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Management Strategies

10:15 AM
Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Comerica EVP and CIO John Beran Balances IT and Operations

A philosophy of empowering employees with responsibility in an effort to build competencies has helped to make Comerica one of the "Best Places to Work in IT."

Although his title is chief information officer, John Beran describes his role at Dallas-based Comerica ($66 billion in assets) as more of that of a traditional COO since he has dual responsibility for operations and IT. Given that perspective, Beran says, he looks to build competencies beyond technical capabilities while empowering employees with responsibility and accountability. Apparently, he's doing something right, as Comerica has been named among Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT for 14 years in a row -- not coincidentally, the same amount of time Beran has been at the helm.

BS&T: What makes Comerica a great place to work?

John Beran: Comerica is very in tune with its employees in areas such as benefits, alternative work schedules and diversity. We have several programs in place within IT and operations to create a great work environment. Our service company's Transformation Program has been in place for almost 10 years and encourages employees to stop thinking about individual tasks and think about how their jobs impact customers.

We also have a shadowing program called the Walk a Mile program. For example, a programmer will spend time as a teller so he or she can experience firsthand what our business people experience when using our technology to serve customers. Conversely, we'll invite branch employees to witness the check processing function to gain a better appreciation of why we want them to submit work a certain way.

BS&T: What is IT's role within the business?

Beran: We're moving from being operationally excellent to being true enablers to the business, [which requires] accurate reporting and processing, and meeting service levels. But our ultimate goal is to be the trusted adviser to our businesses, generating ideas rather than just taking orders.

BS&T: What skills do you look for in IT staff?

Beran: Jobs within IT clearly require technical competency, but we have a robust talent management program in which we identify competencies beyond just the technical capabilities. We're looking for the character of an individual -- leadership, trustworthiness, communications skills and the ability to anticipate. We want employees to anticipate the potential outcomes of their actions to help shape their decision making.

Another important competency is accountability, and we try to move responsibility down into the organization and empower our employees. People don't come to work with the intention of making a mistake. But mistakes are made, and we want employees to be accountable so we can understand why something happened and then make adjustments.

BS&T: How do you keep employees motivated?

Beran: We try to create a good work environment ... through recognition and celebrating our successes. It's all about accountability. Good employees get upset when they see other employees getting away with things, so it's as important to deal with employees who aren't performing as it is to recognize employees who are performing.

Our Transformation Recognition program allows employees to recognize each other for [exceptional] business acumen, communication skills, problem solving and decision making. We have quarterly and national winners who receive monetary compensation for their continued performance.

BS&T: What technology challenges do you face?

Beran: The ratcheting up of security, risk management, disaster recovery and compliance management during the past five or six years has added a tremendous amount of overhead. I used to spend about 5 percent of my time on these activities; I now spend 30 percent of my time on them.

What was once considered adequate disaster recovery -- if your ATM went down, for example, customers would go to the branch to get cash -- is not good enough today. Now disaster recovery is about full redundancy. As an industry, we've been so successful in moving our customers to self-service capabilities that we no longer have 48 or 72 hours to recover. We have to recover within four hours.

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