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IT advice: Becoming a board member is within reach

As an IT executive, have you ever thought about becoming a board member? It turns out a seat at the table is well within your reach; just ask John Viglione, former CTO and current executive vice president at Vertex Inc. Viglione spoke with SearchCIO at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla., where he detailed his transition to a more business-focused role. He highlighted the growing importance of having IT leaders on the board and offered advice on becoming a board member. Hint: Drop the tech speak.

How has your IT experience helped you in your role as a business executive?

John Viglione: From my education and my early work experience, I always looked at technology as a tool for business. I always considered myself a business person who could use technology to its advantages for business purposes. I never was a pure play technologist. I always looked at how we could use technology to propel the business forward and [I] also [was] concerned about how technology can disrupt the business models of the companies I was with. As I moved into the role of general management within the firm, that was a natural goal for me -- to [be] recognized by the board as someone who could bring broad general management experience [and someone who's] not just responsible for the execution of a technology strategy, but also for the execution of the business' strategy as we move forward.

How important is it to have technology experts on the board?    

Avoid speaking in terms of technology; speak in terms of business.

Viglione: That's a question within the industry that I'm hearing more and more often. I was talking to a colleague in a private equity firm not too long ago and he was talking about the need for seeing inside what he called the black box. When you are a board member and you're speaking to a solution that's either internal or it's going into your commercial ventures, you need to get a sense that you understand that. Either you have to have someone on management who can speak in terms of business and not technical speak, or you need someone on the board that can help translate that. I think it's a very important role, and it continues become more important. I also think it's continuing to be a more challenging role for the board to [fill].  

What advice can you give to CIO or CTO trying to get on the board or move toward a more business-focused role?

Viglione: Avoid speaking in terms of technology; speak in terms of business. When we started major initiatives, one of the first things I did was a spreadsheet. I wanted to understand, from a program perspective and a financial perspective, [if we could] get a decent margin out of what we're pursuing.Of course, today, that's a much more complicated model because it's not just a simple, "I'm going to sell something to get revenue." The monetization models have changed. I think that if you're a technologist and you are in front of a business leader or you're in front of the board, you have to speak in terms of business. Stay away from the acronyms, stay away from all of the lingo that is always the front page buzz within the industry newspapers and from the analysts. Just focus on what's the mission of the company, how is the company changing, how can technology support it and how can you speak to that in terms of business.

For more on becoming a board member, read about how to secure a board appointment as a CIO and what specific skills are needed.

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