More IT expertise in the boardroom, please!

In my work as a freelance IT consultant I work for companies or institutions that are not IT  companies themselves. Mostly they are consultancy firms or research institutes. Knowledge intensive organizations, I call them myself.

Digitization process in organizations

So did I work for a consultancy firm in renewable energy. Their business is acquiring knowledge regarding solar energy, wind energy, energy savings, energy systems and use this knowledge to help their clients implementing energy saving measures or renewable energy systems.
That doesn’t sound like a company with many IT activities. But energy is quantifiable, meaning that it can be measured and calculated. And that’s where IT enters the room: data needs to be stored, calculations need to be programmed. Employees (energy consultants) started doing that by themselves in Excel. After a while the Excel sheets turned too big, too complicated, and where possible, the shift to more professional databases was made. A database administrator was needed, and a programmer was hired to code calculation applications.

IT activities and IT jobs grow fast

What is going on here exactly? A whole range of job functions (information technology jobs) shows up, sometimes within a few years, that has no direct relation with the main expertise of the company (energy in the example).
One might say, every company has job functions that are not directly related to the main expertise of the company: a secretary, a cleaning person, a driver, etc.. What’s the big deal? And that’s true, every company has a variety of job functions, and the bigger the company, the bigger the variety in functions.

The board room can’t keep up

But the point I’d like to make in this blog post: the IT activities as well as the number of IT job functions are increasing rapidly in many companies, due to the increasing digital demands of the market or the company itself. The energy company I mentioned was just one example, but the same phenomenon is happening in many other kinds of organizations.
And what I notice in ALL those organizations: the board room struggles managing the IT activities and the IT employees. The board members have no affinity, education or experience with IT, and it shows.

“Board rooms struggle managing IT activities and IT employees”

Where board rooms fall short

Many board rooms lack IT knowledge and experience. That’s the point of this article. But how does this show exactly? Some examples (and there are many more, unfortunately):

  • The wrong IT people are hired: lacking skills or experience. Management has no clue how to recognize a good programmer, a good network engineer.
  • IT activities are outsourced for the wrong reasons, or vice versa: kept within the company while outsourcing would make more sense.
  • Lack of communication with IT department or employees: IT is treated as a technical facility, not as an important business partner. They pass the fact that IT is very much related to business processes.
  • Management by incident: only when problems reach the surface (a server breaks down, a system is hacked and data is stolen), the management acts. A long term IT policy is absent.
  • Underestimation of IT projects: projects are led by people without any IT background, resulting in poor quality, out of hand budgets and lead time, resulting in a lot of frustration among employees.

So what to do?

My advice to organizations where IT is becoming a crucial part of their business: make sure you get someone in the board with an IT background. It doesn’t have to be a 100% IT person, but at least someone with some technical background and experience in leading IT projects. And yes, for many board rooms that means incorporating someone that is 10 years younger than the average board member!
Some organizations already appointed a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) or a CIO (Chief Information Officer). It doesn’t really matter how the position is called though, but put some IT background in the board, please! A smart board room will do it, it will save them a lot of money and frustration, the business will run smoother and it will also be more responsive to the future digital needs of the market.

Board room