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The rise of the digitally-savvy board

Bonnie Gardiner | May 20, 2015
Our boards are not ready for digital disruption, so how can we bring about positive change?


Whether it is changing company culture, empowering your people, driving better education of the coming generations, keeping abreast of external technology, and investing more in the local startup scene, there are a myriad of ways that Australia can break free of its status as an innovation laggard.

In part 1 and part 2 of the series on innovation in Australia, CIO explored what has caused our digital economy recede, how CIOs can contribute to our rehabilitation, and the role that executive leaders and senior managers have to play in the increasingly digital business environment. Now, in the final part we rest our final gaze on that group which can often make or break a business strategy and empower leaders -- the board.

Not ready
"I am convinced that our boards are not ready for this," says Steven Burdon, professor of strategic management and technology at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Professor Burden was discussing the Australia-specific challenges of an increasingly digital business environment during a business lunch in Sydney.

"We need to change the boards ... the CEOs don't like it, but the involvement of shareholders in strategy is increasing, and they want change.

"Currently it's just legal and finance people on boards, and there's nothing wrong with them, but you also need people who understand the industry, and who increasingly understand technology."

Luke McCormack, VP and MD of Pegasystems for Asia Pacific, says compliance is too often a key focus of Australian boards, leaving little room for innovative discussion.

"In the last 10 years the main focus of boards has been compliance. Compliance first, innovation somewhere else down the list -- and for good reason -- but it needs to be a balance and it's been compliance only," he says.

"That's led to a culture where boards feel they can just play catch up with innovation, or leave it all up to a digital officer, but it needs to be a company-wide change."

More digital representatives
Burdon believes Australian boards need a greater focus on digital and IT, with experts in these fields invited to discuss strategy. Catherine Livingstone, chair of Telstra, is one good example of this approach being successful in the digital world, said Burdon.

"She's a real tech head, and I've seen her trying to transform the Telstra board into something appropriate."

CIO Executive Council member and digital consultant, Karen Scott Davie, is also putting her expertise to good use, shaking up boards and encouraging members to see the world through digital glasses.

"There has to be more technology and digital people on boards. There's actually enough space for two roles whether it's digital, digital marketing, digital technology, and then the end-to-end technology side," she tells CIO.


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