Top 4 Roadblocks to Innovation (And How to Overcome Them)

By Juan Orlandini, Chief Architect

Leaders today seek to innovate in an effort to adapt to the accelerating pace of change. An annual Insight-commissioned Foundry survey revealed that 40% of IT executives listed innovation as their primary goal in 2023.

While many companies innovate by leveraging new technology (or known technologies in new ways), innovation is not always a tech-focused initiative. Rather, innovation can be successfully enabled by technology. Innovation happens when companies discover opportunities where new services, products, or offerings can exist, be successfully implemented, and be brought to market through the use of technology.

Innovation is top of mind for business and IT leaders, but its path remains littered with roadblocks. The top four roadblocks to innovation today unite under two common themes: concerns related to costs and concerns related to talent and teams.

1. Gaps in tech skills and knowledge

45% of IT executives cited gaps in technical skill and knowledge as their roadblock to innovation in 2023.

Innovation has the power to discover untapped possibilities within your organization. Yet, gaps in technical skills between critical teammates keep many companies within arm’s reach of true innovation.

In successful innovation projects, various roles across the organization work in tandem to get the project across the finish line — each person bringing their area of expertise to the table. Although it is important for those playing a critical role in developing the tech side of innovation projects to be well versed in their craft, the report shows many companies find this a challenge.

There are a few ways to overcome this roadblock:

  • Provide opportunities for educational upskilling via routine learning and development courses.  
  • Eliminate tech debt to free up time for learning.
  • Foster an environment where a portion of the team's time is spent on innovation.
  • Encourage teams to learn new skills and move/substitute teammates uninterested in learning new skills.
  • Create a culture that celebrates new skills — and encourages them via activities like a hack-a-thon or other creative outlets. 

In a successful innovation project, companies identify gaps and clearly understand where upskilling is needed. Other times, though, innovation is sparked from outside the organization.

Leaning on a strategic third-party partner offers a fresh perspective and the critical technical expertise needed to jump-start your innovation project. Third-party experts can also train your teams and bring you up to speed on what the innovation project requires to be successful.

Sometimes the right tool/system has been purchased, but the team might not always have the right expertise to take advantage and unlock the real value. Insight offers envisioning sessions and ideation workshops with clients to brainstorm ideas, address skill gaps, and equip teams with the right tools to bring their idea to market.

2. Budget constraints

42% of IT executives cited budget constraints as their roadblock to innovation in 2023.

For many IT leaders, there’s simply not enough room in the budget to fund their innovation projects. Budget constraints (sometimes due to technical debt, as we will touch on later) have limited IT leaders from exploring new ideas to innovate their operations.

IT leaders caught in this scenario can seek to optimize their current expenses. In some cases, companies will unconsciously pay for tools and services that are either widely underused or inactive. Reducing these will leave room for more opportunities in the budget.

Similarly, many companies have the right tools and systems in place to meet their goals but lack the expertise to unlock the full value and cost savings available. To address this, companies should conduct an in-depth review of existing tools/systems and identify opportunities for the greatest ROI.

Next, businesses with budget constraints can explore high-impact, low-investment ideas. A high budget will not guarantee success in your innovation project. The basis of a successful innovation project is built on the right ideas, careful planning, and solid execution. Teammates can collaborate to construct a low-spend innovation strategy with the potential to yield a high return. In fact, many of the best innovations start with a small proof of value that quickly demonstrates viability and marketability. After proof of success on a smaller scale, companies can add more features to the innovation and iterate on greater scales.

Leaders can also explore as-a-service (aaS) models for IT infrastructure and tooling as an alternative to outright purchases. AaS modeling provides consumption-based pricing for cloud (by de facto), hybrid, on-premises, device, edge, and anything that has variable consumption.

AaS models optimize cash flow for workloads that are not core to the business. Companies can leverage aaS to upgrade on-premises environments that are out of date without having to incur the costs of wholesale purchases. Leaders should investigate aaS models to ensure they are the best fit for their company’s short- and long-term technical and financial goals.

3. Technical debt

39% of IT executives cited technical debt as their roadblock to innovation in 2023.

Tech debt can be defined as the measure of the cost of reworking a solution caused by choosing an easy yet limited solution. Tech debt is revealed to be a major roadblock in innovation among IT leaders for 2023. In fact, 86% of IT executives reported they experienced limitations due to tech debt in the last year. This debt can result from reliance on siloed, legacy systems, processes, and much more. We cover the various reasons for tech debt manifest in this article.

Trying to innovate while in technical debt can feel impossible — technical debt anchors you to having to continually re-invest in underperforming and/or outdated solutions instead of having the financial room to explore new ones.

How can IT leaders overcome this barrier? The best strategy is to address tech debt head-on. Businesses should begin by uncovering the source of the issue causing tech debt. For IT leaders, a key component of addressing tech debt is weighing the positive and negative long-term effects of their current solutions. Reworking an issue in the short term by choosing an easy solution can cause greater, more expensive issues down the line. Instead, taking the time and initial costs to identify the right long-term solution may save your company high costs over time.

4. Cultural misalignment

39% of IT executives cited cultural misalignment as their roadblock to innovation in 2023.

It is well known among IT leaders that cultural barriers (specifically between IT operations and development teams) are the hardest hurdle to overcome in moving an innovation project forward. Leaders can have all the right tools in their innovation toolbox, but without collaborative stakeholders, their team won’t be able to set their plans into motion.

While it’s not new, it is a challenge that can be overcome. IT leaders must acknowledge these barriers and create systems that foster a culture of cooperation. Be sure to conduct an analysis of critical stakeholders in the project and determine and implement the best communications methods to inspire group buy-in. IT leaders (and their project managers) must have the necessary skills to navigate misalignments and successfully move the project forward.

Learn more about addressing cultural challenges head-on in this article.

How will you drive innovation in 2023?

While barriers to innovation exist, companies that face innovation challenges head-on and leverage the right resources can see their innovation projects lead to fruition. Learn how Insight can help.