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Want innovation? Give your CIO time

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on November 9, 2016

Everyone wants to innovate. But who has the time?

A group of high-level IT leaders gathered in San Diego for an exclusive round-table dinner. Lack of time was repeatedly pointed to as the biggest factor standing in the way of innovation.

If one thing sucks all the power out of change and innovation, it’s being reactive – said one CIO.

The cross-industry discussion in San Diego revealed a troubling reality for today’s CIO. We live in a time defined by disruption and the need to innovate. But in most cases, IT leaders are faced with an executive direction that leaves them little room to innovate. Instead, it incentivizes a focus on activities that are short-sighted and strategically lethal.

A culture unfit for innovation

There is something intuitively linked to innovation and having the time and comfort to pursue ideas without pressure. “People need to be able to lean back in their chairs and ask ‘what can be better?’” said one IT leader at the IEF event.

Unfortunately, for many IT leaders, the daily pressures in their jobs prevent them from ever having enough dedicated time to innovate.

One reason is that businesses are simply too reactive to allow innovation to brew. One IT leader explained it as being in a constant state of “feature frenzy.” The business is constantly changing priorities, and focusing on new features to add, new quick fixes, new problems to erase, without ever giving IT the leeway needed to pursue less immediate long-term issues.

“My biggest barrier to innovation is time,” said the IT leader of a North American restaurant chain. For him, his business is so caught up on the customer experience, they put very little value on investing in any technology that doesn’t directly impact the customer’s experience, precluding investments in things such as back-office operations, disaster recovery and so on.

And while customer experience is certainly an important area for many IT leaders to help innovate, the real issue is the business is deciding where the priorities are for IT, rather than the other way around.

“They are the ones calling the shots for IT, but they simply don’t have the knowledge,” said the Vice President of Information Security at an online marketing and advertising business. Much better, he says, would be to give IT insight into the strategy and ask what technologies can get them to that goal. But as it is, “they are pushing answers to questions that they haven’t even defined.”

The threat of Shadow IT

It’s not enough that IT isn’t given the room to innovate. If they actually start to push back and demand more time or resources to accomplish their goals, it can have an adverse effect on their department and put the entire business at risk.

One IT leader explained how the business is like a “jealous lover,” one that will never stop hitting you over the head, demanding results and features. If you don’t deliver, then it will simply go and find that service somewhere else, in the open waiting arms of a third-party cloud or technology vendor.


While serious, these situations are common for anyone in a leadership position in IT. Leaders at the table put forward a variety of stories and solutions that help give IT the credibility and time needed to properly pursue innovation:

  • Flip the conversation: IT’s ambitions are often seen as costly expenses, unrelated to the business. Try and re-position the conversation in terms the business will understand. Revenue is the holy grail here, said one member. How would your strategy save money, improve productivity or drive success? Make those your key messages.
  • Automate and tool up: Tired of doing all the dirty work? Take advantage of a wealth of automation tools and best practices to reduce your workload, and carve out your own time to work on innovation.
  • Outsource anything that isn’t core: Many organizations today are finding ways to outsource everything that isn’t core to their business and the services they offer. Is this a realistic approach for your needs? How much more could you get done if you had less infrastructure headaches to manage and more lee-way to drive new and innovative business strategy?

Get the full picture
This is only a fraction of the key points and advice shared by our members during the IEF meeting in San Diego. Download the CIO Table Talk highlights now to get a quick and clear summary of what your IT peers are doing and thinking to drive digital disruption in their industries.

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