IT strategy: How to talk to the boss about your great ideas

CIO strategies: How should CIOs keep CEOs briefed about developments in technology?
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

It is commonly accepted that digital systems and services now underpin most successful organisations. CIOs, as the guardians of technology implementation, have a duty to keep their bosses informed about the potential for digital disruption. But how should technology chiefs keep their CEOs up to date? Four experts offer their advice on how to brief the boss on digital transformation.

1. Get on the front foot at every opportunity

Dentsu Aegis European CIO Gideon Kay recognises that regular interactions with the CEO are crucial to success. But he does more than sit back and wait for a call.

"I try and pre-empt those conversations -- I act on the front foot with things like cloud and GDPR and machine learning," he says. "I try and bring that to the business in terms of an active and proactive briefing."

Kay says the executive team engages regularly with businesses in Silicon Valley.

"We've done research tours of the Valley, both myself personally and with other senior executives in the business," says Kay. "We also have strong partnerships with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and other major providers, so we look to bring some of that thinking into the organisation's technology DNA."

SEE: Special report: Tech budgets 2018: A CXO's guide (free PDF)

The firm also runs global innovation awards for the whole business as part of its annual conference. Dentsu Aegis showcases technological innovation as part of that process, so people at all levels of the business can see what's being done and how.

"We try and push our partners to bring some of their thinking to the mix. But it's a constant challenge and it's really important," says Kay.

2. Expose breakthrough technologies and partners

Alex von Schirmeister, chief digital, technology and innovation officer at RS Components, says the board and CEO of his firm understand clearly that technology is vital to the future of the company. He says that awareness makes briefing the executive team a whole lot easier.

"I'm very lucky that I don't need to do that much briefing because my CEO believes in technology -- and that should be the immediate stress test for anyone who's a CIO: 'Do you have the support from the board and your CEO? When they say they want to be digital and innovative, do they mean it or are they paying lip-service?'" says von Schirmeister.

Besides updating senior managers on the various work streams under way, von Schirmeister suggests CIOs should try and expose breakthrough technologies and partners that are emerging in the market. Like Kay, he advises IT leaders to take their executive peers to the source of this inspiration.

"Last year we organised an executive leadership team visit to Silicon Valley," says von Schirmeister. "That kind of tour helps pull us out of our comfortable environment and into a different place. And I wish we had similar environments here in Europe, but Silicon Valley stands out as a concentrated area where it's easy to highlight what technology and digital innovation stand for."

Above all else, von Schirmeister says other CIOs must facilitate a meeting of the minds. "Provide a lot of information," he says. "I'm an avid consumer of technology literature and I'll regularly send that information around to my executive team. Make sure they're exposed to that literature and that they understand where you're coming from."

3. Provide a news feed of digital developments

Albert Ellis, CEO at recruitment specialist Harvey Nash, spends a great deal of time talking with IT leaders as his firm looks to place CIOs in blue-chip firms. As CEO, he also has expectations from his own technology chief -- and he says IT leaders at other firms should adopt a strong communications strategy.

"I have a standing order with my CIO that he can ping me about any issues around the world and to provide updates on projects on a weekly basis," says Ellis. "If he has any bigger concerns, he sends me a quick technical breakdown. If I have the information, I'm aware of the problem and I can get on top of it."

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Ellis also asks his CIO to provide alerts on new technological developments that he thinks are interesting. "CIOs are well-connected to what's happening in the world of technology and it's useful if he can send me information about new innovations, particularly in the recruitment market," says Ellis.

"I get the CIO to help me understand the news flow and the implementation of technology in our sector. I also expect him to provide additional depth around why those developments are interesting for our firm. Other CIOs at other firms should be similarly engaged with their CEOs. If you're not doing that regularly, then you're not doing it enough."

4. Go beyond keeping the CEO up to date

Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, says he has spent many years being an advocate of CIOs taking a seat on the board. He believes the significance of digital leadership is now being recognised and CIOs have a duty to do more than keep the CEO up to speed with developments in technology.

"I think it's more than just the CEO that needs to be briefed -- I think we need to keep the whole board briefed," says Corbridge. "I think that's crucial because a key element of IT leadership is taking the board with you on the journey from a digital transformation point of view."

He says the effectiveness of that educational approach is directly related to the CIO's ability to converse regularly -- and on a level playing field -- with their c-suite peers. Corbridge is part of the Trust's executive board and he says this senior role helps him ensure all executives are briefed about the potential for technology to bring business change.

"I think building an understanding with a finance officer about what IT can do, and talking with the chief medical officer in the case of my board, is as important as briefing the CEO," he says. "It's as much about selling the benefits of technology as it is about passing information on. Everyone on the executive team needs to understand what benefit moving down the route towards digital transformation will bring to the whole organisation."


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