Gartner Research

Amplify Business-Led Technology Innovation

Published: 04 May 2023


Business technologists should be able to experiment with their own ideas. There, we said it. And central innovation leaders should help them. Technology leaders at three companies shared ownership of innovation by offering tiered support, synthetic data sandboxes and a collaboration platform.

Business technologists (non-IT employees who create technology or analytics capabilities for internal or external use) are an increasingly important asset. Forty-five percent of organizations report that many or most of their non-IT staff now fall into this category, and 81% say business technologists are more involved in technology innovation than they were two years ago. These talented workers are prolific idea generators and help companies achieve innovation key performance indicators, likethroughputof ideas to production and delivery, or adoption of initiatives by other teams. But they need effective support from the center.

Fortunately, solutions are at hand. Rather than seeking to execute new initiatives themselves, leaders should spend more time supporting bright ideas that emerge from across the business. Standard Bank Group (SBG), Fidelity International and Boehringer Ingelheim have done just that by, respectively:

  • Formalizing and professionalizing support for business technologists

  • Enabling innovators to experiment safely and autonomously

  • Equipping workers with the resources to innovate independently through a self-service platform

At SBG, a South African financial services provider, the central innovation team developed a triage process to allocate its resources and enable novel business-led ideas. Innovation leaders saw that business partners often poorly understood, and seldom used, the innovation support on offer. To address this problem, the company offers tiered levels of centralized assistance that are rightsized to fresh ideas.

The innovation team bases its support on an objective, standardized criterion: the effort necessary to deliver on the initiative, measured in people hours (see Figure 1). This method provides clarity for business partners who are unlikely to seek support for their ideas if they don’t know what the evaluation criterion is, or what types of backing are available.

Figure 1: SBG’s Approach to Supporting Business-Led Innovation Ideas

Initiatives requiring more than 10,000 hours of effort are designated as new business model ideas and are inherently disruptive because of their size and potential impact. These proposals must be approved by an internal Venture Board. Initially, therefore, the central innovation team helps business partners navigate the Venture Board approval process, which requires pitch decks, business cases and ROI feasibility studies. Once a project is approved, innovation leaders allocate a fusion team and dedicated funding to it. The largest initiatives require a mix of dedicated multidisciplinary skills and a multiyear central funding commitment that ensures ideas don’t lose momentum as business priorities evolve.

The middle tier of innovative ideas, requiring1,000 to 10,000 hours of work, receive a “lite” version of the aforementioned support package, targeted toward specific priorities (e.g., blockchain and next-generation messaging). The innovation team acts as a broker to match ideators to other people and resources at SBG.

Innovators whose proposals fall under the 1,000-hour threshold — the bulk of business-led technology innovation ideas — can access self-service support. SBG built a range of intuitive tools, including implementation checklists, playbooks and guidance on how to follow the innovation life cycle roadmap, to help individuals advance their ideas on their own.

Testing ideas safely and autonomously is vital, too. Fidelity International, a U.K.-based investment management firm, created an accessible, intuitive sandbox that uses synthetic data to reflect real-world conditions.

Prasad Chandrasheker, the company’s global head of emerging technology, realized that internal restrictions on genuine datasets may make them inaccessible to most business technologists. At the same time, existing datasets may lack the volume, diversity and shareability often required to establish proofs-of-concept for innovative solutions. Chandrasheker’s team observed that synthetic data would help solve many of these problems (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Synthetic Data Solutions for Limited Real/Internal Datasets

Business technologists can use the synthetic data to experiment in the low- or no-code sandbox without the risks they might incur in a live environment. Such data allows for testing with increased data volume, accommodation for noise arising out of rare events, increased balance across datasets, and anonymization that enables sharing and availability.

Next, Chandrasheker needed to encourage business technologists to take advantage of the sandbox. This process involved educating them on how to use the new resources, supporting them as they began experimentation, partnering with business teams to develop user-friendly sandbox features, and communicating the results and progress of various initiatives throughout the organization.

As a result, Chandrasheker increased the volume of business-led innovation initiatives to support accelerated digital growth. The sandbox also helped business technologists work faster and more comfortably, knowing the capabilities of the sandbox permit experimentation without the obstacles they’d encounter with live data.

At Boehringer Ingelheim, a German pharmaceutical firm, innovation in pursuit of transformative breakthroughs often relied on individual heroics to discover “unicorn” ideas. Clemens Utschig-Utschig, the company’s head of technology innovation, took another tack, encouraging business technologists to work together to improve the quality of innovation and to take small, iterative steps toward disruption.

Utschig-Utschig recognized that business technologists should have decision-making authority at all stages of the innovation life cycle: which ideas to pursue, piloting and testing, and assessing and scaling initiatives (see Figure 3).

His team developed a self-service platform that empowers innovators to connect with each other and collectively iterate on new ideas. Business technologists can share information, independently choose a group of business stakeholders from throughout the enterprise to be innovation partners and solicit feedback from them.

Figure 3: Actions to Ensure Business Technologist Autonomy

This platform promotes business-led technology innovation in three ways:

  • Centralized technology innovation teams no longer determine what a “good” project looks like. Instead, those closest to the idea and the problem it solves decide which initiatives to pursue.

  • Popular ideas gain visibility while also forcing both the original idea contributor and stakeholders to consider an initiative’s impact, interdependencies and potential value. Since the business team owns ideas throughout the development and delivery process, its leaders are responsible for allocating people, data and time to chosen initiatives. In this way, business teams can still prioritize which favored ideas move forward first.

  • Giving business technologists agency in choosing partners to support and cheerlead their ideas encourages them to pursue more innovation. This system helps propagate a culture of innovation in the long run.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s strategy has increased the number of technology innovation ideas generated throughout the enterprise, as well as boosting both its initiative conversion rate and end-customer satisfaction scores. For business technologists, the platform has accelerated the speed to market for technology innovation initiatives, enabled faster progress from idea to value, and reduced the time spent on acquiring feedback from collaborators.

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Recommended by the Authors


2022 Gartner Distributed Technology Innovation Management Survey. This study was conducted to address how best to manage technology innovation and the different activities involved in a distributed innovation management. The research was conducted during March 2022 among 100 respondents from across all industries and company sizes within the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Respondents were screened to be director level or above, with responsibilities related to leading efforts to exploring, developing and/or managing efforts to implement or scale innovative technology products and services.


Rimma Gurevich

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