaboration has increasingly become a critical piece of the innovation puzzle. A united, dedicated effort from key players can fuel the development of open standards and technologies, readily available to all, which combines to make a veritable innovation ecosystem.

In any collaboration, success relies on participation. A flexible, powerful IT environment based upon open standards and interoperability is the foundation of an on demand business and fundamental to customers' ability to transform into dynamic, responsive organizations.

More than that, however, an open environment spurs valuable collaboration within the ecosystem and provides a springboard for cutting-edge technologies. The guiding principle: by enriching the ecosystem and fostering it as a place for ideas to be exchanged, inventions can be tested, relationships can be created, and everyone benefits.

In support of this vision, the entire IT business ecosystem needs to understand and contribute. For example, if academia is the training ground of tomorrow's workforce, students need to have the access to information. Governments need to take steps to foster, not hinder, innovation. Because developers have the power of choice, they need to select open, integrated platforms instead of proprietary solutions.

IT leaders play a significant role by connecting the various players with one another, fostering new kinds of symbiotic relationships. IT leaders should also encourage the growth and innovation of small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), recognizing that this segment of the marketplace is ripe with opportunity.

These various members of the business ecosystem must also collaborate with one another as well. That is, different types of technology companies with different skill sets can come together in virtual collaboration communities to solve mutual problems and address customer needs. Universities, corporations and government can collaborate to ensure that today's students are educated about emerging trends and technologies in preparation for tomorrow's jobs.

IT leaders themselves are influential in the ecosystem as partners, advocates, contributors, and innovation leaders and can positively influence the following participants:

Business partners – Business partners have specialized expertise, understanding the needs of small and medium-sized businesses. These partners need the support of IT enterprises, in the way of sales and marketing help, technical skills, and resources. Partners in turn develop and market solutions based on the IT leaders' portfolios. Open infrastructures speed this development, and are especially vital in emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Russia and China, where increasing numbers of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) are helping small and medium-sized businesses.

Academia – A well-prepared, well-educated IT workforce is central to the progress of the ecosystem. Corporations can provide financial help to universities and schools, as well as experience and guidance to students that will help those young people meet the challenges of tomorrow. Institutions higher learning can promote open-standards-based software skills through courseware and curriculum consulting services. At an even more practical level, they can collaborate with universities on ground-breaking research projects.

Governments – Laws and public policies influence our industry more than ever. Personal privacy intersects with data security, for example, while collaborative innovation prompts new thinking about intellectual property. IT leaders must remain in the public discussions around these and other issues, leading efforts to understand how national policies enable success in a global economy.

Technical collaboration communities – IT companies used to dictate standards, but no longer. Open standards groups and software communities set the pace, and IT companies should work with these standards bodies to help determine most beneficial courses of action.

Developers – Developers have the next great software innovation in their hands. IT leaders can support them by enabling an open, interoperable infrastructure, and by providing tools and resources. Companies can also foster collaboration among developers by helping build development communities, such as Power.org, an open standards organization to develop and promote Power Architecture.

Local communities – Supporting our communities helps strengthen economies and create a better-educated workforce. Beyond assisting with money, equipment and services, IT leaders should share their most valuable assets - technology and know-how. They can host sites that point to community volunteer opportunities, offer crisis response teams to help provide relief to major disaster situations, and contribute to such breakthroughs as the World Community Grid, which advances research on genomics, diseases and natural disasters.

All of these areas are the key players in the innovation ecosystem. By uniting and focusing their energies on innovation -- and encouraging cross-collaboration – organization can spark another era of invention, research and development, similar to the one that Edison helped ignite.

About the Author

Donn Atkins is general manager of IBM’s Global Business Partners and the host of IBM's PartnerWorld Conference, to be held March 12-15 in Las Vegas.

More by Donn Atkins

About IBM

IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. Drawing on resources from across IBM and key IBM Business Partners, IBM offers a wide range of services, solutions and technologies that enable customers, large and small, to take full advantage of the new era of on demand business. For more information about IBM, visit http://www.ibm.com.