Board Composition

The New Board Diversity Test: Do You Have a Tech Expert?

Having a diverse board is a hot-button issue with many companies and their shareholders. Gender diversity, ethnic diversity, age diversity are increasingly seen as milestones for boards to meet.

But here’s another one, not talked about so often: technology diversity. Does your board include members who could be considered either tech experts or tech thought leaders? Who understands the importance of IT in the modern enterprise? Who understand how technology drives innovation? And is not that the future of your business resides? If you do not have a tech expert on the board, do not feel too bad. Even the President’s advisory board on the National Security Agency – one of the most high-tech users in the world- laquered a tech expert until this past February .

At the start of the 21st century, tech savviness has not been seen by many companies outside of the computer industry as an important board must-have. Is not that what IT departments are for?

Making the case

The fact is, yes, many companies probably need a digital thinker on the board, and the reason is that most companies are evolving into digital businesses. They sell online. They definitely market online-global social ad spend last year was estimated to top $ 23 billion and rising fast. Internally, the enterprise runs on business software. Employees communicate electronically. Field reps rely on tablets or steroid-induced smartphones to access data back at HQ, and every business is using them to automate their operations and gain a competitive edge.

It is difficult to imagine how it could be used in its own company. One example: the arrival of cloud computing.

Cloud is not just a set of technologies hosted on cost-efficient remote servers. To do cloud right, a company has its business processes, the capabilities of its employees, its go-to-market practices – a whole range of decisions on the side of the house. These are strategy and organizational choices that affect the bottom line. And those should wind up in the boardroom, not on the CIO’s desk.

Here are some additional reasons to make your board tech-friendly:

  • Cybersecurity is a board-level issue . IT can provide technical advice, but the board needs to evaluate business risk and approve recovery processes.
  • Software spend is expected to increase. In fact, it’s expected to grow by 5% in 2016 among global enterprises, and the overall IT spend wants to gain 0.6%, so boards need to be strategized how that allocation should flow.
  • It helps your brand. A high-profile board member with this expertise can attract premier programmers, developers and designers.

Where to hunt

The problem is that finding such a board is not easy; it’s a relatively small pool. Ideally, you want someone with tech chops (but not necessarily engineer) who has a business background. You can find candidates in a variety of locations, including a consulting practice, another company’s CIO or founders of successful tech companies. Not so fruitful are the worlds of academia and research, where potential candidates might paint the necessary business grounding.

Can modern boards get away with a guru on board? Of course, especially if technology is not a competitive differentiator for the company. And individual board members may have their own contacts in tech-related fields.

A board can still be tech friendly without the presence of “techies” as long as members understand the importance and benefits of digitization. Establishing a technology advisory committee is another option, with the added advantage of having a cross-function, multidisciplinary experts who can provide guidance with a broad perspective.

But as business becomes increasingly digital, more and more boards are choosing to fill out their ranks with thoughtful tech leaders. It’s worth consideration.

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