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Stephen Coombs ▪ Vice President Global Product Management 

Attending a board meeting for the first time can feel a lot like the tense moment a plucky entrepreneur takes their first step into the Dragon’s Den, with each board member trying to make the case for their respective business units to receive more investment. Previously IT leaders would rarely venture into the den, but the role that technology now plays within 21st century business means that their role at that table is critical, if not essential. Whether to help effect strategic transformation, protect against rising cyber threats or giving employees the tools to improve productivity, IT leaders are key players in ensuring the success, availability and competitiveness of any organisation.

It’s gratifying then, that after decades of arguing the case for this inclusion, we are finally seeing the IT department gain an increasingly prominent role in the boardroom. Most especially within larger organisations. In our inaugural The Little Book of IT[1] benchmarking research, global IT decision makers (ITDMs), revealed that up to 74% of respondents said the IT department plays a very important (47%) or critical (27%) role in how the business moves forward. This is a significant change. Business leaders are now looking to IT leaders to provide guidance on more than simply keeping the lights on. Interestingly, the study found that 68% of UK businesses placed the CTO as the most influential board member for driving forward IT decisions, followed by the CIO in second place (63%), leaving the CEO trailing behind in third place at 31%. With such a cultural shift in play, there are a few key strategic areas where the IT department can have the biggest business impact.

Emerging from the shadows 

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of an organisation, keeping control of any business’ IT estate becomes both challenging and important. With the ability to install any number of apps or tools at the click of a button, technology decisions have the potential to lie in the hands of any employee. It’s therefore up to the IT team to identify and assert as much control and influence as they can over the so-called ‘Shadow IT’ issue without employees feeling like their productivity or ability to do their job is being hampered; balancing freedom with control, and innovation with responsibility.

This art of balancing of freedom and control is crucial as businesses look to become as agile and flexible as possible in order to stay ahead of the competition. Of the ITDMs surveyed, almost three-quarters (70%) said that the IT department has the most freedom to drive innovation and development compared to the rest of the business. This is a real opportunity for the department to be in moving forward.

Securing support 

Security – which was always important for responsible IT leaders – is now an ever-growing concern. As numerous high-profile attacks and outages have demonstrated, security breaches affect reputation and commercial success. If these impacts weren’t bad enough, changing regulations promise hefty fines for any organisation that isn’t deemed to be taking cyber security seriously. On 8th August, the UK government announced that firms could face fines of up to £17m or 4% of turnover for cybersecurity failures unless they can show ’adequate’ procedures are in place.

Organisations are now waking up to these threats. The Little Book of IT respondents said it was the most important factor (57%) in determining the technology that is adopted within their organisations. Thus, IT leaders are being called up to implement increasingly flexible, integrated approaches to security in response to the evolving threat landscape.

Collaboration is key 

Whilst the IT department is, quite rightly, earning new powers of influence, a seat at the board table isn’t handed out on a silver platter. IT leaders need to focus on driving innovation by proactively working with their peers across the business to identify, beta test and implement new technologies that will have lasting impact.

Across all industries, we’re witnessing a paradigm shift in who gets a seat at the strategic planning table. When it comes to leveraging technology to achieve business goals, the IT department is being unequivocally invited not just to pull up a chair, but to lead the conversation. However, this does not mean other CXOs can sit back.  Unlocking the full potential of IT within businesses will depend heavily on the support and backing of ALL board members to make the necessary investments in new technology.  Customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders depend upon this collective co-operation.

With the impact of Brexit and regulatory changes looming large, not to mention the global reach of security vulnerabilities, organisations need to reappraise their IT if they have not already done so.

Prioritising IT investments to meet strategic objectives and ensure the current crop of geopolitical, as well as systems, risks do not undermine the organisation is essential. As is harnessing the skills, insights, control and influence of your IT department.

[1]The Little Book of IT: Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) commissioned independent technology market research firm Vanson Bourne to conduct interviews with 1,350 IT decision makers from around the globe and across multiple sectors, ranging from medium to large enterprises. The research took place from October to December 2016.

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