Local innovation is one of Penn’s great strengths. A strong message from recent interviews about Penn’s computing support model is the need to get extra mileage out of local developments (and prevent costly redundant effort). Often Schools develop tools and applications to meet their specific needs and timelines—useful developments that could benefit Penn as a whole. Yet what seems like an obvious solution: "scale it to meet University needs," introduces a set of issues that need University-level discussion:
- Can it scale; is it even technologically feasible? What impact does scaling have on existing systems from which data is pulled?
- Who manages the process, who pays for it, who supports it, who owns it?
Imagine that Penn’s thirteenth school—The School of Rocket Science— develops a way to manage student employment by pulling data from SRS, SFS and Payroll by linking it in useful ways. As a group, answer the following questions. Summarize highlights of your work on a flip chart—legibly enough for others to read.
1.Ear to the Ground—How do others learn that this application exists? How does a School find out if others want the application?
2.Incentives—What would make a School want to share a local application: What are the incentives? What headaches will the School want to avoid?
3.Scale or Replicate?—Who figures out if scaling is feasible or if replication is a better strategy? What factors do they take into account?
4.Now or Later?—What factors go into deciding whether to move forward now or later? Who makes the call?
5.Paying—If more than one other unit takes up the application, what are possible funding strategies: Who pays and how?
6.Handoff—Today’s retreat won’t identify all the questions, much less figure out all the answers. Is there a natural "home" for the issue of leveraging local innovation: a group or role whose responsibility is to explore the issue and begin working on possible solutions. If not, identify the kinds of people who need to be involved.
7.Advice—All in all, what two or three pieces of early advice would you give the people to whom you would hand this issue?
Exercise Results: Leveraging Local Innovation Work Group
Provide incentives for local units to want to share innovation, including:
- recouping initial investment
- venture capital fund (e.g., restructuring pilots)
- not burdening them with ongoing operational & support responsibilities
- Should be reward for innovation. Not many Schools will want to own beyond local -- no unfunded mandates. Need vigorous central leadership (Provost & EVP, IT Steering?) Find rational funding stream for operational costs -- trying to scale using allocated costs runs into difficulty if benefit is not to the whole.
- Basic principle should be to question scalability throughout the process. Developers & users should make determination whether to scale or replicate. Useful to think of local development as prototype. Example: Wharton doing alumni email forwarding for life. When deciding on whether local innovation happens now or later, should be based on demand & perceived need. Often local innovation happens because local need is strong & central organization hasn't rolled out yet. Projects are innovative & interesting or mundane but important & address broad general need. Should be broad communication across groups; look at ROI (cost/value). Sometimes need to force innovation -- what you will learn from innovation is the value
- Venture capital fund and accountability are key; requires leadership & communication; requires process owner involvement
- Innovators may recoup costs from ultimate users; how (individual contribution/central contribution?)
- Need to identify funding stream for ongoing operational costs
Learn about local innovation from IT Steering, peer groups, process & data owners where there is a natural "home."