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Going from backroom to boardroom: five questions you need to ask

Today, companies rely on technological innovation to maintain a competitive advantage. The IT team is the expert source on subjects like cloud, security and data analytics. And the CIO has his or her feet firmly under the boardroom table.

Not so long ago things were very different. IT was seen as a bunch of reactive backroom boys keeping the lights on: setting up PCs, fixing bugs and updating software. Driving company strategy was the lofty domain of CEOs, CFOs and COOs. Even

marketing made the C-suite before IT.

Now they’re at the top, here are the five questions CIOs need to be asking themselves.

1. Parlez-vous business?

As the relative newbies in the boardroom, many IT leaders are still proving their mettle at the strategic leadership level. Can they provide business-focused guidance couched in the same KPIs as other department heads? Can they position technology as a force for innovation, not just a means of cutting costs? Can they talk about business outcomes fuelled by IT, not IT as a separate entity? It falls squarely upon IT leaders to learn the language of their C-suite colleagues, not the other way round.

2. What can I do for you?

Strategically effective CIOs prize IT solutions according to the value they can deliver. They come at conversations from the perspective of business needs and benefits; and seek partnerships with non-IT counterparts to gain a thorough understanding of their goals. For example: how the CMO needs to digitize the company’s channels or find apps to analyse big data from social media. Or how the COO needs to get real-time customer data to field sales via mobile devices. C-suite discussions are about the nitty-gritty of business problems not the bells and whistles of tech solutions.

3. What are we aiming for?

IT managers know their business inside out. Literally. They have to deal in the guts of it: cables, codes, networks, workstations, databases, ports, portals, programmes, firewalls, systems, software – the warren of connectivity infrastructure that allows a business to function on a day-to-day basis. But CIOs need to know what really drives long-term revenue and use the same customer-led success metrics as the rest of the business. What do your customers expect and what drives them to do business with you? Working towards these targets will engender trust among the rest of the leadership team and earn credibility.

4. What KPIs do we have?

Thanks to the long-standing perception of IT as a cost-centre, IT departments have been measured on project management metrics such as ‘up time’, ‘on time’, ‘on budget’ and ‘in scope’. These do not measure real value or even represent the value of all that IT contributes. The agenda of the CIO is becoming broader every day. Connectivity, mobility and the Internet of Things and managed services are presenting opportunities for digitisation, efficiency and revenue. To deliver this kind of future, IT will need more time and more money. KPIs will be about time to market, strategic competitive advantage and greater agility. Cost? Still important but not in isolation.

5. Do you speak finance?

An understanding of finance – in particular cost accounting – is essential. It not only allows CIOs to use the same KPIs as everyone else, it also helps them demonstrate cost-transparency throughout the long IT supply chain. By illuminating the financial contribution IT makes and the budget it requires to do so, the department’s value will become more intelligible at board level and its advice will become indispensable as it drives the digital future.