Long-time former Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Terry Davis today finds himself advising many top Australian companies where the CIO has little to no direct interaction with the board
He has been surprised 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 the strategy and implementation of 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 on a regular basis. This provides the appropriate review mechanisms; 'This is what I said last year that we were going to do, and this is the progress that we are making against that,'" Davis tells aspiring CIOs at the ACS Future Leaders Institute.
"[Board-level] confidence comes from performance over time. In addition, If you can educate and successfully take them on the journey it means you are more likely to get your change agenda or other projects you want through."
If IT stays invisible at the board level, it becomes much harder to position the technology team 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 in many organisations the most important member of the CEO's executive team," he said.
"If you are not there yet, then your goal should be to get to that point. You can ask the question, '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 linked with the CIO in 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 presenting to the board, Davis recommends:
- Use simple, jargon-free language and adopt a "less is more" philosophy to any presentation materials. Have plenty of back up material in the appendix for those directors wanting to be reassured that all the necessary detail has been attended to.
- Prepare a detailed Q&A with the approach, 'If you were a director, tell me the questions that you would want to know the answer for. What are the costs the risks the rewards and what is the timeframe for implementation?'
- Be realistic about timeframes and costs. "There is nothing that creates anxiety at the board level more than when you say, 'I need an extra $5 million or $10 million for an implementation', and the project will not be delivered on time. This causes loss of confidence in the people implementing and the program itself. If a more realistic cost and time frame had been presented at the outset there would not have been the issue to deal with down the track.