CIOs Moving to the Boardroom

IT leaders challenge traditional thinking at SIM conference.

NEW YORK—IT leaders were given the challenge at SIMposium 2003 here to move from the computer room and into the boardroom.

In his keynote, Dr. Richard Nolan, the William Barclay Harding Professor of Management of Technology at Harvard Business School, said chief information officers, senior management and the board of directors must collaborate to successfully align IT with the business, and to develop effective and efficient uses of technology.

"Its fait accompli, and its time for IT leadership to stop falling between the cracks," Nolan said. "Exploiting information technology resources is the best game in town."

Nolan, who was addressing an audience of more than 600 CIOs, senior IT executives and technology industry experts, also stressed that IT managers must play an active role in board meetings. The Society of Information Managements SIMposium conference acts as a forum for high-level technologists to discuss business issues related to the management of IT and to identify industry best practices. SIM, founded by CIOs, has 30 chapters in the United States and more than 3,000 members.

In a recent survey by consulting group AT Kearney Inc., 93 percent of CEOs believe IT is strategic, Nolan said. Yet, few will admit they know how to exploit information technology to streamline their businesses. Nolan used his keynote to introduce the idea of adding an IT oversight committee to corporate boards of directors. The committee, he said, would oversee major IT-related projects and technology architecture decisions.

Organizations such as FedEx Corp. in Memphis, Tenn., Mellon Bank Corp. in Pittsburgh, Pa., and AMP Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, all have IT oversight committees in place. At FedEx, for example, the board of directors has four committees: audit, compensation, nomination and governance, and IT oversight. The point of such a structure, Nolan said, is for CIOs to engage in conversation with senior managers and the board of directors.

"CEOs can no longer say, I leave IT to my geeks or to my technical guy because thats a dangerous situation," Nolan said. "As the organization moves from hard boundaries to permeable ones, emerging concepts are enabled by technology. CEOs and boards need to be accountable to ensure the proper mechanisms are in place to transform companies as we go forward in the next 40 years."

CIOs attending the SIMposium agreed with Nolan. Doreen Wright, CIO at Campbell Soup Co., said that CIOs need to enhance their corporate leadership roles in order for IT to be more agile and responsive to business needs. And Mitchell Habib, CIO of GE Medical Systems, a Waukesha, Wisc.-based unit of General Electric Co., said he too challenges his colleagues to think outside of the computer room.

"We work in the computer room and in the board room because we get paid to make the right decisions," he said. "Getting there is not the destination, its only the beginning."