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How IT Leaders Can Help CEOs Make Innovation Walk, Not Just Talk

How IT Leaders Can Help CEOs Make Innovation Walk, Not Just Talk

A new executive survey shows that innovation is a top business strategy, but execution on the CEO's innovation vision is faltering. And that's an opportunity for IT veterans to show leadership

Accenture's survey data also showed a large and alarming discrepancy between a CEO's commitment to innovation and the actual creation of and execution on innovative idea

The business demand for innovation has never been higher. Hence, the excess of CEO pronouncements, advertising campaigns and annual reports littered with the term innovation.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents to a recent Accenture survey of 601 executives in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada claimed that their organizations business strategy is either totally or largely dependent on innovation. And that focused commitment comes directly from the top: Nearly 60 percent of surveyed executives said that their CEO gives a degree of support to innovation that is greater than the level of support of CEOs at their closest industry competitors.

However, the survey data also showed a large and alarming discrepancy between a CEO's commitment to innovation and the actual creation of and execution on innovative ideas. Just 15 percent of respondents said they are very satisfied with their company's ability to convert ideas into product and service offerings; only 13 percent said they can do it repeatedly.

"The issues [and challenges] of execution in innovation, beyond the pronouncements by the executive suite, are themes that we hear over and over," says Dan Chow, a senior executive in Accenture's strategy practice. "Everybody besides the CEO seems to be very unsatisfied about what might be in place."

In turn, a majority (57 percent) of respondents said that their organization's speed of innovation was slower than that of industry peers, and 55 percent said that their frequency of innovation trailed their industry peers, according to the results.

Many of Accenture's clients, Chow says, are struggling to balance the fiscal and resource demands of maintaining core operations and implementing innovative processes. "So how do they ambidextrously work not only on the incremental extensions [of their core business], which are important to fuel the top line and bottom line," he says, "but how do they build a mechanism to explore into new territories."

One potential reason for the disparity is that in many companies there's no clear innovation champion at the top. So while nearly two-thirds of the respondents said innovation was a top business strategy, only 21 percent said their companies have a chief innovation executive. And even fewer — just 11 percent — said there is a C-suite executive in charge of the process.

Roughly half of the respondents said that multiple executives are responsible for innovation in their companies, which can, in some cases, create packets of bureaucracy. And bureaucracy and innovation are two words that should never go hand in hand.

"People in organizations crave those tools and techniques and, to some extent, freedom to actually execute," Chow says. "The things that can help companies perform at a different level have to deal with process and discipline — not bureaucracy — but tools that enable people to actually generate new insights into the market, new ideas, and actually execute them without the frustrations that you see today."

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