Why CIOs Should Join Customer Advisory Boards

By Guest Author  |  Posted 06-06-2016 Print Email

Serving on a customer advisory board brings significant insight and value—but it’s important to choose one that is a good fit.

By Tom Greene

In today’s dynamic business environment, it is important for CIOs to engage with peers and vendors to ensure we are staying ahead of so many technology innovations. I have found serving on customer advisory boards provides insight into strategies and market trends that are beneficial to my work and to my relationship with key vendors.

Before I provide my views on how to evaluate advisory board opportunities, it’s important to break out the high-level benefits of board participation:

*The ability to influence vendor strategy;

*Peer access; and

*Gaining a fresh perspective on market trends and innovation.

Ability to Influence Vendor Strategy

Serving on a customer advisory board gives CIOs influence with regard to the vendor’s offerings and insight into their strategic direction.  I sit on IBM’s advisory board, giving Colgate an opportunity to influence early-stage strategy development, as well as an opportunity to align their strategy with our future needs.

Peer Access

Bringing together a strong group of CIOs from various industries and far-reaching geographies can trigger creativity. Within a company, you become conditioned to see your vendor relationships, business landscape and market potential through a single lens.

A well-orchestrated advisory board provides access to unique perceptions that often don’t mirror your own. That diverse set of experiences broadens my view of problems a company is solving, demonstrating how those problems are perceived by others.

The insights I gain from these conversations, due to the varied backgrounds of the participants, is something I value immensely above and well beyond the goals of the board. The strategic nature of these forums provides me with unique ideas that I don’t get from other CIO groups or events. 

Fresh Lens on Market Trends and Innovation

The combination of vendor and CIO peer perspectives also brings the added benefit of better understanding market trends and innovation taking place, which sparks broader thinking about my own investments and organization. If we end up in an extended discussion about the Internet of things, for example, that may be something I am pursuing in a different way from the others around the table. Hearing other perspectives is always welcome.

An important element to consider when evaluating an invitation to be part of a customer advisory board is that every board isn’t orchestrated well. You need to assess whether a specific board is worth your time. The three questions I ask myself in this regard are:

How important is the vendor relationship to my current and future business? 

The driving force must be the relevance of this company to my business. If there isn’t a strong case with that regard, I don’t even ask the next two questions.

How are the board agendas developed and will I have an influence?

For IBM’s customer advisory board, I actively guide the agenda in advance by coordinating directly with the Farland Group, which is a third party that manages IBM’s advisory board meetings.  I work with them to understand and share my perspectives and ensure that agenda discussions incorporate those views. This opportunity is offered to my peers on the board as well. This is where I think I can provide the most value, and where I gain value back.

It is critical that we have a focused discussion and that I, and my peers, feel able to offer views that help to advance the strategy.

How dedicated are they to tackling the incredible pace of change in today’s environment?

The board organizers need to speak digital disruption like a second language, with a willingness to bring their best leaders and customers to the table to tackle any challenge they face. Again, this is where a third party Advisory Board facilitator can bring enormous value and where Farland Group plays an important role.

Being on a customer advisory board brings a significant amount of insight and value to me and my business. I also know I’m having an impact on the sponsoring vendor’s business as well.  From the relationships developed, to the new ideas shared, it is well worth the investment of a CIO’s time for the right board. 

Tom Greene is the Chief Information & Business Services Officer for Colgate.


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