Learn about the fundamental differences between IT and business leaders, and why they need to work together to form a successful business. We had the opportunity to speak with Susan Cramm, the founder and president of Valuedance, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. Over the past 14 years, Cramm has coached executives from a number of Fortune 500 clients. She is a blogger for the Harvard Business Review and author of the Harvard Business Press book, “8 Things We Hate about IT: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to form a New Partnership with IT.” Cramm is a former CFO and Executive Vice President at Chevy’s Mexican Restaurants. Prior to Chevy’s, Cramm held the positions of CIO and Vice President of the Information Technology Group and Senior Director of Financial and Strategic Planning of the Taco Bell Corporation. We interviewed Cramm on her IT experience, her book, her blog and her thoughts on CIOs and the IT industry today.
MES: Please tell me about “8 Reasons Why I Hate IT.” How did you come up with this list, and what do you think it means for IT going forward?
CRAMM: I came up with the eight reasons because there seems to be a constant common ingredient across the board when you talk to both IT and business leaders—there is a sense of frustration. From the business leaders' standpoint, no matter what they ask for, it’s too little delivered and is always too late and for too much, and from the IT leaders' perspective, no matter what IT does it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. They are always struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand. I wrote the blog in the beginning of my tenure with Harvard Online, and it is a blog reaching out to business leaders about helping them become more engaged in IT and more educated about IT—it is also to help them lead and manage in IT. According to my research, only about 25 percent of business leaders consider themselves smart about IT, so there is a big confidence gap.
The longer-term goal is that given the fact that IT is embedded across every business and in virtually every business process, IT is something that can no longer just be delegated to the IT department; it has to be a fundamental part of the business leader’s job description.
MES: Now, please tell me about “8 Reasons Why I Love IT.”
CRAMM: Interestingly enough, this blog was not as commented on as the “8 Reasons Why I Hate IT” blog. It was really to show that relationships or any controversial perspective has two points of view. In order to reconcile the relationship or to make any progress, you have to understand both perspectives because there is truth in both lists. I have personally experienced both sides of those lists and what I think is fundamentally a heartbreak of mine, as well as a huge opportunity, is for us to work past those frustrations and “form a partnership.”
MES: You wrote: “The challenge in front of us is to create a future where the capacity to innovate isn't limited by the size or shape of the IT organization.” What do you see for the future of IT, and in your opinion, how do you think CIOs can make their IT business plan better?
CRAMM: I’m glad that you picked out that quote because that is the fundamental reason why I wrote the book and is why I think business leaders need to get a lot smarter about IT. We have a huge opportunity to exploit technology and benefit our businesses, but if we have a competency gap between IT and business leaders, we aren’t going to be able to exploit IT to its fullest. In order to do that, we need to create leaders across the organization that understand how to exploit their current tools, understand where technology is going, understand their business processes, have a much better grasp of the information both inside and outside of their company to help drive decision-making and how to really put this asset to work for the company.
Right now, within virtually every organization that I have worked with during my 30-plus years in IT, their capacity for innovation technology and enabled innovation is gated by the numbers of employees in IT, specifically the number of employees who are project managers, architects and business analysts and solution designers. So, there are a very small number of people within a company who can actually help execute technology innovation. This is a little scary and has caused companies to want to reach outside their organization and create extended relationships with technology providers, which is a good solution, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that technology leadership really needs to come from within a company. You really can’t buy leadership from outside of a company; those resources external to a company should be led and integrated by those leaders within a company.