Get into the boardroom with geeks

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A few days before writing this article I had received a call from a client who was looking to fill a vacancy on the technology subcommittee for board of directors. The request caught me by surprise as I knew that such a post doesn’t exist anywhere in the country, or so I thought.

I have lived under this misconception that the importance of technology, also ICT, in the organisation has still not been fully embraced by the board of directors. This is a notion that should have been dispelled by a keynote speech given by Dr. James Mwangi of Equity Bank when he explained why he had laid off 3 chief information officers (CIOs), in as many years.

Dr. James Mwangi, CEO & Managing Director, Equity Group

Dr. Mwangi’s assertion was based on the fact that the CIOs he had let go of had been unable to realize that their responsibility went beyond keeping the lights on and that they were as responsible for the client as was the chief customer relationship manager, oops! That is who the CIO has actually become and I suspect always was, but had kept abdicating the responsibility.

In reference to Dr. Mwangi, it is clear that the group getting frustrated here is the board of directors who are having to make decisions about a technology driven organisation with no expert in the field being amongst their ranks mainly because those within the industry have refused to speak business and continue to speak geek.

Back to the request, what was interesting was the additional capability expected from the geek, an ability to assist the organisation to leverage its technology investment to increase revenue, that was the bombshell.

People who can speak geek are today a dime a dozen a fact that was brought home with the story of a master’s graduate in cyber security who was found strutting the highways one morning with a placard showing their qualifications and asking for a job.

As a cyber security expert, one is able to find a needle in a haystack, thus her inability to find a job in such a highly sort after area leaves a lot to be desired and indicating a siloed mentality that  is analogous to a geek speaker in an organization, waking up one morning to find their position downgraded and a new one created above that is usually then filled by a non-geek speaker.

The situation happens because the geek finds themselves so engrossed in keeping the lights on that they fail to see the blossoming opportunities presenting themselves all around them, they thus miss to grab at the situation.

I am not implying that all geeks need to aspire to move into management, in as much as I am encouraging neurosurgeons to go into carpentry. A few need to ascend to new levels so as to be an interface between the two worlds. The geek to translate from geek to business and the neurosurgeon to translate from neurons to mortise and tenon, as you might be aware the largest course of brain injuries is usually faulty wooden furniture, I think.

The geek who aspires to move to the board without either starting a unicorn or buying the organization would be by making yourself redundant by removing the human element from as many areas as is practically possible.

Most of the firefighting situations that will keep the CIO preoccupied with lights on issues are human related, a test user account that was never deactivated, a remote access login that remained active months after the staff member had left, a new server installed that overloaded the PDU or an OS that was not patched.

All of this can be prevented by making sure that there are appropriate procedures in place, linking separate but related systems such as active directory and the human resource system and making your infrastructure intelligent.

Your generator needs to proactively notify someone when its fuel level is insufficient to take it through the long weekend in case of an extended power outage.

I assure you that you are better off having planned late nights than having to deal with an issue while the shit is hitting the fan.

The reason the geek is missing in the board room is because they have refused to streamline their environment so as to release time to increase service to their customer, both internal and external.

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