Surveys: Corporate boards care about IT, don’t understand it

There are some mixed messages in recent studies of the relationship between IT and the executive board: While boards know IT is important to the success of the business, most members don’t have a clue about IT. 

First the good news: Very few corporate leaders see the IT department as just a cost center these days, according to a recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The majority of board directors believe IT is “very important” (43.1%) or “critical” to the financial success of the company, according to PwC’s survey of 860 directors of public companies. Only 7.4% said IT is “primarily infrastructure” and focused mainly on back office support.

And directors plan to back up that belief with action — 57% of survey respondents plan to spend more time discussing IT risk and opportunities next year. That’s up from 36% who said the same thing in 2011.

Boards still lack IT knowledge

Despite board directors’ stated enthusiasm about technology, things don’t look as rosy from IT’s perspective.  Although technology is becoming more important for businesses, most IT pros don’t think their companies’ boards are qualified to make decisions about IT strategy, according to a recent survey from

Among the 250 IT leaders surveyed:

  • 64% said the board “doesn’t do its homework” regarding IT issues
  • 57% said directors rely too much on what they read when they make IT-related decisions, and
  • 40% said the board doesn’t care about IT.

One issue: Most boards lack members with backgrounds in technology. Therefore, they may be aware of general IT concepts but have no deeper knowledge. And in fact, most boards aren’t seeking IT expertise even as technology becomes more important. Just 30% of directors said technology experience is a very important attribute for new board members.

That means IT leaders need to reach out and offer their knowledge, says. One way to do that is offering to conduct brief presentations on specific topics, such as cloud computing or mobile technology.

It’s critical to offer the information in a way that board members will understand it, and address their key business concerns.