What happens when you get dozens of CIOs, CFOs, and even a few corporate board members together to talk about what’s going on in their world? You hear a lot about change. The need for change. The difficulty of changing. The perils of changing too slow.
On Friday, October 16, we did just that with the TBM Council Global CxO Forum. We convened a couple hundred executives and thought leaders to talk tech, and here are a few learnings.
The future of IT at the speed of change
Let’s start with Charlie Feld. He’s particularly suited to talk about the future of tech. Feld was one of the early CIOs at Frito Lay and was the first CIO ever featured in Harvard Business Review (based on his work creating one of the first hand-held computers for the sales team). He’s been CIO and interim CIO for many companies since and is now an advisor to them as founder of The Feld Group Institute.
Feld set the stage for his presentation to the CxO Forum with a little history of his exploits and those of the tech industry. He joined IBM when they announced their first mainframe. And then went on to transform the sales force for Frito Lay with his hand-held scanner. He said, “I enjoyed the idea of transforming the business, not just the technology.”
He enjoyed that so much that he launched the Feld Group in 1992. This group was “made up of about seven teams of CIOs” that would work as advisors to multi-national companies including Delta, Coca-Cola, CBS, and Coors after a great disruption had occurred — merger, acquisition, billion-dollar write-offs. One early realization was that they needed to build a framework to have common ways of doing things across the big companies. In 2004, he joined EDS as SVP. The work was quite similar in that EDS served as an IT leadership outsourcing firm.
A result of his many years at IBM, Frito Lay, EDS, and The Feld Group was a two-year turnaround model, which evolved into the strategic Transformation Framework Feld describes in his book, The Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide to IT-Enabled Business Transformation.
When Feld first entered the IT field, IT was an overhead function — not a real part of the strategic fabric of a company. But he’s watched the change. Today, the digitization of the business has made IT a background to all that the business does. But there’s a danger there. “The blind spot that started appearing about 20 years ago gets to be a really bad problem here if business and IT are no longer speaking the same language,” said Feld. “You go to an executive meeting and talk about digital experience for the customer. You’ve got 20 people in the room and you’ll get 20 different pictures of what that means.”
His solution? “I think the CIO’s main role is to get people on the same page, to get them into a framework,” says Feld. For the companies Feld coaches, he urges CIOs to be Chief Integration Officers.
This next generation CIO should focus on collaboration and communication with the CEO, CHRO, and CFO. They need to build in “organizational agility” — a business model that is fast and flexible, well architected, and secure. “It’s got to be able to evolve in days or weeks, not months and years,” he explains. “Technology … used to change in centuries, then in generations, then in decades, and now in the last 10 years, it’s changed in [single] years. Every year is different now.”
CREDIT: The Feld Group Institute
To meet these new timetables, this core team — CEO, CFO, CIO, and CHRO — will have to be able to speak the same language, be on the same page, see the big picture, and break it down into nimble parts.
If this sounds familiar, it should: For years, the TBM Council has been preaching a common language, the TBM Taxonomy, as a way to communicate between business, finance, and IT stakeholders.
You can see Feld’s presentation here.
Getting communication right with the board
It’s hard enough to communicate effectively with the CEO, CFO, and CHRO, how are you handling communications with the board? More often than ever before, CIOs are presenting to their corporate boards of directors. Also, more often than ever before, CIOs are ending up on boards of directors.
This is the situation at S&P Global, a Fortune 500 financial information and analytics firm (and yes, the purveyors of the S&P 500 index). Rebecca Jacoby, former SVP & CIO at Cisco Systems sits on S&P’s board and Swamy Kocherlakota is their EVP and global CIO. At the CXO Forum, the two talked with Peter High, president of Metis Strategy, Forbes columnist, and author, to talk about how corporate boards are looking at tech and how CIOs should address their concerns.
You can watch the entire conversation here.
High told us that even a few years ago, you would rarely see a CIO on the board. The reasons included the view that CIOs were too internally focused, they were not focused enough on driving revenue and understanding that part of the organization, and not enough of them reported to CEOs. According to High, much has changed today. In fact, he has profiled 32 CIOs who have joined boards.
He said the change began in earnest because of the Target data breach in 2013 and the Home Depot breach in 2014. “For defensive reasons, we saw a lot of CIOs joining boards then,” said High. “And now thankfully, for offensive reasons the same thing is happening.”
The opportunities for a digital transformation, including data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning make it imperative for boards to include the CIO. An MIT Sloan study found “that among companies with over $1 billion in revenues, 24% had digitally savvy boards, and those businesses significantly outperformed others on key metrics — such as revenue growth, return on assets, and market cap growth.” MIT goes on to define digitally savvy as an understanding through experience and education. Who better to provide that expertise than a CIO?
High asked Kocherlakota and Jacoby to share some lessons they’ve learned on how to communicate with the board:
- Understand the roles on the board and the responsibilities of each role. “While management and the board are both responsible for shareholders and stakeholders, there’s a very subtle difference [in roles]. The role of executive management is to manage the company and the role of the board is really oversight and governance,” said Kocherlakota. Jacoby agreed and added, “On the board, you aren’t responsible for executing, you are responsible for oversight. Be openminded and learn what is expected of you.”
- Create opportunities to take your direct reports to present to the board. This sounded counter intuitive, but Kocherlakota explained that he didn’t have any experience sitting beside a CIO in the boardroom to learn the ropes there. He decided to give his directs the experience and found that the board, his directs, and his leadership liked the varied perspectives.
- First and foremost, boards want to hear about security and financial risks. “Once you have an established relationship with the board, they will really want to understand what your ability is to impact the business models and the strategy in the company,” said Jacoby.
- When presenting to the board, be humble and nimble. “It’s very important to understand that presenting to the board is not a resume-building exercise. It’s about presenting the facts, providing everything in a very balanced way and demonstrating a sense of urgency to take the action you prescribe,” says Kocherlakota. Along those same lines, Jacoby says part of your role is to coach a board to become digitally savvy. For that, she advises CIOs not to “act superior or embarrass people about their technology savvy – you [need to] try to bring people along.”
The discussion went on to cover how a board’s expectations might change during a crisis – say, a global pandemic. Kocherlakota says that S&P Global had made many foundational digital moves pre-COVID that positioned them well when they went from 85 offices around the globe to more than 32,000 home offices. Because of their Apptio/TBM work, he can speak confidently to the current and future viability of the new hybrid work environment.
Jacoby agreed saying that those foundational moves allowed S&P Global to have options. “[The COVID crisis] just adds to why it’s so important to organize your assets and be able to shift your funds around the organization without having to ask everybody’s permission every time you do it,” she said.
She said that now the board can focus more on culture and employee wellbeing during the crisis.
Jacoby has served on various boards and has advice for working CIOs who are looking to make that move. She says that joining a board is a good transition that allows you to stay involved in business without the stress you had as an executive.
But it’s probably not something you’ll just wake up one day and decide that this is the day to join a board. While you are growing your career and expertise, she advises IT leaders to also put in the work building relationships and nurturing their network. “Current CIOs can prepare themselves to do board-level work as they go forward,” she said.
Jacoby says that you really want your first board experience to be successful. “I got the advice to join a board while still a CIO and to be picky about the board I chose to join,” she said.
If you’re a current CIO and are interested in joining a board, Jacoby offers these tips:
- Be choosey about the boards you join.
- While an acting CIO, only join one public board. Public boards have more “rules” than a private board.
- Choose a board at a company that doesn’t pose a hint of conflict of interest.
- Find an advocate within your company or network to help you choose the right board and make introductions.
- Check to make sure your company allows its execs to join a board.
- You’re going to be with the board a lot, make sure you like and respect the board members.
- Don’t underestimate the value of your vendor relationships.
Some parting advice from Jacoby is to really understand your role. “Your first priority is your shareholder. Period. It’s not your job to run the company or the IT division,” she explains. “You are there to give guidance.”
Where to find more great content
I’m sorry if you missed these great TBM CxO Forum sessions, but I have good news: The TBM Conference is less than two weeks away!
Beginning Nov 9, we will air more than 100 on-demand and live sessions that can be accessed any time, any place, and on any screen. Learn how to bridge the gap with the CFO, get tips for being successful in the cloud, take a sneak peek into Apptio’s 2021 product roadmap, and much, much more. Register now!
Oh … I almost forgot: Register today and you can purchase a TBM Council Course and Certification coupon at the lowest prices ever offered. View more information here.
See you there!