A poll of CIOs in Phoenix in March 2011 and London in April 2011 revealed a spectrum of CIO engagement with their boards that suggests a road map for CIOs to use in their career planning and performance.

Even though a high number of CIOs were engaged with their board, the number that aspired to be on the board was comparatively low at 21 per cent.

A small but significant number of the board-interested CIOs (9 per cent) present at every board meeting. As the sophistication of board engagement increases, the number of CIOs who participate at that level declines rapidly.

Exceeding expectations, 17 per cent of CIOs currently sit on a commercial board of directors outside of their organisation. This means that more CIOs sit on outside boards than present at every board meeting within their own organisation in both Europe and the US.

There were geographic differences. US CIOs were more likely to aspire to be a board director on an outside board than their European counterparts and were twice as likely to be presenting at every board meeting.

As CIOs continue to grapple with the best means of engaging with their business, they must understand that the board provides an important test for IT investment.

Always have a clear articulation of how IT priorities align with board priorities. Board members are selected for their ability to help the organisation compete in the global marketplace, not for their prowess in IT.

As a CIO, when you engage, focus on what the board members believe is important and ensure that your initiatives have a place among their priorities.

Source: Gartner

If you see an IT investment missing from the board's priorities that can damage business performance, seek to explain the missing investment in terms of business results that your CEO can also defend.

For example, make sure that all projects are named to reflect business priorities, not IT priorities. If a project is called the ERP project, it vastly understates the business initiative to drive world-class productivity of which ERP is a piece.

Establish a specific external industry focus for IT (maybe an external-facing business role) to allow IT to target solutions that provide competitive advantage.

Use the relationships with the board to achieve two things:

 - Get an early indication of company direction that can help IT respond more closely to changes in direction
 - Invest in providing business-level education about new, game-changing technologies that should be considered as investments in the future

Jorge Lopez is VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner

Pic: Lars Ploughmann cc2.0