Monday, October 19, 2015

What do you present to the Board ? A primer for CIOs

Before the turn of the millennium I made my first presentation to the Board; I had butterflies and wasps in my stomach, fluttering and biting. While I had multiple interactions with them – formal as well as informal – this was the big day when either I get the strategy and roadmap cleared, or I go into the shadows where IT had been. Coming in from the outside, the entrusted task was to ensure that IT delivered and my goal was to also get the IT team some respect for the work they did ensuring that business runs with minimal IT led disruptions.

Talking to many Board Members and CEOs it is evident that in the ensuing time, a lot has changed; for one, there is a heightened awareness of IT across the board. Technology has invaded our lives, homes, and Digital Natives are now getting into the workforce. Boards are being challenged to come up with Digital strategies – relevant or not – lest they be caught unawares. Startups have glamourized technology innovation with most Board Members individually investing in the euphoric and at times irrational models.

On the other hand CIOs have catapulted themselves to newer heights and positions by casting aside their technology vocabulary and embracing profitability, cost and process rationalization, discounted cash flow, NPV and IRR, along with customer satisfaction, supply chain agility and everything that was seen as foreign to IT folks. With a vengeance, IT arrived on the scene disrupting old models over and over again leaving no choice for CXOs but to acknowledge that they do need ample doses of what the CIO can bring to the business.

These are not exceptions any more, the laggards are indeed enterprises who still relegate CIOs to work under the CFO wings, starving themselves of the benefit that IT led efficiencies can bring. They have not been able to discard their antediluvian behavior and mindset but continue to expect miracles from the CIO while s/he has to win the sprint and the marathon with no support. Thus IT scrounges for budgets and business support which is reluctantly given treating IT as spenders of hard is earned revenues while the CFO keeps cutting IT budgets.

For the Board too this was the first time IT was presenting a plan; they were curious and allotted half an hour for the last item on the agenda. Walking into the room full of serious looking wizened grey haired audience, I wished I had never asked for the time. But now it was done and I had to get on with it. The Chairman peered over his glasses and asked me to begin. I started by describing the current state of business, growth aspirations, IT challenges (real and perceived) and waited for acceptance of reality as I saw it; nods assured me to continue.

Outlining the vision of a better tomorrow and the day after with some aggressive investments and moves from the business, I kept going while clouds descended outside and it started pouring. I reached the last slide and thanked the audience waiting for a response; silence greeted me and then an applause with an affirmation to the plan. I could have jumped in joy that I made it without getting beaten up for a non-technical presentation that defined new opportunities to expand market leadership. Only then I also realized that my allotted half an hour had extended to three !

What do you present to the Board ? Most of them don’t care about technology options, they want to know how IT will impact business growth, profitability, customer loyalty, retention and satisfaction, efficiency, market positioning or expansion, benchmark with the industry, enable business strategy, or enhance shareholder value. Effectively can IT help the enterprise and its leadership team win in a competitive and disruptive world ? On the flip side, the CFO shadowed IT is challenged to prove ROI on every investment.

The CIO requested a meeting with the CEO to present to the Management team and the Board on some of the path-breaking initiatives that would help the company tactically as well as in the long run. He was asked to vet the presentation and investments with the CFO (his reporting boss). Unfortunately the CFO did not give the attention requested despite repeated reminders; the presentation never happened and after trying all possible options, the CIO left in disgust. The company continues to struggle with their IT while competition has begun to nibble at their market share.

CIO or not, what is your reality ?


  1. Very well articulated Arun, This is the reality in the Board rooms today be it a Big or SME itself.. The truth is that Finance & IT need to work hand in hand but had not seen many organizations doing it right.. CIO struggles & company suffers... This one should be a big EYE OPENER to the CFo's of the world..

    1. Thank you Pankaj, I do know a few CFOs who fall n the latter category and some of my best friends are also CFOs. I think the bigger challenge is for CEOs to create a paradigm shift and give the due attention that IT needs.

      History will teach the next generation on the results of the current reality..Until then I keep raising awareness and hopefully for some it will trigger change.