Years into digital transformation, and decades into the IT function itself, many CIOs still fall short when it comes to innovation.\n\nTech debt, budget constraints, and overloaded staff schedules are among the top reasons IT leaders cite for scuttled innovation attempts.\n\nIndeed, 50% of C-suite execs surveyed for a 2023 report on digital transformation from fintech company Broadridge admitted they struggle to balance innovation with daily tasks. And 83% of leaders surveyed for tech company Lenovo\u2019s 2023 Global Study of CIOs said they were concerned that they\u2019ll have insufficient funds to properly invest in innovation and transformation.\n\nMoreover, only 54% of companies have a clear innovation strategy, according to a 2023 report on innovation from consulting firm Protiviti, with 41% still developing one and 5% having neither a strategy nor plans to create one.\n\nThose figures come as CIOs more than ever are expected to innovate, with 43% of respondents to Foundry\u2019s 2023 State of the CIO survey viewing the CIO role as increasingly more digital and innovation focused.\n\n\u201cIt is nearly impossible to separate the business strategy from the organization\u2019s technology strategy. Given this, it is critical that the CIO drive technology innovation in order to drive the overall business strategy,\u201d says Marcus Murph, head of CIO Advisory at professional services firm KPMG.\n\nSo, where\u2019s the disconnect between the drive to innovate and the ability to deliver?\n\nAlthough innovation always carries risk, there are common mistakes that CIOs tend to make that heighten the chances of innovation failures. Experts in the space point to the following 10 issues derailing innovation efforts.\n\n1. Failing to tie innovation to business value\n\nIf innovation is happening on the company\u2019s dime, company heads want to know how it could benefit them. Otherwise, they won\u2019t support and fund even promising work.\n\n\u201cThe single biggest underlying reason I see for innovation failures is the inability to tie the innovation back to some business value,\u201d says Krishna Prasad, chief strategy officer and CIO at UST, a digital transformation solutions company.\n\n\u201cI see CIOs who do quite well with proof of concepts and showing [in a lab environment] how something could work, but it\u2019s a different ballgame if you want to implement it into a production environment,\u201d he explains. \u201cAnd to take that jump to production, you have to be able to say how it improves experience, productivity, cash flow, or revenue. You have to be able to tie it back into something that\u2019s meaningful.\u201d\n\n2. Not aligning innovation with business objectives\n\nSimilarly, CIOs need to align their innovation efforts to the business\u2019 overall strategy.\n\n\u201cWe all want to work on cool stuff, but if CIOs don\u2019t have a clear roadmap of where the organization wants to go, if the innovation doesn\u2019t align with those strategic goals, then it\u2019s going to be challenge to get innovation approved, funded, and to move it forward,\u201d says Saby Waraich, CIO of Clackamas Community College and president-elect of the Portland chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM).\n\nFor example, Waraich says, if a company wants to become the leader in its industry, and IT is focused on using technology to branch off into a new space, that\u2019s probably not going to fly; the company won\u2019t want to divert resources to a side project that takes it away from its goals even if the idea is intriguing. But if IT develops a new product or service that will help the company retain existing customers and attract new ones, the executive team will be much more likely to back that project.\n\n3. No big-picture perspective\n\nMany IT leaders also fail to see external issues that could impact the innovative ideas they\u2019re developing, Prasad says.\n\nConsider, for example, innovations around generative AI \u2014 something that nearly all organizations are pursuing. Yes, the tech has lots of promise for those who can figure out how to harness its potential. But to make gen AI deliver for your company, you need not just imagination but also the IT environment, data, and governance to run with your big ideas.\n\n\u201cThis shows that many challenges with innovation aren\u2019t actually about the technology; there are different issues that can come up,\u201d Prasad adds.\n\n4. Not building the right culture first\n\nThe Protiviti study found that 28% of organizations consider their culture as a barrier to innovation, meaning they don\u2019t have an environment that supports the collaboration, curiosity, and exploration required for success.\n\nVenu Lambu, CEO of Randstad Digital, a digital enablement partner, says organizations with an environment where workers are \u201ctoo stressed out, measured on short-term goals and are project-focused, don\u2019t give an incentive for people to think beyond the quarter or the next six months.\u201d\n\nIn other words, there\u2019s 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.\n\nTo 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.\n\n\u201cIf 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,\u201d he adds.\n\n5. Not being brilliant at the basics\n\nInnovation cannot come at the cost of doing the IT fundamentals flawlessly, says Kumud Kokal, CIO of Farmers Business Network.\n\nWorkers 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.\n\n\u201cEverything you deliver should be simple to use and available on multiple platforms. Everything has to be plug-and-play. It all just works. That\u2019s how you build trust,\u201d Kokal says.\n\nBut 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.\n\nKokal acknowledges the challenges of getting to that flawless state, and he says that getting to that state doesn\u2019t happen overnight. CIOs may need to put off innovation work to focus first on improving overall IT operations, modernizing, optimizing, and automating \u2014 a path Kokal says he himself has pursued as CIO.\n\nBut he says he found that, \u201conce all that [improvement] happens, IT can consider being more innovative and the business will trust that IT can help.\u201d\n\n6. Underestimating needed skills\n\nMany CIOs lack the skills they need to innovate. That\u2019s 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.\n\n\u201cIt 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\u2019re working with suboptimal talent, which can derail innovation,\u201d Prasad says.\n\nConsider 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.\n\nCIOs could fill in the skills gap by \u201cfinding ways to leverage the broader ecosystem,\u201d 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.\n\n7. Ignoring small innovations\n\n\u201cEverybody 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,\u201d says Antonio Taylor, vice president of infrastructure, services, and security at Transnetyx and marketing chair for SIM\u2019s Memphis chapter.\n\nHe adds: \u201cThat\u2019s 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.\u201d\n\nTaylor 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 \u2014 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.\n\n\u201cSomething that\u2019s not brand new but still different, or something that\u2019s small, those can still be disruptive and help shift the business,\u201d Taylor says. \u201cAnd more of those are happening than the lightbulb moments, the brand-new things that have never been done before. And if it\u2019s not being identified properly as innovation, it can be demoralizing and that demoralizing effect can be detrimental to future innovation.\u201d\n\n8. Not adequately addressing risk\n\nOn a similar note, CIOs who don\u2019t adequately address the risks introduced by innovation are likely to fail \u2014 either by failing to get the buy-in needed, being too risk adverse, or possibly being too reckless.\n\n\u201cMany 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\u2019t-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,\u201d KPMG\u2019s Murph says.\n\n\u201cBy 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,\u201d he says.\n\nTo 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.\n\n9. Not stopping floundering innovation attempts\n\nAs CIO for the U.S. Army, Raj Iyer implemented the Army Digital Transformation Strategy and led a portfolio of projects that advanced the Army\u2019s technological capabilities.\n\nBut Iyer, now global head of public sector at ServiceNow, also \u2014 perhaps to less fanfare \u2014 halted some big-ticket items because they weren\u2019t panning out.\n\nHe 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.\n\n\u201cI think CIOs should have the courage to kill a program. They know when something\u2019s not going well, and they may feel they could turn it around, but it\u2019s just putting more good money after bad,\u201d Iyer says. \u201cIt\u2019s OK to fail; just fail early. Take those lessons learned and move on.\u201d\n\n10. Accepting complacency\n\nComplacency 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.\n\nMore often, though, experts say complacency stems from a natural desire for a steady state.\n\n\u201cInnovation is disruptive, and people struggle with disruption and change. You can hear, \u2018If it\u2019s not broke, don\u2019t fix it,\u2019 a lot,\u201d Taylor says. \u201cThen IT doesn\u2019t even get the space to innovate.\u201d\n\nTaylor says CIOs can usually get IT people to push the envelope. \u201cIT people want to tinker with stuff, we\u2019re always looking for the next best thing, that\u2019s just how we\u2019re wired,\u201d he says.\n\nThe 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\u2019t fully embrace them.\n\n\u201cThe CIO has to be bold enough to say, \u2018I can make this happen. Here\u2019s what it will entail. We\u2019re trying to do the same thing you\u2019re trying to achieve and we\u2019re all in partnership together,\u2019\u201d Taylor adds.