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.

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In spite of the fact that innovation funding remains a foremost concern for IT leaders, more than half (58 percent) have dedicated a portion of their respective budgets towards innovation activities (see Figure 5). The percentages are relatively small, but these are formally allocated funds. And roughly one out of 10 IT leaders (9 percent) report an innovation investment meeting, or exceeding, 11 percent of total IT budget.

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Figure 5: Innovation budgets as a percentage of IT spend

IT leaders are generally satisfied with innovation efforts overall, with nearly one-third (30 percent) stating that their IT departments are “extremely” or “very” innovative (see Figure 6-1). And three out of five (59 percent) say that IT is “somewhat” innovative. In spite of the self-described barriers detailed earlier, it is clear that IT leaders sense a degree of success with low-cost, collaborative innovation practices.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, IT leaders, responsible for implementing far-reaching and dynamic business technologies, generally affirm that their departments outpace their larger organizations when it comes to innovation. This sentiment gap is subtle but evident. For example, the percentage of IT leaders who claim that their IT department is at least somewhat innovative, outpaces the percentage who would say the same about their overall organization by a two-digit margin (see Figure 6).

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Figure 6: IT leaders’ innovation self-assessment

Ultimately, however, IT leaders view collaboration as the most important hallmark of departmental innovation initiatives. The majority of IT leaders (54 percent) hold that IT innovation initiatives primarily originate equally inside and outside of IT, and an additional 14 percent indicate that they actually originate outside of the IT department (see Figure 7).

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Figure 7: IT leaders indicate the source of IT innovation initiatives.

As the CEC survey demonstrates, definitions for innovation remain elusive, and a variety of potential tactics remain untried. Ultimately, however, definitions matter less than results, and IT leaders maintain that they are setting up their larger enterprises for success. Fully two-thirds (64 percent) of IT leaders state that they are taking the steps necessary to drive innovation across the business (see Figure 8).

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Figure 8: IT leaders believe they are taking the right steps

Because the term “innovation” reflects such a broad array of behaviors and subjective outcomes, there is a lot of room for progress and growth – however an IT leader defines those terms. And this satisfaction with innovation efforts is pervasive, despite the fact that, as shown earlier in Figure 3, only 36 percent of IT leaders state that their organization maintains an “innovation task force,” and a mere 23 percent have a process for measuring the potential for innovation efforts and ROI. Innovation, in other words, is as expansive or minute as IT leaders and their stakeholders need it to be – and IT departments are not hung up on definitions and formalities as their process-minded reputations might suggest.

[ Related: CIO strategy for driving IT innovation ]

[ Related: CIO decisions enabling strategic IT innovation ]

IT leaders must become change agents. When it comes to innovation, all of the intangible advantages that IT leaders bring to the workplace – their cross-department perspective, their expertise in emerging technologies – will continue to be undermined unless the pitfalls are identified and overcome.

As the CEC data reveals, three-quarters of IT leaders (72 percent) believe that only a few companies are really innovative, and half (48 percent) said their culture was simply not change-oriented. What is critical for these IT leaders to recognize is that innovation largely hinges on belief – a strong desire for the new and the beneficial, and the conviction to pursue it – as well as culture.

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