Four Strategies to Get More Out of IT

There’s a gap between IT supply and demand into which money tumbles, never to be seen again. CFOs can help close that gap (and rescue that cash) by...
Susan CrammOctober 19, 2011

When it comes to IT, we’re leaving money on the table.

The demand for IT (the perceived need for new capabilities to improve the business’s performance and/or its competitive position) far outstrips the available supply (the capacity — including money, staff, and tools — to fulfill IT demand). Executives I’ve interviewed estimate that the demand for IT exceeds available resources by a factor of 2 to 1, and consequently, the return on investment lost on initiatives that aren’t being funded is at least 30%.

The primary constraint is people, not money. More than 70% of executives believe their company lacks leaders at all levels capable of envisioning and leading IT-enabled change. These executives understand that their “line managers are dying under the [current] project load” and believe they “don’t have the answer” to address the shortage.

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There is no silver bullet. But there is an opportunity to utilize existing resources more effectively by changing the way many IT requests are fulfilled.

The current IT organizational model assumes that technology requires specialist knowledge and that the estimated 95% of employees working outside of IT in most enterprises don’t have the IT smarts to help themselves. As it currently stands, if “the 95%” want anything related to IT, they have to contact “the 5%” to get it done.

Tapping into a New Resource
Forward-thinking IT and business leaders are starting to redefine the existing model to tap into the 95%. Given easier-to-use technologies and increasing levels of IT smarts at all levels of the organization, these leaders see a “big revolution on the business side” and believe that “40% of our users can do this on their own,” given that “they are already very accountable and self-sufficient.”

CIOs estimate that approximately a quarter of what IT does today could and should be done by the 95%. These include activities such as requirements, process analysis and design, project management, data access and analysis, and support.

In order to tap into the 95%, CIOs are defining policies, providing education, and building infrastructure to foster self-sufficiency. The programs being implemented include these four:

1. Project management and business analysis as a skill, not a job. End users are being formally educated in project-management and business-analysis disciplines through classroom training and temporary assignments in IT.

2. Platform-as-a-service for the business. End users are being given data access and analysis, workflow configuration, and business rules and logic tools that will allow them to perform many of the activities formerly provided exclusively by IT.

3. The software-as-a-service sandbox. End users are being given the ability to work directly with SaaS vendors as long as IT is involved during planning stages in order, for example, to ensure that the SaaS application will not have an adverse impact on core business systems. On an ongoing basis, IT monitors the initiative to determine when and if the program has broader-based value and should be brought into the core and scaled up.

4. Bring your own computer. End users are being given the freedom to select their device of choice as long as they assume responsibility for it, including, for example, buying from approved vendors, paying for features that exceed the company allowance, complying with company security and data-protection policies, and maintaining the device without assistance from IT.

As I said, there is no magic for closing the gap between IT demand and IT supply. But changing the IT organizational model in this fashion may help narrow the gap in two very important ways. First, it could free up some of the specialized resources in IT so that it will be able to focus on higher-value opportunities, such as identifying and exploring opportunities to deliver IT-enabled product or services or collaborate with customers in new ways. Second, it can tap into the growing IT savvy of non-IT employees and help them satisfy their needs and increase their productivity on their own, rather than force them to sit around and twiddle their thumbs (or try to do it on their own without the proper tools and policies) while waiting for IT to become available.

Susan Cramm is an executive coach and president of Valuedance, an executive-coaching and leadership-development firm specializing in information technology. She is a former CIO and CFO, and is the author of the book The 8 Things We Hate About IT: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT (Harvard Press). Susan can be reached at