Over the last 6–12 months, a steady stream of articles, blogposts and on-line discussions calling for Boards to become more "tech-aware" have appeared. I've read many of these, and have concluded that the drivers for many can be grouped into one of two categories:
The time to bridge the chasm between what the Board needs from IT and what IT delivers has long-since past. Calls for Boards to become tech-aware need to be addressed. However, there appears to be a problem that needs to be called out: what does "becoming tech-aware" actually mean? And how does a Board achieve such a state? Rather than simply call out the problem, or brow-beat directors with standards (ISO 38500, for example), companies need to make progress on these questions. Several options are available.
Seek IT-expertise when making new Board appointments: The recruiting of IT-experts (former CIOs for example) can provide an immediate gains, particularly to help Boards understand trends, and reports and proposals from management. However, this option can backfire if appointees are inclined towards detail, jargon-laced statements, and the ardent promotion of the latest trends and fads.
Require the CEO and management to ensure all papers (reports and proposals) explicitly state business and strategic impacts: This is an outstanding option, and one that all Boards and CEOs should actively pursue. If management wants support for investments, then it is their responsibility to package proposals in such a way that the risks are made plain, and that impact on business performance and strategic goals is made explicitly clear. Boards have a role to play, by specifying how information needs to be presented in order to be most useful.
Boards request and schedule presentations from external specialists: The pace of technology change—and the business and strategic impacts that follow—continues unabated. If Boards are to maximise the value of the organisation effectively, they need to understand emerging trends and developments. Rather than secure this knowledge from staff (and run the risk of only hearing what management wants to say), Boards should seek contributions directly, just as they (should) seek any other strategic market comment, risk or audit advice. The goal is to gain a broader perspective, to inform the debate and the selection of strategic options.
It should go without needing to be said, but for completeness, these options are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a combinatory approach, with all three options in place, is likely to raise the chances of a strong outcome.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.