You say you want IT innovation? What are you doing about it?

Ask any CEO or CIO what he or she is looking for in IT and you’ll likely get a three-pronged answer:

  • Agility to meet market demands
  • Speed to market
  • Innovation.

Oh, and don’t forget cost, as in cost containment. Better, faster, cheaper. And yet, what are they doing to achieve all those lofty goals? Not, enough, according to a fascinating new study that notes a serious disconnect — really, a ho-hum approach — between expectations and results in IT.

The BPI Network surveyed 250 business and technology managers from around the world. Nearly half were CEOs or other C-level execs. More than half work in companies with more than $100 million in revenue; nearly a quarter work in companies with revenue topping $1 billion.

The study is really aimed at visibility into IT results, but it raises questions in all kind of areas.

The top-line results indicate people are paying attention — or at least paying lip service — to the importance of technology to their businesses. Sixty-five percent say tech has become “far more important” in the past five years, while another 28 percent said it’s “somewhat” more important. So, basically, everyone at least recognize the growing reliance on technology.

The survey asked: How do you rate the level of innovation at your organization?
The survey asked: How well is your company embracing modern technologies and new channels of digital engagement and experience?

The three most-pressing imperatives (about equally emphasized among respondents) are to: 1/ improve responsiveness to business needs, 2/ increase focus on customers’ digital experience as a competitive advantage and 3/ delivering apps faster, better and cheaper.

Overall, though, the survey group is seriously disappointed with the results they get from IT organizations. Only 14 percent rate their own IT teams performance on innovation as “very high.”

So, what are the executives surveyed doing about it? Less than half (47 percent) the group say they are spending more time on understanding strategic implications of new technologies, while another 38 percent say they’re “working on it.”

That’s a serious disconnect that survey authors say points to a need for both serious cultural changes within enterprise organizations and a greater commitment from top executives.

“Although they recognized the apparent urgency of embracing transformative technologies, the majority of executives also took a surprisingly laid-back, ‘We’re working on it’ tone to taking the very steps needed to ensure higher levels of agility, speed and innovation,” the McKinsey & Company researchers wrote.

How bad is it? The report quotes Tim Chou, an IT lecturer at Stanford as saying about . the sluggishness of innovation, “I think it’s real and it’s big.”

“I would claim right now there is almost no innovation occurring in most corporations,” he says.

In this environment, with thousands of corporations on the brink of extinction because they are being digitally surrounded by upstart competition, that is a shocking statement.

What’s the source of this serious disconnect? The report offers lots of clues. Let’s take a listen one of the survey respondents, an executive from Intuit Labs:

“Perhaps the biggest enemy of innovation within large companies is bureaucracy — the concentration of decision-making in a top-down management structure. In bureaucratic organizations, employees aren’t empowered to come up with new ideas and try them out. Instead, ideas must run up the flag pole. Senior leaders must be influenced. Several managers need to be bought in. A single manager, who doesn’t like the idea, can derail the whole effort. It may take several meetings and many months to get an idea approved.”

Which is one of the things we hear often in publishing this blog. Too many silos, too much bureaucracy, too many top managers who aren’t bought into the idea of true innovation.

If you’re a top executive, it’s a topic for serious thought, because the questions this disconnect raises could actually be existential.