Presenting Your Firm’s Data Agenda to the Board: What Every IT Professional Should Know
September 06, 2016 by Anne-Frances Hutchinson
Once upon a time, in corporate boardrooms not too far away, it was fairly unusual to request IT staff to speak in board meetings. The Digital Age is changing that. Here’s what first-time presenters need to know to reach the most challenging audience in insurance – the Board of Directors.
Because not all insurance firms have Chief Information Officers or Chief Data Officers, and not all CFOs are the de facto representatives of the IT department to the board, these days IT staffers are more likely to be called in to explain data management plans, technology risks and benefits, or to answer questions about proposed changes.
Board approval is a fact of life for all insurers, regardless of size. Large companies have boards of directors or trustees, and formal committees that oversee aspects of the organization such as compensation, technology, crisis management and leadership. Small and mid-sized firms generally have boards that are in line with their size, and may not have outside committees; some firms have internal groups that report to the board, and some have a less formal structure.
Boards are as different as the companies they oversee. There are directors and trustees who prefer a “hands off” approach to their duties, and others who maintain a day-to-day involvement in corporate affairs.
Regardless of size, composition or degree of involvement, boards are invested in the overall performance of the corporation. They are tasked with ensuring that the CEO is running the firm according to its charter and to their satisfaction (and to the satisfaction of shareholders). Generally, the view is high-level, but, when issues generate deeper interest, that view can shift to granular pretty quickly.
The big picture purview often puts limits on what the board knows or understands about what IT actually does, members with fintech backgrounds notwithstanding. This doesn’t mean that it’s an IT person’s job to explain their department’s role; rather, it’s a reminder that the board may not have a grasp on what they really need to know about a technology recommendation. It’s your job to make the information relevant, accessible and complete.
You’re All About the Data – Is Your Board?
No. At least not in the ways you would expect.
Insurance company directors and trustees are well aware of current industry accelerators such as big data, analytics and telematics, but they need someone to connect the dots between how these accelerators benefit the company and what the consequences of implementation will be.
Directors love facts and figures during a presentation, but hate being smothered in them. That’s why it’s essential to prepare a document with a detailed rationale of your project that can be distributed to the board in advance of the meeting. This is where all of the exhaustive narratives and numbers should be; it is the master plan that will support your presentation. There’s no guarantee it will be read, but that’s never a reason to skip this step.
Pro Tip: It’s infinitely easier to create a board presentation once you have written, reviewed and edited a deeper explanation of the project.
Every point made in both the pre-meeting document and the presentation must tie in with the company’s strategic business objectives. Use SMART criteria to articulate the basic raison d’etre of the proposed investment:
Specific — What will the project improve? How does it benefit the company?
Measurable — Identify what metrics will be used to gauge success.
Assignable — Who will be responsible for the project?
Realistic — What results can realistically be achieved with this investment?
Timely — When will those results be seen?
Brush Up On Your Storytelling
The presenter’s role is to educate the board about the project and supply them with the facts they need to make a decision about it.
A recent communications brief from Gartner reveals that many of the presentations they review “are collections of metrics, dense text and detailed project plans that don't tell a story.” As said above, complex narratives, plans, financials and justifications belong in the presentation’s supporting document.
“Storytelling is a very effective mechanism to get your points across and it provides a basis for engaging the audience,” the article reads. “The narrative need not be complicated; in fact, simple stories tend to resonate more effectively than overly complex stories.”
In addition to being clear and to the point, the narrative must connect the program’s objectives to the corporation’s business goals. To be effective, you must align your vision with that of the board and tell your story through their lens.
Here are five universal connecting points that can help bring your message to any board
- Take two minutes or less at the top of your timeslot to show that you fully understand the company’s business strategy and goals.
- Be clear about risks and rewards. Don’t over- or understate them to support a point. Directors will be eager to sniff out exaggerations and oversimplifications, none of which will help make your case.
- Directors and trustees are all about return on investment (ROI) and the financial impacts of change. The stronger your ROI analysis is, the better.
- One of the biggest concerns every board has is the ability of a team or department to execute. Make sure your execution plans are watertight before sharing them with the board.
- Take a conservative but realistic approach to timeframes. Artificially accelerated or prolonged timelines will be easily spotted, weakening your case.
Make Points From a Financial Perspective
IT pros know the power of mathematics on a cellular level, so there’s some irony here. Articulating how an IT project can or cannot generate revenue is key, and you will be expected to do that as clearly and simply as possible.
Making assumptions about revenue can be tricky, particularly with data projects. There are levels of costs and other accounting factors embedded in the IT department that may not be accessible or easily understood outside of the C-suite, but one thing is certain: directors will pick up on the facts you don’t offer as much or more than the ones you do.
Do thorough pre-flights with your financial analysis. Find a knowledgeable colleague in a finance-based role (or, if you can, enlist the CFO) to tear your assumptions to shreds. Present to them, and encourage them to find inaccuracies or weak scenarios, and get their help in making your points from a perspective the directors can resonate with.
This approach can be helpful from the technology side as well. Have a colleague help you find the biggest flaws, complexities or thorny issues with your project. It will serve you well to have holes punched through your proposal well ahead of your presentation – it’s not pleasant or easy, but you’ll be well-equipped to respond to a director pointing out the flaws in your plan.
There are other considerations to be aware of as you prepare. Should you read the room? What about giving away a feel-good freebie? What shouldn’t you bring into that boardroom? We’ve put together a quick-read guide with great advice from presenters and observers who’ve been through this. You can download it here or view the deck at the end of the post.
Ready to rock that boardroom? There’s just two more things you need to know:
Don’t slouch. You got this.
Building organizational support for change and agility lays the foundation for true data innovation. At Captricity, we leverage the power of data extraction to help drive insurers to their goals. Watch our latest video for an introduction what our industry leading technologies can bring to your firm.