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32 Ideas for IT innovation

        posted by , September 19, 2011

Is there a repeatable process for IT innovation? Or is innovation something intangible that comes in a flash of genius?

TRIZ is a problem solving methodology developed by Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller (shortly before he was imprisoned for 25 years in 1950 by Stalin). It is based on the idea that there are 40 Patterns of Inventive Thinking that lead to innovation.

TRIZ is the product of a large scale study of global patent literature. It is widely used by research labs, product development teams and engineers. However, its use by IT professionals has been somewhat limited. The reason — many of the 40 Patterns of Inventive Thinking relate to material properties and physical processes that have little relevance to IT.

The following is the subset of the TRIZ inventive principles that are applicable to IT (with examples):

1. Segmentation

a. Divide an object into independent parts.
Modular software design vs. big ball of mud
Mainframe computer vs. personal computers

b. Make an object easy to assemble / disassemble.
Software releases, plugins

c. Increase the degree of segmentation.
Software / hardware virtualization

2. Extraction

Remove or single out a problematic part or property from an object.
Retire a high maintenance legacy application
Remove a crashed server from a server pool (failover)

3. Local quality

Single out specific parts of an object and then optimize them.
Optimization of a procedure, API, application etc...

4. Asymmetry

Change the shape or properties of an object from symmetrical to asymmetrical
Asynchronous communication
Callback-style of programming
Asynchronous processing

5. Merging

a. Merge identical or similar objects
Replace redundant code with common APIs

b. Merge operations or processes in time
Parallel processing

6. Universality

a. Make a object perform multiple functions
Common IT services such as ESB, workflow etc..

b. Standardization
IT standards such as HTML, SOAP, ITIL etc..

7. Nesting

Place objects inside other objects.
Nested classes
Social media apps
Sub-processes

8. Counterweight

When a system results in an undesirable force in one direction use a counterweight for balance.
Traction control system

9. Prior counteraction

When it is necessary to perform an action with both harmful and useful effects — the harmful effects should be mitigated.
Maintenance message for website outages.

10. Prior Action

Preparing for an anticipated event.
Restructure data for real-time reporting (multidimensional data models)
Preload content for mobile devices

11. Cushion in advance

Prepare emergency means to compensate for the relatively low reliability of an object.
Prepare for disasters (BCP — business continuity planning)
Make node failure transparent (i.e. cloud computing)

12. Equipotentiality

Make objects that have equal potential.
Distributed computing (i.e. peer-to-peer)

13. Inversion

Do things the opposite way, turn a process upside-down.
Push vs. pull integration
Dependency injection (a programming pattern — objects don't know about their dependencies)

14. Dynamics

a. A force applied to a system is felt equally by all parts.
Load balancing

b. Make objects and processes flexible and adaptive.
Exception handling — graceful recovery from failure
Complex event processing — responding only to meaningful events

15. Partial or excessive solutions

a. Perfection can be difficult to achieve (partial solutions are often better).
The 80/20 rule of project management — prioritize change requests etc..

b. Excessive solutions often have benefits.
Hardware over-capacity helps to buffer an organization from DDoS attack

16. Another dimension

Use additional dimensions of space.
Multi-dimensional data models
Multi-dimensional data structures
Multidimensional visualization (e.g. for reporting)

17. Periodic action

Instead of continuous action, use periodic actions.
Batch integration and processing
Time-to-live for services such as DNS (periodic updates)
Job schedulers
Sleep operations such as Thread.Sleep()

18. Continuity of useful action

Continuous (non-stop) work.
Reselling or donating idle processing cycles (e.g. SETI@home).
Continuous improvement process — an ongoing effort to improve services and processes
Continuous integration — continuous process of applying quality control improvements

19. Rushing through

Conducting potentially harmful processes at high speed to minimize impact.
High speed software deployment (e.g. auto deployment)

20. Blessing in disguise

Use harmful factors to achieve a positive effect.
Using the heat from a data center to heat a greenhouse

21. Feedback

Introduce feedback to improve a process or object.
Social media monitoring
Customer / employee surveys
Processes that incorporate constant feedback

22. Intermediary

Use an intermediary object or process.
B2B exchanges (e.g. stock markets)
ESB / ETL

23. Self-service

Objects and processes that are self-reliant.
Self-testing code
Self-modifying code
Self-optimizing tools and processes
Self-service tools for customers, employees and partners

24. Copying

Replace an expensive object with inexpensive copies.
Prototype design pattern — creating objects by coping a prototype
Cloning objects, applications, services etc..
Copy and paste programming

25. Cheap short-lived objects

When something is expensive or problematic, you might be able to replace it with something cheaper and temporary.
Sessionless authentication
Sessionless cookies
Sessionless API
Trial subscriptions / accounts
Disposable email addresses
Disposable digital devices

26. Flexible film or thin membranes

Thin membranes that have useful properties (i.e. inexpensive, flexible)
Proxy server
Thin client
Thin digital devices
Wrapper design pattern — a thin layer of code that changes the functionality of a bigger object

27. Porous materials

Porous materials let some things through but block others.
Filter
Firewall
Session authentication

28.Color changes

Change the color or transparency of an object.
User interfaces (e.g. reports with red, amber, green status)

29. Homogeneity

Make things consistent.
Standard plugs and connections
Standard interfaces
Standard APIs

30. Discard and recover

a. Delete unneeded objects.
Garbage collection (deleting unneeded memory)
Data retention policies (deleting data from a database when certain conditions are met)

b. Restore objects.
Rebooting a server
Undo functionality
Resubmitting failed transactions
Recycle bin for deleted files

31. Parameter changes

Change the properties of an object.
Skinnable user interfaces
Passing parameters to commands
Parameters of APIs
Integration parameters

32. Phase transitions

Modify a object's transitions from one state to another.
Transitional architecture
Data flow
Process flow

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