If you have worked with me, are technical, or in a management position of technical people, or running a technology project, or collecting requirements - I would have tried to recruit you for the Institute of Directors. The IoD* is a great institution and I am a Chartered Member. Its focus on helping Directors understand their responsibilities, to bring value to their formal and informal roles with boards is critical. However, techies running out and getting IOD memberships is not my end goal:
My overarching plan is to get capable directors - with technology experience - on boards to support the role that technology plays in organisational change.
There once was a one time when lawyers and accountants would have been a natural choice for board selection, and understandably so - they knew how to manage money and keep their businesses on the right side of the law. They, along with candidates with industry experience would have been core foundation board members. But as with death and taxes, technology is also inevitable - we are not going back to paper / manual based businesses for anything short of a zombie apocalypse.... and in that case death and tax will be avoidable... I digress... Many boards have matured in understanding that diversity is critical in developing great organisational resilience and many studies show that diverse thinking can improve the bottom line... but I have not seen a push to bring in a technical capability set to the top table. The general approach to up-skilling boards seems to be take a board member and put them on a seminar or workshop and that will improve the wider understanding of technology issues across the board. My recommendation is the opposite - go and recruit those who know this stuff. Like lawyers and accountants recruited for their day jobs, let's get our technologists at the board table.
Technology enables our people, processes, operations, marketing, customer service - in fact all our internal and external services, from small to enterprise businesses, across all industries - to actually work. You may work for a milk manufacturer, an airline or a school but they will all rely on technology to enable the provision of goods or services and to compete. Technology is revolutionising how our organisations do literally everything and the rapid pace of change will not slow down... And yet.... we are sorely missing a fuller understanding of this capability at most board levels. And this is a bloody huge issue.
So how can a Technologist** provide insight and value across key areas of interest for Boards? Good question, here's my top of mind areas where our Techies can add immense value....
Merger, acquisition or takeover. During these times we know that the financials are critical, as is how we manage the change for our employees... but managing technology is just as important. Imagine you are buying a similar company to yours and as part of the pre-buy report, you find out that each has a finance system which are luckily from the same vendor. How hard can it be to bring these to systems them together, right? Many boards would not ask for an in-depth technical due diligence to the degree that would enable a more practical view. What if your company has a modern SaaS version and runs well oiled middleware for integrations and the target company runs an antiquated piece of junk, living on prem and which is tightly integrated to old HR system and the only person who knows how they work left in 1993? Hello project risk my old friend.
And cyber security? Such a buzz word but malicious attacks are on the rise. As a risk it should make an appearance on most risk registers at some stage because no business is immune to a bored hacker. While many cyberaware technologists sit on committees / initiatives within the business there is a need to provide context to boards. Firewalls do not live in isolation, they also do not protect you from someone meaning to do your organisation harm. Something as simple as a website caused considerable damage to the Ministry of Culture. While robust policies are needed operationally so is accountability for following them - that is the boards job.
What about data? Privacy? Breaches? Data is the exponential growing stuff that flows through the body of an organisation. It carries PII (personal identifiable information), financial transactions, commercially sensitive correspondence - information that if accessed inappropriately could cause reputational damage at the very, very least/ - In just six months Forbes reported that there were 3,800 publicly disclosed breaches exposing 4.1 billion compromised records. Assuming this is a drop in an ocean of unreported breaches, you have to wonder... My soon-to-be-ex-bank managed to screw up communication around my business account; forwarding it a previous business. Not only did this indicate absolutely tosh management of private and financial information resulting in a small but thoroughly irritating incident for me, its endemic of a whole lot more. Perhaps if technologists were helping set the tone at the top, their influence would result in better investment of training and management of their customers data.
Technology Projects and Oversight***
The flip side is that if boards get a view of how IT fundamentally enables the business; they can take on emergent technology as part of organisational innovation. There is so much we can do to equip ourselves for the future. Deloitte sum up 2019 trends as digital reality, cognitive technologies, and blockchain but these have built on and extended from previous technologies many still infant to teen (i.e.maturing). Having someone thinking 'technology' can help ask the right questions for where areas of the organisations may benefit and where risk could be reduced.
Having a technology mindset does not mean removing the need to consider people first or negate the importance of other key functions. It simply acknowledges that everything in our world is connected - usually by technology. It does seem to me that while the wider business is represented at the Board, the function of technology - in its widest sense - is not. With so much riding on what technology does for us now and in the future - perhaps it's time for techies to step up and learn about Governance and boards to return the favour.
* Endorsement. I will just say that I am not endorsed by the IOD. All smart assed comments are my own. I won't get a toaster oven with every 10th joiner and they also may disown me after this blog.
** Technologist /tɛkˈnɒlədʒɪst/. noun. 1/ an expert in a particular field of technology.
***Technology Projects and Oversight. last blog said it all.
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This blog was originally posted in October 2019