Getting boards of directors interested in and actively involved with IT issues has long been seen as a challenge for CIOs. But it's an imperative as IT has become such an integral part of overall corporate strategy at most, if not all, companies. As Alan Calder, CEO of IT Governance Limited, told me when I interviewed him:
Seven Points CIOs Must Know About the Board of Directors
Seven areas that CIOs must understand and act upon in order to effectively work with the board.
... Information is fundamental to how the business competes in today's environment. The value of the organization is almost certainly very dependent on the intellectual capital of the organization, which includes know-how and customer databases. It's often more than 50 percent and often 70 percent or even 90 percent of the market value of an organization. That information resides in information technology. So if directors are responsible for the overall value of an entity, then that makes them responsible for its intellectual capital and the way it's processed and managed.
Despite this, Calder said, "the vast majority of boards don't have a clue."
I'd like to think there may be less cluelessness now, given that I spoke with Calder way back in 2008. IT Business Edge's Susan Hall in July cited a Gartner survey that found the number of company directors who rated the strategic contributions of IT "high" to "extremely high" grew from 32 percent in 2010 to 66 percent for 2012. In fact, some board directors are helping make the case to include IT executives among their ranks.
Some CIOs are better prepared to work closely with boards of directors than others, of course. For those who may not be "naturals," Gartner recently offered seven tips that can help CIOs raise their profiles with boards of directors. (My comments appear in parentheses.) Among the tips:
My interview with Calder includes some good advice related to Gartner's tip involving research of board objectives and priorities. It's important for the CIO to stay on top of any changes in priorities. As Calder told me:
... I am going to come at it in whatever terms I think are currently driving the board. So if the board is defensive-we're in a defensive sector, and the economy is defensive-then I am going to talk to them about how IT can save money, reduce costs and improve the robustness of their business processes. If I am in a sector where the environment or climate change is a big issue, I am going to talk to them about how greening IT can contribute significantly to cost reductions and improve position in the marketplace. I am going to get the board involved by pitching to them what IT can help the organization achieve in terms the board can understand. I am going to do it in as concrete a way as I can and stay as focused as possible on costs and benefits.
Some more good stuff from Calder: