Operation vs. innovation: 3 tips for a win-win

Focusing on innovation doesn’t mean your operations have to suffer – or vice versa. Check out this expert advice to succeed at both
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CIO Operations

As an IT leader, you understand the importance of balancing operations and innovation.

Digital transformation helps with both: It pushes companies to innovate quickly while also providing solutions to maintain operational excellence. But maintaining that balance is easier said than done.

In a traditional bank, for example, IT teams focus on the infrastructure and tools that keep functions like online banking, payments, data analytics for marketing, and compliance running smoothly. But they must also innovate to provide applications that enable a better customer experience – especially in the age of neo-banks and fintechs.

In this new reality, here are three ways to balance operations and innovation to help keep your organization ahead of competitors.

1. Embrace automation

There are many ways to leverage automation for IT and business processes to improve operational efficiency and free up time and resources for innovation.

[ Related read: 4 ways for CIOs to strike a balance between operation and innovation. ]

Many CIOs and IT leaders spend significant amounts of time boosting IT operations and systems, often at the expense of innovation. Automating operational audits and access reviews by building a single source of truth for all IT data, apps, and infrastructure eliminates time spent manually updating applications, helping companies quickly develop and deploy applications in a secure and scalable way.

Increasingly, hyper-automation (a term coined by Gartner) is becoming the norm. Hyper-automation goes beyond the basic automation of individual tasks and leverages things like RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and AI/ML to scale automation across the enterprise and truly automate as many processes as possible, both internally and customer-facing.

2. Encourage collaboration between IT and business

One of the biggest innovation inhibitors is the organizational silo. When IT and business teams don’t collaborate or communicate, IT spins its wheels on projects that aren’t truly aligned with business goals. When IT teams are simply trying to “keep the lights on,” a lack of alignment between business leaders (who may not fully understand the requirements of IT requests) and IT (who may not fully understand how projects support business objectives) is a recipe for failure.

On the technology side, innovations like low-code and no-code applications are helping to bridge the technical and tactical gap between business and IT teams. With no-code solutions, business users can build apps and manage and change internal workflows and tasks without tapping into IT resources. IT governance and guardrails over these solutions are important, but they free up time for IT and software teams to work on higher-level innovation.

3. Lean into digital engineering and solutions partners

Internal IT teams are often equipped with and experienced in maintaining operational excellence. Depending on the company (and whether it was born in the cloud, for example), these internal teams may also excel at building new solutions and applications from the ground up.

However, for many legacy companies (such as the traditional bank mentioned above), developing new systems is not their core competency. So what should a bank do if it’s looking to offer its customers, for example, a new digital wallet that they can use to convert currency when traveling?

IT teams should look to partners with experience in digital engineering that can act as an extension of their IT team and offer extra needed resources. These partners should have deep industry domain expertise to fully understand the challenges and opportunities (for example, the regulatory framework for the banking app). They should also have a consultancy mindset where the goal is to understand the larger strategic goals of any project.

With these IT fundamentals in mind, your organization can strike that ever-important balance between achieving operational excellence and driving innovative ideas forward.

[ 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. ]

Ritish Reddy is one of three co-founders of Zluri, a provider of an enterprise SaaS Management and Orchestration platform, and leads the organization's marketing and partnerships initiatives.