CIOs are often teetering between striving for innovation and maintaining operational excellence. With a potential recession on the horizon and lingering complications from the pandemic, what is the best way to strike a balance between the two? “CIOs are empowering everyone to challenge the status quo daily and providing the digital acumen and psychological safety required for teams to thrive in a culture of continuous improvement, experimentation, and rapid innovation,” according to Red Hat CIO Jim Palermo in our latest report in partnership with HBR Analytic Services.
After a pandemic-fueled cycle of accelerated innovation, the focus may need to return to functional tasks. What does our community of experts think about balancing innovation with foundational IT work? Let’s take a look.
Innovation helps optimize operations
“A long-running theme with respect to IT budgets and other resources is that innovation, which can deliver new services and better experiences to customers, is engaged in a continual tug-of-war with operations (a.k.a. keeping the lights on). Innovation is often the source of new revenue streams. But keeping the lights lit isn’t optional.
But this is too simplistic a framing. Innovation should also be viewed as a force for simplifying and optimizing operations.
For example, AIOps uses artificial intelligence/machine learning to enhance and partially replace a broad range of IT operations processes and tasks. Automation not only reduces the need for many manual tasks but reduces errors and improves consistency; a must in many areas — such as security — associated with developing, deploying, and operating infrastructure and applications.
Improving operational efficiency is also an innovation in and of itself. Last year, researchers at the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at the MIT Sloan School of Management argued in a new book that an industrializing path to becoming future-ready “requires instilling a platform mindset of silo integration, automation, clean data, and efficiency.” They add that modern infrastructures, architectures, and APIs make this path less risky and faster than it was before.”
–Gordan Haff, Technology Evangelist, Red Hat
3 golden rules: functionality, serviceability, and experience
“Striking the right balance between innovation and operations is essential for any organization to succeed and stay competitive. Innovation is about exploring new ideas, embracing change, and striving for progress. On the other hand, operations consist of taking those ideas and making them a reality, efficiently utilizing resources, and ensuring that all the necessary steps are in place to deliver the desired result.
While many organizations can attest that the ability to master balance in this area is one of the most difficult challenges the IT industry has faced, I urge business leaders to remember three golden rules to creating balance in this area: functionality, serviceability, and experience. Too often, product teams lose sight of how the technology is truly meant to be leveraged, which can cause teams to take a few steps back before continuing on the road to innovation.
Functionality reminds leaders always to remember the mission at hand
Serviceability nudges leaders to never innovate for innovation’s sake. Innovation should stem from increasing the customer/client experience and creating a seamless experience.
Experience reminds leaders to consider integrating automation – where needed – to enhance their product or service and simplify complex processes.
Keeping these three aspects in mind will move all leaders closer to creating the balance they seek when transforming their business for the better.”
–Will Keegan, Chief Technology Officer, Lynx Software Technologies
Don’t ignore technical debt
“The load that IT organizations carry with snowballing technical debt has a direct and tangible drain on IT innovation. While it’s obvious on the surface, every dollar spent on technical debt is a dollar that IT cannot invest in innovation and transformation. Maintaining, securing, and operating critical but aging applications and infrastructure is a boat anchor that drags down innovation and must be addressed continuously by IT leadership, architects, and CTOs before it blows up in a disaster.
Start by eliminating the 'kick the can down the road' strategy of ignoring technical debt; instead, prioritize actual application modernization investments that can break the pattern and open up innovation cycles as part of a continuous modernization strategy.”
–Bob Quillin, Chief Ecosystem Officer, vFunction
"Automate backups as a service. Backing up the configurations of your firewalls and other network devices is critical to ensuring the continuity of operations. Backups should be captured nightly, before and after changes, and anytime a problem is suspected. Implementing backup as a service allows other systems to programmatically trigger and access configuration backups as a part of their natural workflows. By instrumenting automated backups, you’ll reduce MTTR (mean time to recovery or mean time to restore) and allow your network team to stay focused on innovation.
Implement an 'upgrade pipeline' to ensure that firewalls and other network devices are upgraded to their recommended OS levels as rapidly as possible. In most large environments, automated software upgrades must occur daily until the network reaches a stable and secure baseline and then multiple times weekly. Running older versions of software leaves open security gaps and prohibits leveraging the innovative new features available in the latest versions.
Integrate vulnerability intelligence within your firewall and network device upgrade strategy. Once your upgrade pipeline is functioning at pace, you’ll next want to integrate vulnerability data within your upgrade planning and scheduling process. This allows you to prioritize the upgrades based upon mitigated and unmitigated risks associated with the current versions running within your environment.”
–Josh Stephens, Chief Technology Officer, BackBox
[ Learn the non-negotiable skills, technologies, and processes CIOs are leaning on to build resilience and agility in this HBR Analytic Services report: Pillars of resilient digital transformation: How CIOs are driving organizational agility. ]
What to read next
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.