CIOs: Getting buy-in from the Board
<p>IT and security conversations are moving away from the confines of remote IT departments and are finding their way to the top of boardroom agendas. As they do so, CIOs need to carefully consider the way they communicate with other senior executives if critical IT initiatives are to receive that all important buy-in from the Board.</p>
<p>CIOs are in a unique position within the C-suite. Their expertise and guidance can have a direct impact on the future of an entire organisation<strong>. </strong>As a result, and quite rightly so,<strong> </strong>CIOs and security professionals have secured a more important seat at the top table.</p>
<p>However, despite the fundamental importance of IT, many organisations continue to treat it separate from the rest of the business. One reason might be due to the difficulty other departments have in understanding the complexity of many IT functions. Nonetheless, failure by CIOs to deliver clear and persuasive proposals can risk projects being overlooked, a breakdown in communication and may ultimately lead to budget not being granted. </p>
<p>Here are five recommendations for senior IT professionals when talking to the Board:</p>
<p><strong>Keep it short, sweet and salient</strong></p>
<p>An idea is only as good as your ability to communicate it. Keep it short and to the point. Include only the salient facts. If, for example, you’re trying to illustrate potential risks to the business, then an objective measurement, for example, the use of <a href="https://www.bitsighttech.com/security-ratings">security ratings</a>, may help contextualise your case.</p>
<p><strong>Know your audience and speak their language</strong></p>
<p>It’s a good idea to consider all your arguments from the perspective of the executives in the room; don’t assume everyone has the same vision as you. For example, a CFO may be interested in driving organic growth, while a COO is more concerned with improving efficiency targets. If you can help others meet their objectives and minimise risks, you will secure more support than if you talk generalities.</p>
<p>A polished presentation should appeal to everyone in the room. Avoid talking in detail about technical features and focus on the wider benefits for the company. As soon as you mention the intricacies of cloud-based unified communications platforms or the workings of border gateway protocols, you risk losing your audience.</p>
<p>Consider how your proposal may impact others within the business and try to anticipate potential challenges. For example, will employees require additional training? How will new infrastructure impact the roles and responsibilities of staff? Will large capital investments require a reallocation of funds away from a major marketing effort? These externalities will be a driving force behind any eventual rejection of your proposal. Frame the value your plan brings to the company through a lens that’s aligned with both the IT department’s goals and those of other departments. In other words, speak the language of your audience.</p>
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<p>If your plan has unintended negative consequences on operations beyond the scope of what you considered, there’s a sure chance it will meet with disapproval from senior executives. It’s essential to evaluate how even minor changes may impact an organisation, particularly if there’s a risk to customer service level agreements.</p>
<p>Focus on the positives. Not every unintended consequence of your initiative will be negative. For example, if you’re tasked with implementing an effective vendor risk management programme, this could help mitigate cyber risks and reduce potential data breaches; something senior execs will support.</p>
<p><strong>Furnish the facts</strong></p>
<p>You’ve heard the phrase, ‘All publicity is good publicity’. Well, that’s questionable. If your company hits the headlines because it has failed to implement adequate security protocols, resulting in a massive breach of data, then the fallout can be catastrophic.</p>
<p>In today’s connected world, cyber threats pose a constant danger for businesses of all sizes. CIOs can use this to their advantage when lobbying for programmes that will strengthen their security posture. Hard facts about the current cyber risk landscape will resonate with senior management. Information about internal threats and how third-party vendors can leave your organisation vulnerable should force any Board to sit up and listen and take you seriously.</p>
<p><strong>Hitting the ‘suite’ spot</strong></p>
<p>Major IT projects need partners and allies, not bystanders. Ensure you have the understanding and buy-in from <em>all</em> C-suite execs and that decisions haven’t simply been deferred to the CEO – something we refer to as ‘passive acceptance’.</p>
<p>Passive acceptance can have serious consequences for CIOs. Other executives might lose interest in an initiative as it progresses. Approval might be withdrawn, budgets changed, and resources reallocated, preventing IT departments from accomplishing their goals. CIOs should focus on bringing their colleagues on board with their ideas, as well as the details of the project itself. That means keeping other executives up-to-date on project progress and milestones long after approval has been granted.</p>
<p>Being a CIO requires strong business instincts; something that serves them well in most situations. However, the same strategies that might work perfectly for other members of the C-suite cannot always be adapted for IT initiatives. CIOs wishing to improve communication with senior decision makers and secure buy-in from the Board should consider how their proposal might impact individuals within the C-suite, and not just the IT organisation. Likewise they should understand the unintended effects their initiative might have outside of their own department. They should tell the terrifying truth about cyber threats and use this to their advantage. And finally they should work to secure continued buy-in from board executives, not just project approval for one initiative.</p>
<p>Tom Turner, CEO, <a href="//www.bitsighttech.com">Bitsight</a></p>
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”