UCI Program Fosters Innovation in Central IT

Shohreh Bozorgmehri and Eric Taggart from UC Irvine

By Yvonne Tevis. 

 There you are, plugging away at work. Then you have an idea. Maybe it creeps up on you. Maybe it hits out of the blue. But it’s good, you know it. Now what? 

 Shohreh Bozorgmehri and Eric Taggart at UC Irvine want to help. They are creating a path at UCI for ideas like yours – from that instant in your head, to articulating it, to possible implementation. 

 It all began when Bozorgmehri, director of the Student and Academic Services Division, and Taggart, associate director for Enterprise Applications at UCI’s Office of Information Technology, attended the UC IT Leadership Academy a couple of years ago at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. The program is an intensive leadership curriculum for IT managers at UC, with an emphasis on promoting collaboration, innovation, and change across UC. 

 “We were so inspired,” Bozorgmehri said. For a year afterwards they explored ideas with departmental leaders about what they could do to encourage risk-taking and innovation among the central IT department’s roughly 400 staff. Then they had their idea. 

 With the full support of Associate CIO Kian Colestock (who attended the leadership academy its first year), they launched a pilot program called the Accelerating Innovation Program 

 Colestock said, “While we try to embed innovation into our everyday work, very frequently in large organizations the org structure can get in the way of big ideas. Having a departmentwide innovation program allows great ideas to traverse the organization, bypassing traditional reporting structures.” 

 Through the program, staff submit ideas at any time via an online platform. The ideas can run the gamut from improving processes to testing emerging technologies. Staff are encouraged to explore and experiment with innovative thinking, not to get bogged down thinking they have to deliver a solution. 

 A volunteer coordination team reviews the submissions, selects the strongest ones and follows up, depending on need. Maybe they assign a coach for the creator. Maybe they get funding from central IT for implementation. Maybe a different team is assigned to the project. 

 The program itself is an unstructured experiment. Taggart explained, “We intentionally didn’t have a fully baked cake. We wanted to start with an idea and let it evolve.” Bozorgmehri added, “We wanted to learn from this ourselves. We have a lot of flexibility to modify and change direction.” 

 For example, they are aiming to increase number and types of ideas submitted. “So we quickly switched gears and started brainstorming sessions,” Taggart said. “We are exploring new opportunities for people to get into a safe space and throw out ideas.” 

 As the twelve-month pilot progresses, Bozorgmehri and Taggart expect to continue to experiment in spurring the kind of innovative thinking that, in times of rapid change, helps organizations be relevant. “We are helping to create a culture of innovation in our organization,” Bozorgmehri said. 

 Stay tuned for updates in the UC IT Blog. 

Bozorgmehri and Taggart are interested in learning from other universities about cultivating innovation. To start a conversation, email them at Shohreh Bozorgmehri or Eric Taggart. 

 Yvonne Tevis is editor of the UC IT Blog and chief of staff, Information Technology Services, UCOP.Yvonne Tevis is editor of the UC IT Blog and chief of staff, Information Technology Services, University of California Office of the President.

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