“This shows that many challenges with innovation aren’t actually about the technology; there are different issues that can come up,” Prasad adds.
4. Not building the right culture first
The Protiviti study found that 28% of organizations consider their culture as a barrier to innovation, meaning they don’t have an environment that supports the collaboration, curiosity, and exploration required for success.
Venu Lambu, CEO of Randstad Digital, a digital enablement partner, says organizations with an environment where workers are “too stressed out, measured on short-term goals and are project-focused, don’t give an incentive for people to think beyond the quarter or the next six months.”
In other words, there’s no room for ingenuity in that environment, he says, adding that innovation can thrive only when workers have permission to experiment, fail, learn, and try again.
To build that kind of workplace, Lambu advises CIOs to take deliberate steps: Organize hackathons, adopt design thinking to put problems at the center of the ideation process, set goals to encourage teams to think more innovatively, and then give them the resources to do so.
“If you have a structured learning program, evolve it into solving business problems as workers learn new technologies. Give them challenges. That can lead to some brilliant ideas,” he adds.
5. Not being brilliant at the basics
Innovation cannot come at the cost of doing the IT fundamentals flawlessly, says Kumud Kokal, CIO of Farmers Business Network.
Workers at all levels of the enterprise now expect their on-the-job technology to work as easily as their personal tech. As a result, what constitutes flawless is higher today than it has ever been.
“Everything you deliver should be simple to use and available on multiple platforms. Everything has to be plug-and-play. It all just works. That’s how you build trust,” Kokal says.
But IT also needs to be humming along so its own workers have the bandwidth to experiment, he adds. Otherwise, the IT team spends too much time dealing with problems that pop up.
Kokal acknowledges the challenges of getting to that flawless state, and he says that getting to that state doesn’t happen overnight. CIOs may need to put off innovation work to focus first on improving overall IT operations, modernizing, optimizing, and automating — a path Kokal says he himself has pursued as CIO.
But he says he found that, “once all that [improvement] happens, IT can consider being more innovative and the business will trust that IT can help.”
6. Underestimating needed skills
Many CIOs lack the skills they need to innovate. That’s not a surprise, as IT leaders often have challenges filling rank-and-file positions let alone roles focused on bleeding-edge technologies, where experienced workers are in short supply and command high salaries.
“It can get cost prohibitive to get the talent you need, or the timelines to hire them are too long. That means either delays, or you’re working with suboptimal talent, which can derail innovation,” Prasad says.
Consider this statistic from the Protiviti study: 28% of organizations rank talent (upskilling, staff retention, resource capacity) as one of the top three challenges when it comes to their ability to innovate.
CIOs could fill in the skills gap by “finding ways to leverage the broader ecosystem,” Prasad says. He has seen, for instance, CIOs successfully partner with academic institutions and vendors, while other CIOs are more conscientious about getting their staffers trained in the skills required to develop and test inventions.
7. Ignoring small innovations
“Everybody looks at innovation as trying to create the lightbulb, and the lightbulb is pretty hard to figure out. Where I think success is, is to start small, gain the trust of the organization, listen to the real problems, use innovation to solve problems for the business, and then build on that brick by brick,” says Antonio Taylor, vice president of infrastructure, services, and security at Transnetyx and marketing chair for SIM’s Memphis chapter.
He adds: “That’s still being innovative. You might not make the lightbulb, but you can figure out how to make lightbulbs smaller and turn them into Christmas lights.”
Taylor cites a few benefits to this approach. First, it brings a sense of satisfaction to those doing the work, which in turn encourages and empowers the IT team — helping to build that innovation culture. Second, it creates more trust between IT and the business, helping to bring IT into more rooms for conversations with the business. And third, it supports transformation.
“Something that’s not brand new but still different, or something that’s small, those can still be disruptive and help shift the business,” Taylor says. “And more of those are happening than the lightbulb moments, the brand-new things that have never been done before. And if it’s not being identified properly as innovation, it can be demoralizing and that demoralizing effect can be detrimental to future innovation.”
8. Not adequately addressing risk
On a similar note, CIOs who don’t adequately address the risks introduced by innovation are likely to fail — either by failing to get the buy-in needed, being too risk adverse, or possibly being too reckless.
“Many of these established organizations have stated objectives to take risks, but oftentimes we observe a subtext that encourages a more risk-averse posture. For example, the don’t-break-anything-that-works mindset. These mechanics can make it difficult for CIOs in some organizations to successfully drive technology innovation. Furthermore, CIOs are oftentimes expected to innovate, but do so with certainty of outcomes,” KPMG’s Murph says.
“By definition, innovation is not certainty. There will be mistakes. There will be investments that do not drive the intended outcomes. However, unintended outcomes and mistakes almost always yield more insights and lessons learned than getting it right, and those insights, if identified quickly, can drive true innovation. Today, established organizations need to create a culture that better incentives innovation with the understanding that it is fundamentally a risk-taking endeavor,” he says.
To do that, CIOs must work with their executive partners to identify risks and implement the right level of controls to allow for risk-taking without risking ruin.
9. Not stopping floundering innovation attempts
As CIO for the U.S. Army, Raj Iyer implemented the Amry Digital Transformation Strategy and led a portfolio of projects that advanced the Army’s technological capabilities.
But Iyer, now global head of public sector at ServiceNow, also — perhaps to less fanfare — halted some big-ticket items because they weren’t panning out.
He says that experience proved to him the need for CIOs to know how to identify when a project, however innovative it may seem, needs to stop.
“I think CIOs should have the courage to kill a program. They know when something’s not going well, and they may feel they could turn it around, but it’s just putting more good money after bad,” Iyer says. “It’s OK to fail; just fail early. Take those lessons learned and move on.”
10. Accepting complacency
Complacency can also kill innovation, and experts say even the most successful companies can succumb to complacency, which could stem from overconfidence in continued success, fear of change, or perhaps even simple inertia.
More often, though, experts say complacency stems from a natural desire for a steady state.
“Innovation is disruptive, and people struggle with disruption and change. You can hear, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ a lot,” Taylor says. “Then IT doesn’t even get the space to innovate.”
Taylor says CIOs can usually get IT people to push the envelope. “IT people want to tinker with stuff, we’re always looking for the next best thing, that’s just how we’re wired,” he says.
The challenge, then, is getting the rest of the organization to welcome such tinkering. That may mean proving how new ideas can benefit the business by boosting revenue or growing markets, and it will likely mean earning enough trust to get workers throughout the organization to go with changes even if they don’t fully embrace them.
“The CIO has to be bold enough to say, ‘I can make this happen. Here’s what it will entail. We’re trying to do the same thing you’re trying to achieve and we’re all in partnership together,’” Taylor adds.