Three Ways CIOs Can Drive their Agenda and Communicate Effectively with the Board

Peer Practices
Written by Nick Turner

Charles Ewen

Director of Technology & CIO

Met Office

David Germain

Group CIO


Gary Allwood

Head of IT


We are now entering our second year living full time in pandemic conditions. And as the curtains fell on 2020, for a moment there was optimism and hope that 2021 would quickly bring us all back to normality. 

While ‘normality’ still seems like an uncertain concept for many, it’s clear the connection between business outcomes and technology has hastened digital business.

The CIO is at the heart of this. 

CIOs convincing senior business leaders to adopt new technologies for better business outcomes is not new. Of course, CIOs’ many wins in 2020 were some of the few good things to come out of the pandemic – support for remote work, remodelled operations, shifted enterprise performance. Impressive for sure, but what can CIOs do now to seize this moment and drive their agendas forward in a world full of ambiguity?  

According to a recent Gartner Survey, 66% of CIOs increased the strength of their CIO-CEO relationship because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 70% of CIOs are now assuming leadership of high-impact initiatives. These strong relationships give CIOs the leverage they’ll need for their next big challenge – digital business acceleration. 

So, what should happen next? Well, with great power comes great responsibility, and capitalising on the ‘good will’ generated for the IT function over the past year must be managed correctly for greater leverage and influence.

Deliver Balanced Solutions

“The opportunity for IT to ‘step-up’ and deliver new and innovative technology to support a given organisation has been grasped by many IT leaders,” says Charles Ewen, CIO at the Met Office.  

“New solutions in productivity, collaboration, communication and service delivery abound. I fear that the sprint to deliver workable and innovative solutions will have led to some organisations not quite balancing ‘good, fast and cheap.’ ‘Fast’ has been a priority driven by the need to find a way to enable the operating model during lock-down. Many organisations have also taken a hit on P&L, and so ‘cheap’ has been an important constraint for many. ‘Good’ has really been at the level of ‘getting it working’ in that it may be for some, corners have been cut in some areas such as life-cycle management and information and cyber-security,” Ewen adds. 

“Of course, this risk depends very much upon organisation maturity at the start of the pandemic. At my organisation, we were lucky to have much already but for some, entirely new systems and capability has been built very quickly. It may therefore be that the relationships that have been built are at risk because of the new costs and issues that will need to be addressed in coming months and years,” Ewen notes.

Keep the Conversation Strategic

It’s clear that the CIO’s role must continue to evolve, embracing their newfound exposure and strengthened executive relationships to ensure that the strategic digital changes required for recovery are a fully organisational effort, not just an IT one. 

“Frequent communication enabled us to stay on the same page,” explains David Germain, CIO at RSA. “Consistent presentations, scorecards and demonstrating progress on agreed upon metrics was and continues to be extremely beneficial to build trust.” 

Germain adds, “Keep the conversation strategic. Do not become bogged down in balance scorecards and operational metrics. Talk about the business, product development, pain points, where we need to grow and how we need to win. Boards appreciate a CIO who can translate deeply technical topics to succinct salient points.”

Create Alignment with the Board

Overall, while challenging, the wider picture for both private and public-sector enterprises should be seen as both a threat and an opportunity for CIOs. But this is no time for IT leaders to be complacent. While COVID-19 has been a catalyst, it is up to CIOs to now capitalise on this to ensure that the effectiveness of their organisations’ recovery and rebuild efforts are maximised.

“To change JFK’s famous line slightly, ask yourself, not what can you do for the board, but what can the board do for you,” says Gary Allwood, Head of IT at ABP UK. “Good engagement is not always about what you can do for them; it has to be two way to be effective.”

Allwood says, “Don’t focus only on the great things IT can do for them; become more aligned with a fair system of give and take and work out what they can do for you. Be bold when you engage and do it now. IT is becoming more critical in enabling businesses to be successful, and as CIOs, you can play a massive part in that success.”

Ultimately, demand, credibility and the relationship strength needed to accelerate the digital maturity agenda are all there, but IT Leaders must act now. Don’t wait, or risk losing a valuable opportunity to push both your digital and business priorities forward.


Special thanks to all participating companies.

by CIOs, for CIOs

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