Why Do CIOs Fail When It Comes To Innovation?

Innovation efforts can fail if CIOs don't step in and guide them
Innovation efforts can fail if CIOs don’t step in and guide them
Image Credit: Fuzzy Gerdes

As the CIO of your company, you have been given the job of leading innovation at the firm so that it can realize the importance of information technology. However, it can be all too easy to fail at this task. I think that we all understand that innovation is an important driver of growth, and many CIOs aspire to build capabilities that can deliver sustained innovation. However they have a steep hill to climb: A quarter of CIOs who participated in a recent study say that their innovation capabilities are nonexistent. Of the CIOs who responded, only 11 percent assessed their current innovation capabilities as excellent or leading. Why are we doing such a bad job at innovation?

We Are Adopting A Defensive Posture

In the survey that was conducted, “resistance to change” was cited as the top reason technology change efforts fail. All too often investments in unproven or disruptive technologies are often viewed as risky, and business leaders are typically more comfortable with “safe” investments such as enhancements to existing technologies. What can the person with the CIO job do? Make sure to collaborate with business leaders on balancing technology investments across both defensive and offensive pursuits. You can strive to create a culture that encourages and supports creative thinking and rewards effort more than outcome, and clearly articulate the organization’s risk appetite so your staff can take calculated risks.

A Lack Of Both Sponsorship And Accountability

The person in the CIO position needs to understand that without visible sponsorship from one or more senior leaders, any innovation efforts are bound to flounder. What is needed is high-level support that can help prevent innovation efforts from becoming bogged down by organizational politics, lack of resources, and stunted budgets. We need to realize that executive sponsors can help clearly articulate expectations and hold people accountable for delivering business outcomes.

Not Providing The Capacity To Deliver

None of the people who work for us are superhuman. All too often CIOs ask their best talent to split their time between managing business operations and participating in innovation initiatives. The result of this is that the most effective innovation resources lack capacity or get distracted by their “day jobs.” If you can provide effective executive sponsorship then this can allow IT leaders to allocate their best resources, even on a rotational basis, to be focused on driving business outcomes. Even better, dedicated budget and resources for innovation can reduce the risk for individual business areas and provide cohesive solutions.

Focusing Too Much On Technology

Look, I love technology and I suspect that you do also. However, even when we genuinely believe a technology will change the business, CIOs often make technology decisions without a deep understanding of business issues. The result of this is that innovation efforts can be viewed as an experimental science lab that rarely returns substantive value. In order to prevent this from happening, technology teams should co-create business solutions. What this means is that they should bring business functions into the process of experimentation and iteration.

Unclear Ownership And Missing Constraints

Every CIO knows that continuity of effort and steady focus are hallmarks of effective innovation initiatives. CIOs should allow the person or team that generated an idea to remain actively involved throughout the process, creating both continuity and providing valuable historical context. We need to realize that successful innovation initiatives provide clear operational guard-rails. As an example, there are Silicon Valley firms that state that a project that could be prototyped in three months, make an impact on more than 10,000 customers, and cost less than $50,000 can be approved.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs understand that innovation is the lifeblood of any firm. We always have to be striving to become better, to do more an interesting things. However, all too often our efforts to innovate can get side tracked and we can end up missing the mark. What we need to do is to understand what can hinder our innovation efforts and then find ways to overcome them.

In order for any innovation effort to be a success, it is going to need sponsorship from the top. This kind of sponsorship can help to overcome any barriers that pop up. Innovation requires people to focus on the innovative tasks that we’ve asked them to do. If the CIO is asking people to split their time between their normal job and an innovative project, then nothing is going to end up happening. When we choose a technology that we want to focus on, we need to take into account the business issues. Only by doing this can we make the rest of the company understand how important this project is. We need to allow the people who start a project to stay with it though the end. Also, our innovative projects need to have clear constraints to guide them.

CIOs can have an innovative IT department. However, the department is not going to be able to be successful unless we are willing to step in and help them out. We need to make sure that they have the sponsorship that they need along with the resources that they will require. Innovation can happen at your firm, you just have to be willing to do your part to help it be successful.

Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How can a CIO get other parts of the company to sponsor innovation within the IT department?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

CIOs need to ask themselves why should the business and IT collaborate? Perhaps a better question is why wouldn’t they collaborate? We need to understand that business units like sales, marketing, and operations have direct interactions with customers that are enabled or empowered by technology — technology that’s typically managed and deployed by IT. CIOs have to ensure that these front-line experiences are optimized for customers. To make this happen business and IT teams must work together closely. We all know that better customer experiences lead to better business outcomes. Over half of all CIOs are spending time learning about how better serving customer needs and using the importance of information technology can create new revenue generation opportunities.