Many CIOs face challenges when updating their technology estate to become a digital ready business. This can become even more difficult when the board reduces or removes support for tech projects that go off-track.
Francis North believes technology should be embedded into every aspect of the corporate strategy to ensure growth, attract talent and keep ahead of the competition. This means the CIO needs to secure board support in some crucial areas to ensure success and pave the way to genuine transformation.
A clear mandate
When there isn’t a clear alignment of strategic priorities at the board level, technology can end up serving many masters as different parts of the organisation make competing demands for support. Nobody wins in this situation and strategic imperatives are often neglected to meet more immediate priorities.
This could result in limited budget or appetite to commit to long-term strategic initiatives, or that in-train programmes are neglected. This creates technology debt, and the organisation gets no closer to achieving strategic goals that have a tech dependency.
We’ve seen that boards with an aligned view on strategic priorities, including technology, provide clear direction to the entire organisation. There’s also an opportunity for the CIO to work with the board to understand its priorities and identify the possible opportunities to find efficiencies from a joined-up view of the technology impacts of the strategic roadmap.
This alignment at the board level creates a clear mandate for the CIO to prioritise initiatives and make any trade-off decisions.
Understand the value of technology
Board members often view IT as a cost centre and this can make them hesitant to invest in new technologies. Directors without an IT background may struggle to understand the value of technology, so CIOs who can demonstrate the return from investing in strategic initiatives will have greater success in securing support from their board.
Those returns could be lower overheads, new sources of revenue or higher profitability. You could also consider showing how removing pain points correlates to increased employee satisfaction.
Make sure you show both the short-term and long-term returns of a strategic change. Efficiency gains can take just a few months to realise, but significant business returns could take more than two years. Helping the board to understand there are short-term and long-term upsides of a technology transformation will further ensure its support for your change programme, as well as improve its IT literacy.
Appeal to top tech talent
There’s a global shortage of engineers with skills in emerging technologies like DevOps and cloud computing. These are the same technologies that are critical to ensure organisations remains competitive in the digital age.
Experienced engineers play an important role in mentoring newer peers in coding practices, those emerging technologies and creative problem solving. This helps productivity and creates a desirable culture for engineers of all levels, making your organisation an employer of choice.
An engaged board can help ensure its organisation has a tech-forward strategy that will attract the right skills and mindset. Once this priority is set, the human resources function will need to align and execute on the goal to attract and retain that talent.
Almost every business function will have a technology dependency but a board that lacks the tech know-how could make decisions that have significant long-term downsides for the organisation. For example, it may endorse the acquisition of another company without understanding the complexities of integrating incompatible systems. Or an organisation may be so focussed on moving forward with business growth that it neglects to maintain ageing systems, exposing the risk of a major software failure.
Boards with low levels of tech literacy have been willing to cut funding for technology programs if something goes wrong, even if the cause is people or process. But boards with high literacy in IT can champion the technology function and its strategic roadmap.
CIOs have a responsibility to ensure the board has the right level of technical literacy to make decisions that consider technology impacts of their decisions. They can provide a current and regular view of their technology estate and present a strategic plan to the board to addresses limitations and pain points. This will help the board understand the holistic technology picture, meaning it’ll make decisions that include technology considerations.
One-on-ones with individual board members, regular briefings to the whole board or even putting it through a training program are other strategies we’ve seen from successful CIOs.
Francis North’s leadership advisory team has worked with clients to improve board-level engagement and technology literacy. Learn more about our services or contact us to talk about how we can help.