Establishing a reason to go through the time and expense of benchmarking is essential. If operations management, IT management, and the team performing the benchmarking are not convinced that the results will be utilized, the efforts will be in vain.
While much of benchmarking is focused externally, the initial steps should be internally oriented. The old planning adage of, "if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there," is essential in setting direction and establishing plans; but equally important is the adage, "if you don't know where you are, a map won't help you."
Benchmarking should begin with a comprehensive review or assessment of the current environment. This should not be confused with defining the service requirements that the organization may have. Nor should the focus of this effort be oriented toward operations improvement. The focus should be developing a base of knowledge of the current environment that will serve as a navigation guide going forward in creating the infrastructure necessary to deliver the services required.
A criticism of benchmarking in the past is that it is more imitative in nature than innovative. By mimicking each other, the argument goes that there will be an averaging down of corporate capabilities driven by the law of diminishing marginal returns.
There is no evidence that leveraging off of an existing level of knowledge and expertise produces fewer " breakthrough concepts" than independent, isolated, and insulated think tank environments. An argument can be made that all innovation is triggered or stimulated by some bit of information that currently exists in some form.
The act of reviewing or assessing the current environment addressed above will most likely stimulate many new ideas. Adding the stimulus of external sources of information, knowledge, and expertise should definitely produce at least a rainstorm, if not a monsoon, of fresh ideas.
New ideas are not always the best ideas in a given situation, organization, or time frame. Finding that services, processes, and technologies utilized in other firms are comparable to either the existing environment or the target environment give management comfort and confidence that they are not too far off the mark and may move forward at an accelerated pace.