Professional development events are common for business professionals in most industries. In fact, there are more than 10,000 trade shows held in the U.S. annually. With a well-planned personal schedule, one can certainly learn a lot at a trade show; but occasionally, you can return from a week of attending various sessions wishing you’d learned a bit more and, frankly, realized better ROI for your time away from the office.
It’s a fairly common epiphany and I recently had one of those experiences in the tech industry. It got me thinking: How can IT leadership conferences and professional development programs be taken to the next level? What are the most important aspects on which we should be focusing for the future?
Technology is a major business differentiator and something that has the power to shape the future of an organization. Companies should want their IT professionals to be more engrained in understanding the mechanics of their business, so development programs should help IT professionals become more aligned with — and aware of — the business initiatives within their organizations. In many regards, the CIO of today is tomorrow’s CEO.
In speaking with many tech industry CIOs and VPs, I found that the majority agreed, with most providing valuable feedback for what they would look for in a development program like this. The ideal program would be geared toward helping attendees go out and learn about business. IT is a necessary service supporting the business of any company, so they both go hand-in-hand.
Armed with this feedback, the light bulb went off for me while I was attending a CIO-focused event at University of California, Irvine’s Center for Digital Transformation. The center offers educational programs that help organizations leverage emerging digital technologies and it dawned on me that this would be the ideal resource and host to facilitate the creation of such a program.
I met with Dr. Vijay Gurbaxani, the director of the UCI Center for Digital Transformation, and his associate Ed Trainor to discuss my concept. The first question Gurbaxani and Trainor posed to me was, “What’s the value in a program like this?” It’s a great question, and here's why:
- The people we work with in IT leadership are actively searching for tools to nurture and grow their best and brightest team members to get them focused on understanding the “business” and ultimately aligning technology innovation to drive the business.
- From the research I conducted, it appears no such program exists with respect to the curriculum and focus being put together. I foresee the development of more programs like this as HR and the C-suite continue to see the value in IT professional development.
- Recent disasters like the Equifax data breach (along with other major security meltdowns) show that cybersecurity and IT are serious concerns for the C-suite. With budgets being devoted to preventing cyberattacks that devastate the bottom line, it makes sense for IT staff to learn about business strategy.
UCI's business school has just launched the program, offering a certificate in business leadership for IT executives, with participants from such diverse organizations as AIG, NetApp, Sutter Health and Yamaha Motors USA. The go-ahead from UCI to join in the development of the program was validation a need existed for the program, and a call to action for so many tech companies that understand the value in shaping tech executives to look for new ways to drive business outcomes.
In an ideal world, no one would finish a leadership program questioning its value. Leadership programs should be purposefully designed to educate and enable their participants to understand the business side of things in order to better align innovation to the objectives of their organization.
To remain competitive, organizations must embrace digital transformation while staying focused on traditional objectives. By learning about business initiatives to complement their existing knowledge base, today’s IT professionals are in the perfect position to help guide their organizations and advise the C-suite on the evolving tech landscape.
Editor's note: This is a contributed piece by Drew Cather, Vice President of Innovation at Trace3, where he focuses on turning technology innovation into business value. He holds an economics degree from UC-Berkeley and lives in Orange County, California, with his wife and young son.