How CIOs can become indispensable to the board: 3 tips

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced enterprises to speed up digital transformation, the CIO role has become pivotal to business strategy. Consider these tips to improve interaction and understanding with the board of directors
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CIO board tips

We have entered an era in which the CIO has become an essential advisor in the boardroom.

Let that sink in for a moment. Over the years, the CIO role has certainly evolved – remember when it was unusual for a technology professional to even be a member of the C-suite? Now the CIO is a vital and visible voice in the decision-making process for formulating and advancing corporate strategy through technology.

For years, CIOs have been fighting to convince their organizations to explore new business models and help capitalize on the opportunities created by accelerating technology innovations. However, these recommendations have not always been the highest priority for many CEOs or boards.

Boards now turning to CIOs for more guidance

With COVID-19 forcing a widespread change in how businesses work, interact with customers, and create enterprise value, it’s more important than ever for their core strategy to intertwine with technology. Boards now recognize this – and are turning to their CIOs for guidance.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

As a result, many CIOs are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, interacting with their board of directors for the first time, or on a more regular basis. Based on my experience with both corporate governance and advising senior technology leaders, I have three tips for CIOs who find themselves in this position. These tips can help increase the likelihood of effective board interactions, but more importantly, they provide the opportunity to position the role of IT as a key strategic enabler for the enterprise.

[ Is a board seat on your 2021 goal list? Read also: How to land your first board seat: 7 steps for CIOs. ]

1. Do your homework

Understanding your audience’s perspective on technology is key. Each board member’s understanding and views on technology are different, and assuming they all appreciate the strategic relevance of technology is a mistake – and could make this a one-time meeting invite.

Research each board member to get a sense of their prior technology experience, familiarity, and perspectives. Start by looking through their company’s annual reports, reach out to peer CIOs or their former colleagues for insight, look at the member’s industry background, etc. to gauge their level of tech awareness, and tailor your content accordingly.

2. Connect the dots

The board will want to understand how innovation via technology aligns with business strategy and if it is fiscally prudent. To earn your place as an essential advisor to the board, you should demystify the connection between IT investments and the advancement of corporate strategy.

To earn your place as an essential advisor to the board, demystify the connection between IT investments and the advancement of corporate strategy.

This is true for both the more visible or glamorous ways technology will impact the organization and the less visible but necessary investments in platforms and infrastructure. I often coach my CIO clients to create a simple visual for the board that maps each IT investment decision to the relevant strategic dimension it helps advance.

I also encourage them to take a stand on those investments they deem as “non-negotiable” – this demonstrates both a commitment to executing the strategy and confidence the board expects of its most senior enterprise leaders.

3. Be a guide

Offer your board informal brown-bag sessions to discuss tech topics they are interested in. These meetings create a safe space for board members to ask questions outside the structure of a board meeting’s agenda. Plus, by initiating these conversations, CIOs are positioning themselves to become advisors on technology and creating an opportunity to be brought into board conversations sooner rather than later.

The pandemic has thrust the CIO into the spotlight. This is an opportunity to reinvent your role in the eyes of the board and be positioned as an essential and trusted advisor. The pace of digital transformation is only going to accelerate, which means CIOs are becoming – if they are not already – an indispensable and key strategic contributor to the most important decisions defining the future of their organization. The time of the CIO has arrived.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Rich Penkoski is a principal and deputy CEO—Markets for Deloitte Consulting LLP, responsible for defining and delivering the industry-specific insights and solutions clients need to solve their most complex business challenges.

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