The eternal start up

Three years ago, software company BMC formed an Incubation Team assigned to "worry about radical innovation" and "take away the risk" from the product teams.

"It is expected nine out of 10 things we do will be failures," says Suhas Kelkar, director of the Incubation Team. "It is almost like venture funding a company and we are the start up."

Their brief: "Take this amount of money, go away, do the product and come back. We take it end-to end, and move it back to the core business."

The team sits between the office of the global CTO and the product teams, says Kelkar, who is also the CTO for APAC.

Kelkar explains the team was not created to replace "incremental" innovation in the product teams, but to deliver "radical innovation".

The goal is to "translate long-term vision into something more tangible like a prototype and to bring in new technologies and experiment with these."

He explains that as BMC products mature and are used by more customers, the teams working on them may get bogged down by requests for changes. Their focus gets constricted to the next one to two releases and they may miss out on groundbreaking innovation that can set the product apart.

The Incubation Team, on the other hand, tackles projects with a time frame of one to three years, which are considered "risky" and with high probability of failure. The product teams get a running start if the project moves to prototype level, says Kelkar.

His 25 team members are based in India, Israel and the Ukraine. Almost everyone is on a technical architect level, but they understand the business domain, he says.

The Incubation Team is the only one of its kind in BMC. "It is a testament the region can also lead when it comes to innovation," he says.

The upsides of the job? "I have the luxury to stay on top of some of the trends and technologies as they are evolving, [and] how they are going to impact the world of IT management."

But while the group started with technology incubation, he says the team is now working on business processes, as exemplified by their research on the 'gamification of IT'.

"It is about taking the mechanics of game dynamics and utilising it in enterprise apps to drive user behaviour and engagement," he explains.

"What can you learn from the success of Angry Birds and Farmville that you can utilise in the enterprise?"

So what does it take to succeed in this type of role? "A start up mentality," says Kelkar, without hesitation. "I came from two to three start ups, [with] that mentality [of] fail early, fail often."

"You have to straddle technology and business in this role; you have to manage both or you lose track of one," says Kelkar, a mechanical engineer who has a masters in robotics and an MBA.

As for IT management, Kelkar is batting for what he calls "Invisible IT".

He likens this to flying an aircraft. "There are hundreds of levers you can tweak and control at the same time," he says. "Your end customer is like a passenger, they want a simplified user interface."

"IT should be invisible, almost like magic."

Divina Paredes is editor of CIO New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter @divinap and @cio_nz.