The communications gap can be wide between the CIO and the board but the right information will give IT leaders a voice at the executive table, says executive mentor Christina Gillies.
At the CIO Summit in Sydney, Gillies provided advice on how CIOs can better connect with the board and provide directors with a useful and non-confusing picture of IT and its contribution to business strategy.
Do a role reversal
To understand the board, CIOs should think like the board, Gillies said.
Board directors do not have an IT background and largely base their IT knowledge on the what they read in the media. Also, they hear the most about the IT department when there is an outage, she said.
"How would you behave in the boardroom?" she asked. Often, directors go into "react mode," demanding papers about what's being done about the latest outage and seeking detailed tracking of new projects, she said.
Think of yourself as an educator. A CIO can provide comfort to the board by giving them a clearer picture of what's happening in IT and by showing opportunities for technology to contribute to the business, Gillies said.
The CIO should teach the board what technology is being used, how well it supports the business now and how well it will support the business in the future, she said. The CIO should also keep the board updated on technology trends and the opportunities they may bring to the business in the future, she said.
Develop "fundamental" communication tools. The CIO should show the board conceptual pictures of the present and future IT architectures, and a roadmap to the future linking technology initiatives to business outcomes, Gillies said. IT should be tied to asset replacement schedules, order of magnitude costs and return on investment, she said.
Reporting is critical to keep the board updated on how current systems are running and what progress has been made toward the roadmap. It's also useful to provide a one-page risk profile for IT, she said.
"The right information will give the CIO a critical voice at the executive table and in the boardroom."
Get on the board's agenda. "Once you've got the fundamentals in place ... do a test run on the CEO and the business executives."
Once the executives respond positively, "suggest to the CEO that it would be useful to get on the board's agenda annually," she said. Also, suggest writing a bimonthly IT performance report for the board, she said.
Use English. "Simple pictures tell the story, not architectural masterpieces," said Gillies.
When illustrating IT systems or writing a roadmap, CIOs should remember that board directors do not have the same level of technical knowhow, she said. The same advice applies when talking to board members in person, she said.
"Do not use jargon and do not use the latest consultant speak," she said. "Keep it simple. Draw pictures."
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