CIO strategies: How to make your business trust IT again

Tech leaders need to win over their boardroom colleagues. Here's how.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

CIOs and their teams have a great view across the individual lines of business and should be able to offer useful pointers on how to make the most of digital technology.

So, how should IT leaders work with the rest of the c-suite to turn their great ideas into business benefits? Three experts offer their perspectives.

1. Only work on projects that the senior team prioritises

Doug May, regional CIO at Safran Landing Systems, sits with the rest of the senior leadership team on a weekly basis and works hard to demonstrate how technology can help improve the business. It has been a priority of his to improve engagement since joining the firm in early 2015.

May says the leadership team presented him with a top ten of technology issues they wanted sorted out when he was appointed. He analysed the list and found most concerns were related to day-to-day IT operational issues, and he was keen to take a higher-level view.

He has implemented a full project management office, using Microsoft SharePoint to illustrate the projects that are running and which department is likely to benefit. May has also introduced the infrastructure monitoring tool Nagios to help take care of day-to-day house-keeping concerns.

He says the tool enhances his firm's proactive approach to service delivery, helping to solve technology issues before they become a problem for end-users. "I wanted to push responsibility for decision making back to the business," says May.

"My view is that IT leaders are often not transparent enough about the work being completed by the technology team. Too often, CIOs must make a judgment call. We've changed the process so the business is fully engaged and that our IT people only work on the projects that the senior team prioritises."

The new approach helps make sure the requirements of the business are closely matched to the capabilities of the IT team. "The key is delivery," says May. "I'd rather be upfront and honest. If you show executives the kinds of things you're working on, you'll sometimes discover that these projects don't actually tally with their business priorities."

May also has a monthly meeting with the firm's managing director where he chats through key issues. Rather than focusing on technology, the conversation is focused on a much broader set of business concerns, such as changing priorities in the aerospace industry and the impact of new regulations on governance.

"IT leaders should make sure they focus on concerns outside the technology department," says May. "Engagement with other executives can help make the business more excited about the potential of technology."

2. Demonstrate how an investment in technology will lead to a return

Andrew Marks, former CIO and now UK and Ireland managing director at Accenture Technology Strategy, says IT leaders need to be bullish. Engaged and successful technology chiefs are proactive and focus on the true value of an investment in technology.

"CIOs need to be confident," he says. "They need to say when a new trend is coming, rather than sitting back and being reactive. Their opinions will carry more sway if they're able to demonstrate how an investment in technology will lead to a return. If you can't do that, then you might be in the wrong job."

Modern CIOs, therefore, need to constantly engage with their c-suite peers. While a focus on the return of an investment has always been the way to win over boardroom colleagues, Marks says there has been a subtle change in the framing of conversations.

CIOs, he says, must focus on enablement.

"In the past, people on the board might have nervously given the CIO a cheque for investment in IT after a good discussion," he says. "Now they're looking for value-based cases tied to a clear change agenda. They will rarely allow an investment that does little more than maintain hardware in the basement. They will expect any investment to deliver value in the context of a business problem or opportunity."

In short, CIOs must pay attention to the demands of those around the business. "You must always focus on the target customer," he says. "I often work with IT leaders who are looking to reduce their reliance on particular systems and services. You have to break your options down - you have to think about how the business currently works and how it might be better tomorrow if the c-suite backed your project."

3. Think about opportunities and work collaboratively

The importance of c-suite backing chimes with AstraZeneca CIO Dave Smoley, who says close interaction between executives is the norm at his business. That process of collaboration often takes place on a grand scale. The firm, for example, runs an annual senior leaders meeting where 250 people get together in Barcelona.

The meeting is an opportunity for top executives across the organisation to network and talk about broader business objectives. "The top 250 executives in the company can see what's happening, ask questions and make connections," says Smoley. "It's all about creating debate and stimulating discussion."

The leadership event includes a breakout area, where major IT firms can come and present their technology to internal managers. "We run multiple initiatives with each of these IT companies and they will have many new technologies that could be used across our business," says Smoley.

The key to effective working relationships and business backing, therefore, is a strong bond between all parties, both internal and external. Smoley is currently looking to create an external advisory board, where top executives from key vendors meet on a monthly basis to present some of the key themes to the IT department and the rest of the business.

Smoley recognises that attempts to understand the value of technology are a continual work in progress. He has already established a technology innovation group at AstraZeneca to curate and analyse knowledge around IT-led change. One of his top lieutenants has been charged with running this group.

"The potential change associated to IoT and AI sounds magical, and I do think great things will be achieved in terms of automation, and business analytics and insight," says Smoley. "These sessions allow us to think about opportunities and to set up working sessions to pursue activities in key areas of the business."

Read more about IT leadership

Editorial standards