'Keeping the lights on' stifles tech innovation

A silicon.com jury of CIOs failed to reach a verdict over recent studiess that slammed CIOs for not taking the lead to implement new technology trends.
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor
The pressure to 'keep the lights on' and focus on business systems is stifling innovation and creativity in IT departments when it comes to new technologies.

Two separate reports last week by the London School of Economics and analyst Gartner hit out at a lack of vision from CIOs, saying the IT department is failing to take a lead and inform the board how to exploit new consumer-led technology trends to increase collaboration and interaction for customers and staff.

Half of silicon.com's 12-strong CIO Jury agreed there is a lack of innovation, creativity and vision coming from the IT function. Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO at Sodexho UK, said: "Unfortunately some IT departments have become so focused with 'keeping the lights on' time isn't spent on generating new ways of addressing business issues. We should be a source of ideas--but more importantly we should act as a 'lightning rod' within our organizations, fostering a culture that explores innovative ideas."

Les Boggia, head of IT operations at insurance firm Carole Nash, said: "Whilst CIOs try to induce innovation into the business, we are continually stifled by lack of direction and strategy, and focus on tactical solutions. All businesses need to allow their IT division to underpin the business strategy with an IT strategy that adds true value, instead of being forced down a narrow path."

One approach would be to have a Google-style "creativity allowance" for staff to work on their own ideas, suggested Paul Broome, CTO at 192.com. "However, 'cake and eat it' attitudes tend to preclude IT departments from doing any 'black ops' work as business want staff full on with today's needs. Also if creativity comes from other parts of the business why is that bad," he said.

Ric Francis, operations director at the Post Office, agreed. "For years IT was told to put the technology away and focus on business solutions. Now the sexy bits of IT are the domain of all functions. However, so what? Who cares where the next great idea comes from?"

Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director at UK publisher Hachette Filipacchi, said: "I have made 'making proactive suggestions' part of the IT strategy. This is part of the transformation from a 'keeping the lights on' operating culture in IT to one that is truly focused on delivering the business benefits of technology." But others said CIOs should be the sanity check in the face of hype around new technology trends.

David Supple, head of IT, communications and creative services at Ecotec, said: "In my experience CIOs know the difference between fads and functionality--they focus on delivering value to the business. That may not always be avant-garde but this also is not the playground."

Today's CIO Jury was...

Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi UK
Les Boggia, head of IT operations, Carole Nash
Paul Broome, CTO, 192.com
Steve Clarke, head of internal computing, AOL UK
Colin Cobain, group IT director, Tesco
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO, Sodexho UK
John Keeling, director of computer services,
John Lewis Ric Francis, operations director, The Post Office
Luke Mellors, CIO, Expotel Jacques Rene, CTO, Ascend Aerospace David Supple, head of IT, communications and creative services, Ecotec

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