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CIO advice at SIMposium 2016: How to raise 'adult' business partners

Executive coach Susan Cramm urged CIOs at SIMposium 2016 to train the business to become technology proficient -- or be prepared to fail at innovation.

Every company is a technology company. IT moves at the speed of business. The only limit to business innovation is our imagination.

CIOs have heard the refrain about the wonders of today's technology-driven businesses. Except for a majority of IT departments -- and businesses -- the upbeat anthem doesn't apply, according to Susan Cramm, an executive coach at Valuedance and keynote speaker at SIMposium 2016.

That's because, for starters, the math doesn't add up.        

IT departments typically account for about 5% of a company's employees, Cramm said. On average, 80% of IT resources are focused on "lights-on" IT services, 50% at IT organizations that boast "ninja-level" efficiency. At a hypothetical small company of 600 employees, about the size of the audience, 15 people maximum are serving up IT innovation for 570 employees. Meanwhile, business demand for IT typically outstrips IT supply by a ratio of 2:1.

The future is about ensuring that IT is done well, but that IT is not doing it all.
Susan Cramm executive coach, Valuedance

"I don't care how you cut it, but that math doesn't work and we feel it every day. Companies and people deserve and require better," Cramm said. "People need to go home and feel they are making progress, not falling behind."

To do that, IT departments will have to change their operating models, Cramm said. Citing McKinsey research, she said that about 70% of IT departments follow a "fundamentals" model of delivering IT, basically acting as consultants to the business. About 30% have transitioned to a "partnership model," with IT employees enmeshed in business teams but still there primarily to contribute "IT smarts" rather than business acumen.

Susan CrammSusan Cramm

Cramm, a former CFO at Chevys Mexican Restaurants and CIO at Taco Bell Corp., offered a third way to the senior IT leaders at SIMposium 2016: Empower the business to take on technology functions that used to be considered the job of IT.

"The future is about ensuring that IT is done well, but that IT is not doing it all," she said.

How to raise adult business partners

Cramm drew on her experience as a CFO 20 years ago to drive home that point that IT proficiency must become integral at companies. As CFO, she found "the job easier to do every day of the week," even though the finance job was broader than her CIO job in terms of the functions reporting to her, which included IT. It got easier as she progressed, because no one expected her to manage their financial assets.

"They knew how to manage their financial assets and learned early in their careers to do so," she said. "It is not unusual today and it wasn't unusual then for leaders in the business to say, 'I hate my technology,' or 'I want more from technology, what is IT doing about it?' But it is inconceivable for people to say, 'I hate my profit, what is finance doing about it?' Or, 'I hate my people, what is HR doing about it?'"

Cramm also appealed to the parents in the room at SIMposium 2016 by likening the CIO responsibility to train business people to be IT proficient to the demands of raising children to be independent adults. 

More about SIMposium 2016:

SIMposium is an annual event organized by members of the Society for Information Management, an association for senior IT leaders now in its 47th year. "20/20 Vision" was the theme of this year's three-day conference, held this year in Uncasville, Conn., at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino. Sessions were designed to help senior IT leaders plan for the next four years in areas ranging from risk management to financial planning, with a heavy dose of leadership advice.

Parents often undermine their children's passage to adulthood for three reasons, Cramm said, referring research from Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of undergraduate advising at Stanford University, who lays out the dangers and indignities of "helicopter" parenting in her 2015 book, How to Raise an Adult. First, parents do things for their kids that kids can do for themselves; second, they do things that kids could almost do for themselves; and finally, they parent out of ego and fear.

"Are you managing projects that your business partners could manage because of scope and risk profile? Are you propping up their business cases and getting funding for them? Are you doing the change management on key IT initiatives -- because, if you are, you have to ask yourself why," Cramm said to the SIMposium 2016 IT leaders. "

Additionally, CIOs who "still hate shadow IT" are missing an opportunity: "Rather than a bad thing, shadow IT is a representation of people who are ready to grow up, who want to take more control of IT," she said.

"So rather than try to claw IT back, think about how you can lift it up, empower it."

Go to part two, SIMposium 2016: Break free from lights-on IT by empowering the business, to read Cramm's pointers on what functions IT must keep in IT, the four key concepts to ensure that the hand-off of IT functions is done responsibly, and how to get started on empowering the business.

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