Some CIOs are heavily engaged with their non-executive board of directors, have ambitions to be on an outside board, and are thinking broadly about how IT can meet fast-rising expectations from their boards.
Others wish they could.
How heavily are you engaged with your board?
A Gartner poll of board-interested CIOs in March and April 2011 revealed wide differences in the levels of CIO engagement with their boards that suggests a roadmap for CIOs to use in their career planning and performance.
A high number of CIOs were engaged with their board but the number that aspired to be on the board was comparatively low at 21 percent.
A small but significant number of the board-interested CIOs, 9 percent, present at every board meeting.
As the sophistication of board engagement increases, the number of CIOs who participate at that level declines rapidly.
Given the many inquiries we get from clients seeking advice and asking us to review their board-level presentations of IT strategies, we expected the level of board engagement of CIOs to be low.
We thought that participation with the board would be on an "as needed" basis that would occur the one time each year when the board sought business justification for the cost of IT — especially in the midst of a recession.
Also exceeding expectations, 17 per cent of CIOs currently sit on a commercial board of directors outside of their organisation.
This means that more CIOs sit on outside boards than present at every board meeting within their own organisation.
As CIOs continue to grapple with the best means of working with senior business executives, they must understand that the board provides an important test for IT investment.
Always have a clear articulation of how IT priorities align with board priorities. Board members are selected for their ability to help the organisation compete in the global marketplace, not for their prowess in IT.
Only about 16 percent of board directors have any IT background or experience. In addition, boards have only a small window of time to consider new initiatives, given the part-time nature of their occupation. This means clear communication is critical.
Whether you are working on your strategic or day-to-day operations, take a step back to consider, "How would I explain this to the board of directors?" — because one day you will.
Know that, while you may not have a direct relationship with the board directors, you can make a connection through someone they know and trust. Start building your own board network.
As a CIO, when you engage, focus on what the board members believe is important and ensure that your initiatives have a place among their priorities.
If you see an IT investment missing from the board's priorities that can damage business performance, seek to explain the missing investment in terms of business results that your CEO can also defend.
Use your relationships with the board to achieve two things: Get an early indication of company direction that can help IT respond more closely to changes in direction, and provide business-level education about new, game-changing technologies that should be considered as investments in the future.
Jorge Lopez is a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.