Discussing IT Issues With the Board

Digitalization is now central to almost every business, so more CIOs are being asked to present IT’s recommendations to the board of directors. What are the key issues that CIOs should get onto board agendas, and how do you present them for maximum impact?

Corporate boards care about results, whether from sales, finance, operations, or IT. Because IT is a technical discipline that many board members might not understand as well as other topics, board members also want to gain a fundamental understanding of IT issues.

The questions board members are most likely to ask include:

  • Are key projects being accomplished on time?
  • Do you have the people you need in IT?
  • How robust is company security, and are there risk factors that the board should be aware of? How is IT performing to budget?
  • And what are we doing with the latest technology rage: AI and ChatGPT?

While all these questions might be top-of-mind for board members, it’s also important for CIOs and IT leaders to explain the crucial elements of IT that board members might not think to ask about.

For example, the board is not likely to know or understand the implications of more IT being done by user departments (for example, citizen development), or of the move of more IT (and IoT) to the edge of the network. For IT, these operational changes mean making changes in how IT supports, services, develops, deploys, and secures IT assets. The impact of such changes might alter the skills needed, job descriptions and IT organizational deployment.

Also, the board may not know about new regulatory, security and privacy requirements that are on the horizon, or about new technologies that the company’s competitors are implementing, which can adversely impact corporate performance in the market.

It’s incumbent on CIOs and IT leaders to bring these issues to the board’s attention.

How to Make an Effective Presentation

Most of us who have made IT presentations to the board take the tried-and-true route of producing presentation slides and perhaps augmenting these with a handout of a report or memorandum. This is a presentation format that boards are accustomed to, so it is readily accepted. However, after that, the task is to make the presentation itself impactive, informational and educational. Here are ways to approach:

Know your audience. Depending on your business, individual board members may be more or less savvy than others about technology. If you are in a technology company, it’s likely that your board members will be up to speed on technology issues. This will give you an opportunity to be a little more technical with your presentation. However, if you’re a CIO in a non-profit organization with a volunteer board, or in a company that is not technology-oriented, you might need to start by educating the board on the technology that you’re going to present.

Reference your talking points, but don’t read your slides. If you’re using slides with talking points, the purpose of the talking points is to serve as a guide for your discussion. Do not fall into the trap of simply reading them off to your audience, which is likely to think that it can read for itself. Instead, build your presentation content around the talking points.

Keep the presentation succinct. In a comprehensive presentation, it’s a good idea not to exceed 30 minutes of presentation time. If you are just briefing the board, it’s prudent to keep your presentation within a 15-minute timeframe.

Engage and be engaging. When I was teaching, I quickly learned that my lessons had to be both educational but also engaging. Boards of directors are no different students. These are busy people who walk into a board room after a full day’s work in their own roles outside of the organization. The more engaging you can be, the more the board feels connected to what you are saying, and the more receptive they are likely to  be to your message.

Hit the business bottom line upfront. Many CIOs struggle to stay away from technical deep dives when they give presentations.  They forget that what’s most important to the board is how the IT strategy that they are presenting will impact the business. The best way to get the board’s attention is to discuss the business challenges right away and explain how the IT you’re going to talk about will address them. This will give the board an immediate understanding of what the bottom line is going to be.

If you’re doing a technology demo, have a backup plan! I once attended a presentation by a major computer company where a technology demo failed because of an equipment malfunction. I learned one thing from it. Always have a backup plan, whether it is hardcopy slides, a white board you can diagram on, etc.

Discuss ROI. A board member is sure to ask you what the return on investment (ROI) will be if you are proposing the purchase of new technology. You should have the ROI figured out before you show up so you can give it to them. This is also a good time to present any risk factors that have the potential to impact ROI.

Table off-topic digressions. There is always a question or two that veers off your agenda and that can tempt you into a detailed conversation with one board member while the others wait impatiently for the conversation to end. Avoid this situation by thanking the board member for the question and telling him/her that you’d be happy to discuss the questions and the details offline.

End strong. Your final presentation statement should be a strong conclusion as to why your proposal is essential for the company. The stronger and more confidently that you conclude your presentation, the more likely the board will be to endorse it.

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