Presenting to Your Board of Directors: Telling the IT Story

CIOs often talk about “having a seat at the table.” This usually means reporting directly to the CEO and being engaged in all key strategic meetings within the firm. But many CIOs still do not report directly to their CEO–a controversy that continues to be discussed at many senior management meetings. At the same time, an increasing number of CIOs tell me they are being asked to present to their company’s board of directors–the ultimate “seat” of exposure. If you’re summoned to answer to your board of directors, it’s critical that you understand the top issues your directors are looking at today. Here are four key points for you to bear in mind:

  1. Boards are most likely interested in hearing about ideas for ways in which the CIO can assist the organization’s growth, both operationally and strategically. They’re less interested in reviewing your budget.
  2. Board members are concerned about security, particularly how the CIO is providing protection against security risks and the exposure of confidential information.
  3. Boards are acutely aware of the dangers facing the data the organization stores. An emerging area of CIO responsibility is known as “e-discovery.” This involves understanding how much data is available and the legal exposures of retaining such information.
  4. Boards need to understand the type and amount of data the company has stored. The CIO needs to do more with data analytics. This involves aggregating and interpreting organizational information in order to directly influence business decisions.

These are big-ticket issues that can make or break an organization, so you need to be thoroughly prepared when you walk into the boardroom. Here are some expert tips:

  • Research each board member. What is his or her background? What does each one tend to focus on? Speak with executives who have presented to the board in the past; they might provide suggestions about how the board meetings are conducted.
  • Reach out. Try to get to know your board members. Attempt to speak with them before the board meets. This will allow you to ascertain what they are thinking and what issues appear to be at the top of their individual agenda. They might also be able to help you sell your ideas to other board members.
  • Watch your time. Never assume you will be afforded the time you need–or even the time that’s been allotted for your presentation. Board meetings tend to run over schedule, and your presentation time could be significantly reduced. Therefore, be sure to have multiple versions of your presentation–especially one version that can be presented within tight time limits.
  • Tell stories and keep it simple. Try to express your position through a story that relates how the organization can excel as a result of your ideas, efforts and operation. Stories that clearly show how success can be attained are very attractive and can quickly gain the attention of the board.

Overall, you must be direct with your board: Do not speak in vague terms. Take responsibility for problem areas. Always articulate your plans to fix problems. And never, ever blame your staff for what is ultimately your responsibility.

Art Langer is senior director of the Center for Technology, innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University.

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