Having been a CIO for more than 20 years and on Boards for the past 10, I have seen both sides and experienced many hits and misses in my interactions with boards.
There is a different view that you as the CIO must take when presenting to your Board than when you present to senior management or staff. Boards are interested in specific areas, here are three of areas that concern Boards: how IT is managing organizational risk, how IT aligns with the organization’s goal and the progress of major capital intensive projects.

Managing Risk

One of the major functions of the Board is at a high level understanding what the organization’s risks are and how these are managed.  So it is important to include this in your presentation and describe how IT or a specific initiative addresses risks. For example, while the Board is not usually interested in the technology infrastructure details, it needs to know if the infrastructure  exposes the organization to risk due to issues such as unstable or out of date technology components. The Board also is sensitive about any risk to reputation that is exposed through technology, such as compliance with federal and provincial legislations (e.g. CASL, IFRS), security issues (such as hacking or phishing), and business continuity planning in the event critical parts of the technology fail, exposing the organization to risk. Major software and hardware upgrades should be presented in terms of risk avoidance.

Align with the organization’s goals

The Board needs to know about the relationship between business strategy and IT strategy; how IT aligns and enables the organization’s goals; and how IT improves financial performance and productivity hence these should be the major aspects of your presentation.
When you prepare your Board presentation, ensure that you provide a complete view of the situation, providing all the information needed. When requesting project approval, the presentation should show how the project supports the organization’s strategic goals.   Don’t  just talk about the approval you want to get but also ensure they have all the information to understand the issue. Your most challenging task is not talking about the great  technology the project will implement but communicating how that technology will impact the organization and meeting its goals. Present your projects showing the benefits they’ll provide to the organization in terms of improving business growth, processes, operational excellence, compliance with legislation, meeting key stakeholder expectations, . These are areas that the Board is looking at regularly.

Project reporting

As a Board member, I look for a high level project status presentation of the major projects. I prefer a one or two page report that I call the traffic light report, showing red, yellow or green for each large project in terms of budget, scope and on time delivery. Then I expect the discussion to focus on the yellow and red lights as well as what changed since the last report. An other area the Board is interested in is how the organization’s IT applications portfolio is managed; how much of the application related work is for keeping the “lights on” as opposed to providing the organization with a strategic advantage. As one of the Gartner analyst noted at his presentation, every organization has a payroll system as it is an operational necessity, but it doesn’t provide a strategic differentiator. The Board is interested in how much of IT’s work is to grow the organization versus keeping the lights on.
Communication is a big part of the CIO’s job and interacting with the Board is an important step to ensure that technology is viewed as a business enabler not just an operational necessity. Presenting information this way shows the Board that you are a business leader not only a technology leader.
What are your stories and best practices when presenting to your Board? Share them with us in the comments below.
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