Why CIO Relations with the Board Still Need Work

Both Sides Now: Interview with Catherine Boivie

Catherine BoivieCatherine Boivie has experienced CIO challenges from the dual perspectives of CIO practitioner, and Board director.

As CIOCAN’s founding President and well-known former SVP/CIO at Pacific Blue Cross and Vancity Credit Union as well as Board director at organizations such as ICBC and MedicAlert, Boivie is an ideal panelist for the CIOPF session “Stop Talking about Technology and Talk about Business: Board of Directors’ Expectations of the CIO”.

Q: My first thought on seeing this topic was — really? Do we still need to educate CIOs on this? Are there CIOs out there who are still evoking the “eyes glazed over” response from boards because of their tech-talk? What is your experience?

A: Yes this is still an issue. CIOs do not always look at technology issues from a Board point of view and they still do presentations using what Boards would consider techno-babble rather than strategic business terms. The CIOs need to understand that the Board’s role is strategic rather than operational. As the saying goes, Boards have to operate “noses in, fingers out”. Board members are appointed for their expertise in business, not their IT experience. Beyond the cost factor, Boards look at IT mostly from two points of view: how what strategic value does it offer? and what risks does it pose to the organization?.

Q. I hope that at the CIO Association, we are to some extent preaching to the converted i.e. CIOCAN Members have long been encouraged to talk business – it has been a consistent theme in our professional development programs and events from day one. How can we identify the “culprits” and provide assistance?

A: First we can help to educate Boards on how strategic IT can be to deliver on business goals. We can also help HR departments to look for more than technology expertise in their senior IT hires: things such as strategic thinking, business knowledge and communication skills increase in importance as one moves up the ranks. We can help our own CIOs train their direct reports through networking – learning best practices from other CIOs, and we can recommend leadership development programs.

And, very important – we can encourage CIOs to develop further by getting experience working in the lines of business, to help then understand more directly the challenges the business is facing. This will also help CIOs to understand that IT projects need to be presented in ways that show how the project is important to company growth, customer service, risk avoidance and/or as a revenue generator.

Q: How can CIOs who plan to attend the Peer Forum get the most out of this session? What takeaways will you provide?

A: The session will give real life advice from serving board members who have dealt with technology challenges in a variety of organizations. It will focus on questions such as how to present to the Board effectively; why CIOs need to get very familiar with the Board priorities; how to get CEO and senior management support and how focus on key presentation points in light of the short time available.

Q: Do you have a particular source to recommend?

A: Yes. “Elevating Technology on the Boardroom Agenda”. This McKinsey article is a few years old, but it covers all the key points.