Innovation is a word often used by companies in the IT industry

27 September 2016

Innovation 2709c

Innovation has never been so popular. Companies in the IT industry often proclaim that ‘innovation is what we do’, but what does that actually mean? In reality, the word is usually a marketing term to make a traditional IT company seem more interesting.  True innovation is something different. It’s a company recognising that there is inherent value in the exploration of what is possible, and what isn’t.  At Interpret, innovation is encouraged, nurtured, and backed by a belief that both trying and failing are worth the investment.

Yesterday I came across an API of real time bus locations.  I threw it at the team, with an offer of a trip to Fiji* for the first person to have buses moving around on a web map.  There are a number of different technology solutions that could have been used, so I wasn’t sure what the final output would look like.

Innovation 2709a2A short time later I got sent a URL by one of our young developers, which showed the buses moving around the map in real time.  Even in its unpolished state it met the brief.  The rest of the team took up the challenge as well, expanding and enhancing the map (and maxing out our API key, but that’s another story).

Innovation is encouraged in other ways as well.  Weekly technical meetings provide staff with the chance to collaborate on problems and ask for feedback.  This helps to bring together the experience of the entire team.

Innovation is celebrated throughout the company. Staff are encouraged to push the boundaries of what technologies can do, and to figure out ways of making things work better. Many of our best ideas and applications have developed from casual conversations asking ‘what if we…’ or ‘I wonder if we can do…’. We also have a list of R&D projects for the inevitable quieter moments, putting a focus on the key projects that have a business case.

Every six months or so we also run an internal hackathon where we pick a project from the R&D list and work collectively to develop a solution. It’s a great way to bring the team together and highlight everyone’s individual skillsets, as well as knock something off the development list.

Innovation 2709bA few months ago we applied for and were granted funding from Callaghan Innovation to build upon an existing innovation project that we hope will further enhance our ‘Predictive Lightning Strike Model’.  Obtaining this funding is a great way to enable work that might otherwise remain an R&D project.

As I sit at my desk and look around, I can see innovation sparking up across the team. Whether it’s Natalie using hexbins to better visualise data, or Kaushi who combines the latest JavaScript techniques with geospatial data, or Todd who does things with FME that really shouldn’t be possible it is clear that creating a culture of innovation can help make a company successful.

So next time a company tells you that they are innovative, ask them what they do, and how they promote an innovative mindset across the team. Pretty soon you’ll find out that there is a difference between saying you innovate and actually innovating.   



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