As a community of librarians and technologists, we like to talk about innovation.  A lot: We like it; we support it; we do it; we reward it; we expect it; we value it; and we need it. 

The obvious and crucial question to my mind is how an organization might support innovation without sacrificing sustainability, or alternatively value sustainability without hampering innovation. 

This harks back to an earlier discussion at MPOW about using native XML databases as a storage back-end for XML web services - technologically, it’s a trivial decision, but how many different databases are we supposed to support?  The same question can be asked for programming languages, metadata schemas, operating systems, repositories, file formats, and so forth. 

Here are my assumptions:

  1. Innovation requires flexibility and agnosticism so that developers and sysadmins can nimbly explore options without artificial limitations;
  2. Such flexibility and agnosticism are relatively easy to attain in development shops, but are untenable in production shops where sustainability is of the utmost concern (and a corollary: that needing to support an indefinite number of technologies and standards at any given time is not sustainable);
  3. Without harmony between production shops and development shops, seeing projects through their complete lifecycle becomes difficult, at best, and impossible at worst.  If the development shop wants to use innovative language X for its Project Of The Month and the production shop only supports languages A, B, and C, does the dev shop need to refactor or does the prod shop need to loosen its support requirements?  Alternatively, does the dev shop get fed up with the prod shop's policies and simply start housing their own production applications, despite the fact that they lack the resources to effectively manage them (per best practices)?

How then does an organization position itself both to support innovation and to ensure sustainability?  Change of personnel?  Policies?  Procedures?  Organization structure?  Or is it more of a cultural shift?

It’s one thing to talk innovation, but a whole ‘nother to actually do it.  And a third ‘nother to do it in a manner that’s sustainable, not to mention in accord with all the other organizational values.