Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Questions Every Board Director Needs to Ask about Technology

Female Board Director. Photo Credit: Telegraph.

20 Jun 2012 15:30 Africa/Lagos

Questions Every Board Director Needs to Ask about Technology

WomenCorporateDirectors Address Tech Challenges for Companies

NEW YORK, June 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Big data, cyber security, gaming apps, Twitter – these and other technology developments are no longer just the province of IT departments and twenty-something employees. Companies are coming to realize that new tech issues must be brought onto the boardroom agenda and into governance at the highest levels.

WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) recently featured emerging technologies as a key theme at its second annual Global Institute in New York, drawing an audience of 250+ business leaders and directors, including many CEOs.

"New technologies are changing everything we hold true as board directors," says Susan Stautberg, co-founder and co-chair of WCD, the global membership organization of more than 1,400 women corporate directors.

"Our ideas about risk, innovation, talent development, understanding consumer behavior – all of these are being transformed more quickly than we can imagine by technology. And the burden of establishing governance around these changes falls to the board."

In the "Creating Advantage: What's the Next Paradigm Shift in Technology" panel at the Global Institute, experts delineated some of the key questions boards need to ask about technology and how it can be leveraged:

Questions Boards Need to Ask about Technology

Is my company a candidate for "big data"? Panelist Sara Mathew, chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet and a director of Campbell Soup Company, explained how D&B – which has a global database of more than 205 million business records – uses big data to rethink its business: "Let's say a thousand of my customers are all looking at one particular company. The insight generated in that moment tells me something about them, and that's probably more powerful than all the historical data I could aggregate, mine, analyze, and understand."

Even Twitter – which can often seem like a thousand people in a room screaming random things – can lend particular insight, she explained. "Twitter can be big data at its best, and there is enormous insight into sentiment that boards can learn through tools like this."

How safe is our data? "All good things can be a bit of a double-edged sword," advised Una Ryan, president and CEO of Diagnostics For All (a biotech nonprofit) and director of AMRI Global. Any kind of company that stores customer data – from financial information to health records – runs the risk of a data breach. "Every time you hear something absolutely wonderful that can be done and will take your business to the next level, also ask, what is the really terrible thing that could happen here that could ruin our reputation?"

U.S. Naval War College professor and cybered resilience researcher Chris Demchak iterated the importance of boards' requiring their security team to explain their active protection of intellectual investments in data and systems across their organizations: "You have to push them – and keep pushing them until they can almost draw you a picture. They may not like it, but you have to make them tell you so that you know where your data is and how they protect it resiliently against nasty surprises."

How are we using technology to train our people? The way younger people think and learn is fundamentally changing, said panelist Toti Graham, who serves on a number of boards in Peru, including Interbank, Ferreyros, Corferias del Pacifico, Fundacion Backus, and OWIT Peru. "We need to rebuild how we get knowledge into our minds – it's not about big conferences or getting everybody into the same room. We have to develop the next step with iPhones, iPads, and BlackBerries, and create these little 'pills of knowledge' that people can consume while they are walking in the street or waiting for a train. If you do this, and build communities where employees can share knowledge and build projects, you will be able to retain them for four or five years or longer instead of a year or two."

How can games create value for our company? "Gaming is a very powerful way of motivating individuals to pick themselves up and try again," said Dun & Bradstreet's Ms. Mathew. "You don't always get it right the first time. By bringing in collaboration and data and then adding the gamification component, you can get scales of collaboration on business issues to create real value and solve real business problems."

How can we crowd-source? Related to the interactivity of gaming is the Wikipedia-like notion of crowd-sourcing and how companies can leverage this for business. "We can definitely tap into crowds more than we do," said Ms. Ryan, even when entering markets in different countries. "There are all sorts of groups that you can access that you don't have to create yourself." As the head of a healthcare-related organization, she has seen, for instance, the crowds that are associated with pharmacies in Latin America. "You can get street-by-street, hut-by-hut information and give people back information that's useful to them about a particular disease that's prevalent or something that's of interest to them. This creates a local and regional source that you couldn't possibly create on your own."

The bottom line, said Ms. Graham, is that boards must be leaders in their companies when it comes to technology, and not separate themselves out from it. "Technology is changing our people, and it is changing our markets. You cannot lead a company saying, 'Yes, yes, technology is for the employees, but I cannot lead with that.' We have to be role models. We have to say, 'Yes, I embrace technology. Let's work together on that.'"

For more information about WomenCorporateDirectors and their programs for directors, please contact Davia Temin or Suzanne Oaks of Temin and Company at 212-588-8788 or

About WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD)

WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) is the only global membership organization and community of women corporate directors, comprised of more than 1,400 members serving on over 1,550 boards in 43 chapters around the world. In this new era of responsibility, WCD is committed not just to good governance, but to governance with global vision. Smart boards are going global in members and mindset. Our members share information and insights in order to ensure best practices in corporate governance around the world.

WCD's global chapters are located in Arizona, Atlanta, Australia, Beijing, Bogota, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Delhi, Denmark, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Houston, Indonesia, Israel, Lima, London, Mexico City, Malaysia, Melbourne, Minnesota, Morocco, Mumbai, New York, Nigeria, Northern California, Northern/Central Europe (Berlin), Paris, Philadelphia, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Shanghai, Singapore, South Africa, Southern California, South Florida, Switzerland, Tennessee, Toronto, United Arab Emirates, and Washington, D.C.

In 2012, WomenCorporateDirectors launched the WCD Global Nominating Commission. The Commission is a high-level task force of select corporate board nominating committee chairs and members from around the world, as well as CEOs, focused on proactively building diverse boards and candidate slates.

Our mission is to continue to expand the WCD community through leadership, diversity, education, best practices in corporate governance, and a focus on development and new board placement opportunities – see WCD's Call to Action to improve diversity on boards. WCD offers local, regional, national, and international forums, providing a platform for turning ideas into action. WCD is supported by its Founding Partners, Heidrick & Struggles and KPMG. For more information, visit

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