Longtime former Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Terry Davis today finds himself on the board of many top Australian companies where he has never met the CIO.
He's troubled by that for two reasons.
Firstly, the board ultimately reviews and approves capital outlay for technology projects. Getting in front of them early means they'll understand who is accountable for a particular body of work - and who or where to invest their confidence (and future capital) if and when those works succeed.
"There's nothing like seeing the person who's going to implement an IT project present it - 'This is what I said last year that we were going to do, and this is the progress that we're making against that,'" Davis tells aspiring CIOs at the ACS Future Leaders Institute on the Gold Coast.
"[Board-level] confidence comes from performance over time. In addition, If you can educate them, it means you're more likely to get your change agenda or other things you want through."
If IT stays invisible at the board level, it becomes much harder to position the technology organisation as the disruptive influence that many businesses want or indeed expect it to be.
For Davis, seeing the CIO properly represented at board level is a logical continuation of their ascendency in the C-Suite over the past five years.
"In my opinion, the CIO has changed from being 4th or 5th ranked in direct reports to the CEO, to the most important member of the CEO's executive team," he said.
"If you're not there yet, then your goal is to get to that point. Does your boss see you as the same, more important or less important than any other member of his direct reports?"
With the technology landscape likely to stay disruptive over the next few years, Davis sees it as "imperative" that all of a CEO's direct reports are capable of championing their contribution to business programs to the board. He believes CIOs should aim to front the board at least two-to-three times a year.
When meeting with the board, Davis recommends:
1. Use simple, jargon-free language.
2. Adopt a "less is more" philosophy to any presentation materials. "I can't recall the last time I saw an IT presentation of more than 15 pages," Davis said. "If we went past that, the detail was so minute that we lost the people we were presenting to."
3. Prepare a Q&A. "Before the board meeting, we'd go around the executive table and say, 'If you were a director, tell me the questions that you'd want to ask - and let's put the answers in writing," he said. "'What are the risks of this project?', 'What is the timeframe for implementation' - a whole range of things."
4. Be realistic about timeframes and costs. "There is nothing that gives boards the horrors more than when you go back and say, 'I want an extra $5 million or $10 million for an implementation', because they then lose confidence in you and the program."