How to get the Board engaged in IT: An IT Manager’s guide
Attaining budget, achieving buy-in for projects and demonstrating value are top priorities for IT Managers. However, there is often a lack of engagement at board level which makes this difficult. While the board does have ultimate accountability for IT and should take an interest, IT Managers can facilitate this by creating the right conversations.
Last updated on February 1st, 2021
If you’ve ever had to request budget from the board or tried to get buy-in for an IT project, you will know how difficult it can be to get the board engaged with IT. Despite the critical role IT plays in operations, too many senior executives still see it solely as a cost to the business rather than as a competitive advantage.
Research shows that regular conversations between IT and the board actually decreases IT and cyber risk, while increasing innovation and IT project ROI. These achievements improve the more frequently the conversations occur. Conversations that occur every quarter hold more value than those held bi-annually or annually.
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However, getting these conversations to happen in the first place is often the most difficult part. IT Managers can struggle to get their voice heard at board level and IT often does not feature on the agenda as often as it should. Part of the problem is this often requires a change in culture, but the good news is IT Managers can facilitate this by framing their conversations with the board in the right way.
3 strategies to engage the Board of Directors with IT
Most organisations spend a significant portion of their revenue on their IT, so they need to be sure that it is being invested wisely and delivers a return for the business.
This can only happen when senior executives fully embrace the potential of IT and view it as a strategic asset. While it’s important that IT has a voice at board level, the conversations themselves need to be effective too. We’ve compiled three best practice tips to help IT Managers frame the conversation in a way the board will engage with.
1. Make Technology a Routine Part of Conversation
IT Managers need to think strategically about how they can navigate technology conversations with the board. Assess the levels of technical knowledge and understanding to determine whether an educational component is required and build conversations accordingly.
Some members of the board may be more technologically-savvy or be more. Identify these allies and build relationships with them as they can help you garner support for IT investment and focus from other members of the board.
Consistent communication is key so ensure IT features as standing item on the agenda or designate regular meetings where you can focus solely on IT. Strike the balance between protection and growth and build a narrative which focuses on the short term (6-12 months) and the long-term (5+ years).
Any conversations about long-term strategic planning should be a collaborative effort. IT Managers should be fully briefed on the intended strategic direction of the business so they can educate the board about the relevant risks, opportunities, and industry changes, ensuring the IT strategy supports the business objectives and the budget is allocated effectively.
2. Demonstrate the business value of strategic IT investment
You will need to make the case for IT investment, so be prepared to convey the financial, operational and reputational benefits. Back your pitches with data and present the information clearly and concisely e.g., by utilising dashboards and scorecards.
You may need to ‘connect the dots’ and give context to the risks facing the business. If board members do not understand the mitigating effects of benefits a particular solution or service will deliver, they may not be willing to allocate the funds. For example, data security might be a concern for the board, but they may not understand why the business is a target, where they are vulnerable, the effects a successful attack can have and how it can be prevented. Take into context the board’s own appetite for risk and align your recommendations and scorecards to reflect this.
Budgets can vary widely so you may wish to present a shortlist of options to the board. However, if you do decide to do this you need to ensure the board is fully aware of the limitations of each one, so they do not decide based purely on flat costs.
3. Focus the conversation on the right topics
Try not to get bogged down in the technical detail during conversations with the board. It’s unlikely that their level of technical knowledge will match your own, so they will be less likely to engage if it doesn’t seem directly relevant to the business. Instead, focus the conversations on the potential impact and deliverables of IT.
Ensure that the board understand how IT can positively or negatively impact the performance of the business.
- Financial – Link technology investments to financial performance such as profitability, margin and revenue. Demonstrating the positive impact can help the board see IT as more than an operational cost.
- Operational – Demonstrate how IT can improve the efficiency of operations and free up budget for innovation and business transformation. This may include things like automating processes, replacing legacy systems, and embracing cloud services. IT Managers can support this process by measuring, reporting, and discussing the impact of technology-driven business transformation.
Ensure the board keeps up to date with current and emerging threats, be it cyber-attacks or disruptive technologies. IT Managers can help develop the risk appetite and measures to prevent unnecessary risks from being taken. IT and Business must be wholly aligned on risk appetite levels to ensure neither side make inappropriate risk management decisions.
- Cyber Risk – Businesses must be able to protect their assets from cyber-attacks if they want to achieve strategic goals. IT Managers have the responsibility to educate the board on current and emerging risks, the potential threat to the business and remedial actions.
- Regulations – Technology can help businesses comply with regulations, but it also the subject of regulations itself – such as data privacy. Boards need to be aware of how technology can speed the process of meeting compliance policies, as well as where regulations may require additional investment or affect company priorities. Conversations should focus on the positive and negative implications of the regulations, the opportunities for rationalisation and any other business impacts.
- Industry Challenges – New technologies can topple a company’s competitive position and business models. Help board members understand the risks and opportunities of technology-driven industry disruption to ensure the business doesn’t fall behind.
IT Managers should help guide the overall business strategy by educating board members on the strategic potential of IT and other disruptive technologies
- Innovation – IT Managers can help create a bolder risk appetite by demonstrating how the effective use of technology can result in business growth. Successful innovation requires a culture of continual incremental improvements. Boards need to give IT Manager the opportunities to test, experiment and analyse.
- Data – Help the board understand how technologies such as machine learning, natural language engines and AI, can help businesses better collect, process, and analyse customer data. Highlight how this data be used for more effective decision making and monetised for business success.
- Client Experience – Customer demands are constantly changing and increasing. Businesses need to keep pace with this is they want to both attract new customer and retain their existing ones. Service levels are a key battleground. As service levels increase across all industries, tolerance levels have declined, and customers are no longer prepared to accept reduced levels out of brand loyalty. IT Managers can help the board meet these challenges by showing how to leverage technology to proactively anticipate and address customer needs. These conversations can help ensure the pace of technology change aligns with customer readiness.
Strategic development for IT Managers
IT Managers have a huge wealth of technical experience and understanding, so it makes sense why they are often heavily focused on the technical details.
This knowledge is highly valuable to a business, but it doesn’t always translate to the board. If they do not understand, they will not engage. They need to see the business benefits of investing in IT. Requesting budget to replace an old server, for example, is not enough. However, if you explain that the new server will help increase resilience, availability, and network performance, and enable employees to deliver faster customer service, the board can begin to understand the ROI of that investment.
If you’re used to focusing on the technical details, then framing conversations in this way can feel a little uncomfortable initially. IT Managers who want to take a more strategic standpoint should seek out additional training and mentorship from experienced CIOs and IT Consultants. A dedicated Coach can give IT Managers advice and direction, provide education (where required), share knowledge and best practice, help develop a commercial mindset, and talk through challenges faced by the business and how to overcome them.
Book a free, online discovery session today to find out more about QuoStar’s IT Coaching & Mentorship Service and see how a dedicated Coach can support you.
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