How IT leaders can define and drive IT innovation

While innovation is a goal of most organizations, many IT leaders are hard-pressed to define what innovation is. The CIO Executive Council outlines four essential principles for IT leaders to keep in mind as they develop or hone their strategies.

Many intrinsic tensions manifest themselves when IT leaders seek to become more innovative. There is, for example, the question of economy: How long will management tolerate endless whiteboard-wielding brainstorming sessions until the realities of opportunity cost come to the fore? And there are also the inherent problems that arise in trying to create an “innovation culture” when the terms innovation and culture seem so indefinable and subjective on their own.

Although innovation is the goal of nearly every organization, a majority of IT leaders (56 percent) believe that there is no fixed definition for innovation whatsoever, and that malleable definitions change based on the situation, according to the results of the CIO Executive Council (CEC) 2016 IT Innovation Survey (see Figure 1). If innovation is a constantly moving target, as three out of five IT leaders claim, then IT organizations must prove themselves slightly acrobatic to compensate. In other words, to capture lightning in a bottle, IT leaders must change bottles frequently.

Additionally, 24 percent of IT leaders assert that there is no specific definition for innovation at all, and that it can be observed only through its impact and delivered value. They believe that innovation reveals itself only through reactive observation and “Eureka!” moments, not predetermined strategy. Only one out of five (20 percent) IT leaders claim that innovation has a firm definition that can be applied universally, according to the CEC survey.

The CEC survey is intended to guide IT leaders by providing a summary of peer attitudes towards innovation; concrete action steps they have taken (and avoided) in the pursuit of success; and impediments holding them back. The data presented herein represents a cross-industry view on the state of IT innovation efforts, helping IT leaders to analyze opportunities and pitfalls as they craft their own innovation strategies.

cec charts

FIGURE 1: IT leaders are ambivalent about the definition of innovation

The definition dilemma: Identifying IT innovation

IT leaders’ ambivalence about innovation’s definition has translated into a scattershot approach when it comes to execution and implementation. Survey respondents were asked to rate the efficacy of the 10 most common innovative behaviors, as determined by the CIO Executive Council Research Board (see Figure 2).

No individual behavior is seen as either “extremely effective” or “very effective” – the top two response options – by a majority of IT leaders. When these two response options are combined, the three most effectual practices are having “creative brainstorming sessions” (48 percent); seeing “leadership providing and advancing an innovative vision” (45 percent); and having “leadership ‘mentors’ within the organization to drive change” (42 percent), respectively.

[ Related: 5 ways to cultivate a culture of IT innovation ]

These top innovation behaviors don’t cost anything on their own. They are manifestations of culture and vision. On one level, it is reassuring to see how democratic and cost-effective innovation can actually be – but, seen another way, this result is almost certainly a reflection of how many other practices are left untested and untried. Seven of the 10 behaviors had adoption rates lower than 60 percent. Even hackathons, the lauded pet projects of Silicon Valley and beyond, were employed less than half the time.

cec charts2

Figure 2: The effectiveness of innovation behaviors

Despite all this, IT leaders take innovation – or, at least, the idea of innovation – seriously. In an industry that seems to generate buzzwords spontaneously, the vast majority of IT leaders (68 percent) contend that ‘innovation’ is not a buzzword at all (see Figure 3). Yet three-quarters (72 percent) of IT leaders also agree with the statement, ‘Very few companies are really innovative,’ and only one-quarter (23 percent) actually have a concrete process for measuring the potential for innovation efforts, as well as ROI.

cec charts3

Figure 3: Attitudinal statements on IT innovation

Naturally, it is essential to unearth the specific impediments that IT leaders claim hold them back. And while it is too facile to summarize the responses as “time, money, and other people,” that would not be terribly far off, either. Two-thirds of IT leaders (63 percent) claim that they simply don’t have time to innovate given day-to-day tasks, and half (50 percent) state that their leadership does not allocate sufficient funds for innovation efforts (see Figure 4). Nearly half (48 percent) registered that their culture was simply not change-oriented.

cec charts4

Figure 4: Barriers to IT innovation

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brendan Mcgowan

CIO (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?