Board with technology

Executive involvement in technology reaches a new level

board level tech

Technology has reached the Board of Directors - now what?

Credit: KCInsights

The boards of directors are getting much more involved with the organization’s technology decisions. This is being driven by the dependence organizations have on technology, as well as the technologies that will emerge over the next few years that hold great promise, and at the same time pose a substantial threat.

Today, boards of directors have grown increasingly nervous about the organization’s dependence on technology and the pace of technology driven change. Many organizations are struggling to keep up with the current pace of change, much less the increased level of change that is projected as we approach 2020. In the last few years, the board’s uneasiness has increased given reports of the forecasted impact technologies that will emerge over the next three to five years will have on their industry, competition and ultimately their organization.

Today the board has a heightened sensitivity to technology related risks. They recognize that emerging technology is a double edge sword. These risks manifest themselves in two major areas: change and competition.

While the emerging technologies show great promise, they also pose a competitive threat. Boards wonder if their products and services could be negatively impacted, if not made obsolete, by an emerging technology that blind-sides them.

Just recently the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article titled, "All Boards Need a Technology Expert." While the article is well worth reading, it really does not highlight the need to monitor emerging technologies due to their potential impact on existing business models. If boards wait until the technology is in use (perhaps by their competition) they have lost considerably.

Another very important issue that must be addressed when selecting a technology oriented board member is his or her ability to explain highly technical subject matters in non-technical terms. I attended one executive meeting where the organization’s senior technology person came in and spoke to the board. When that individual left and the door closed behind him, one board member asked me, “Would you care to interpret?” That speaks volumes to be sure.

Stop and think for a moment about how boards of directors continue to face increased challenges, many of which are rooted in emerging technologies that serve to alter customer expectation and create new rules of competition. This trend is expected to continue well into the future. When was the last time your board was briefed on the business implications of emerging technologies? Technologies like the 3D and 4D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), wearable computing, smart homes and vehicles becoming a computing platform. Based on a recent report, IoT will generate a significant amount of financial opportunities between now and 2025. If you subtract out estimates of the current IoT marketplace and do the math, the coming IoT revenue stream would generate about $40,000 each and every second between now and 2025. 

Many of these and other technologies are beginning to have a fairly robust impact on established organizations using traditional technology. Have you assessed the impact these technologies will have on your business? How about on your career? This is not just an IT department issues as many organizations act and believe. All too often the chief technology officer (CTO) or the individual carrying out responsibilities associated with the CTO position reports into IT. The business implications that emerging technologies are likely to have go far beyond just IT.

Are your products or services about to be rendered obsolete my emerging technologies or their resulting impact? In some cases, it is very likely that existing products will be seen as inferior or even obsolete. The 1991 movie Other People’s Money with Danny DeVito had a great quote – “And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market.”  His character also talks about changing technology and how the last buggy whip company made the best G - - D - mn buggy whip, but changing technology has rendered it obsolete.  

Those are words to live by given the coming era of rapidly emerging technology.

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