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“Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” - Michael Porter

There’s been some interesting coverage this week about President Obama’s State of the Union address. And while pundits on all sides debate the ideologies as well as the details, it’s easy to agree on one of his key points – that innovation is the key to getting the economy and the country back on track.

Given the importance of innovation, isn’t it worth taking a fresh look at innovation itself? Many “innovations” such as the Declaration of Independence, the Apollo Space Program, even clever ad campaigns, were all realized by having several smart people in one place to develop ideas together. But now that’s all changed.

Borderless Networks and other technologies enable more people than ever to participate in the innovation process, enabling them to do it from anywhere. However, according to Wikipedia and the 2009-2010 International Innovation Index, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, particularly for the U.S., which ranked 11th.  How do Iceland, Sweden, and Hong Kong, ranked first through third respectively, do innovation better?

Of course, I.T. infrastructure is very well developed in these countries, as is education and R&D. However, another important factor stands out in the 456 page report. Iceland recovered from a deep recession by converting to a “knowledge economy” in which innovation is a higher priority for everyone.

What can I.T. managers learn from these innovation success stories? Innovation is borderless. It can, and often does come from anywhere – frequently outside corporate headquarters. Branch offices, where many customer and partner interactions occur, are a vastly underutilized source of innovation. To maximize the creativity and productivity of people in remote sites, they need access to the same information, and the same applications as headquarters, in real time. Conversely, leadership teams who previously resided in monolithic corporate “nerve centers” need to virtualize and bring the collective intelligence of everyone – including partner communities outside the traditional corporate boundaries -- into the innovation process.

Here’s a dramatization of this concept:

New routing and virtualization technologies can transform the branch experience anywhere and raise the innovation potential in any type of organization. For example, new Unified Computing System Express capabilities make it possible to run multiple virtual instances of Microsoft Windows Server on a single x86 blade within the ISR G2.

This means I.T. can deliver more of the applications, services, and intelligence to more branches much more cost-effectively, and much more quickly. Depending on the number of branches and other factors, I.T. leaders can reduce branch operational expenses up to 80 percent.  Furthermore, new applications can be deployed instantaneously from remote sites, making I.T. (and the rest of the organization, by extension), much more agile. For more details, see these white papers on “Branching Out of the Data Center” and “Shrinking the Branch Office.”

While discussions about Borderless Networks and transforming the branch experience may seem abstract to some, the benefits are very real. Just ask the people in Iceland, Sweden, or Hong Kong who are better off now than they were a few years ago because they’re using more of these technologies, or the people in the U.S. who aren’t -- yet.

To learn about how you can make your organization more innovative, or explore the potential savings with borderless branches, see the Branch WAN Calculator. For more examples of branch innovation and technical details, see the previous installment of this blog and www.cisco.com/go/routing.

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