Board members are faced with the seemingly daunting responsibility of assessing technological innovation in real time and determining how it impacts their organizations now and in the future. From intelligent automation and data analytics, to blockchain and robotic process automation, these and other advances are transforming not only specific business functions, but entire industries. This environment is raising the bar on decision-making, elevating risk and fueling a shift toward more systematic strategic thinking.
Navigating this new era requires an ongoing commitment to research, analysis and collaboration. There’s a continual learning curve and a heightened need to frequently assess company personnel, resources and strategies in light of such dramatic change. Staying ahead of the disruption curve is paramount. From my conversations with colleagues, as well as board members from a diverse group of industries, six considerations stand out as helpful practices in the technology evaluation process. They include:
- Follow the thought-leaders From engaging on social media, to reading timely research, white papers and opinion-pieces, it’s imperative that directors stay attuned to influential experts within the technology fields that are most relevant to their organizations. From venture capitalists and analysts to entrepreneurs and inventors, these leaders influence the competition and many service providers within each sector. Some of the better sources include publications like TechCrunch and Wired, as well as podcasts such as Recode Decode, The Wall Street Journal’s Tech News Briefing and WSJ The Future of Everything, and Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.
- Host a Silicon Valley tech tour Changing times require changing approaches to the frequency, subject matter and location of board meetings. The high level of innovation under way deserves an elevated level of discussion and interaction among directors, management and a company’s advisors. Traveling to Silicon Valley to meet with tech companies and industry experts is also an endeavor well worth pursuing. There’s a need to move out of the box, so to speak, and foster conversation and insight sharing, even if it means longer hours and time spent around the boardroom table or on fact-finding excursions. This is time well spent.
- Benchmark best practices One of the most effective and practical avenues to monitoring and evaluating technology progress can be achieved through the development of an innovation scorecard. Shared between the board and company executives, this entails developing a tailored list of operating areas where innovation can drive improved results, in line with the industry peers. Such a scorecard serves as a working document to help drive execution in a transparent manner. Grant Thornton’s Insight Exchange series serves as a helpful platform for engaging with peer networks and sharing best practices by industry group.
- Build an ecosystem Connect with outside experts regularly to obtain viewpoints regarding the future. Consider inviting tech leaders like Amazon to speak to your Board on the future of your sector. It’s important to welcome differing opinions, while evaluating a broad range of options and related risks. One of the hallmarks of this transformative era is that there are many innovations and different approaches that can lead to similar levels of success. It’s often a matter of degrees. Deciphering which path is right for your organization requires an open dialogue, active scenario planning and an in-depth understanding of costs and ROI metrics. At the same time, it’s important to actively review the potential risks inherent with each strategic path.
- Network at tech conferences Dedicate time to join peer networks and attend major technology conferences such as CES, the Consumer Technology Association events and the WSJ The Future of Everything Festival. Connecting directly with experts and fellow board members in the industry will give you another level of insight and perspective on emerging trends, key developments and best practices. Real life discussions provide valuable vantage points to assess true peer sentiment and evolving industry dynamics.
- Walk the Floors These times call for a higher level of interaction between board members and operating management. It’s critical for directors to gain a clear understanding of the intricacies that go into the company’s operations. From product development and sourcing, to manufacturing and shipping, to marketing and data analysis, technological innovation impacts every area of business. Beyond conversing with senior management, you can make better decisions when you see first-hand how your company operates.
These are among the more common suggestions regarding how board members can better assess technological innovation and stay ahead of the disruption occurring across so many industries. In light of the technology transformation underway, the stakes have certainly been raised on decision-making. It only makes sense for board members to raise their game in understanding and evaluating the options in front of them.
About the author
National Managing Partner, Markets, Clients & Industry
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