Add another skill to the list of qualities every director should possess: technological literacy. Technology-specific issues can get short shrift in the boardroom, because most directors lack “expertise” in the field. However, there are constantly stories of the pervasive aspects of technology, an area no longer reserved for companies such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. Just this week, it was revealed that some smartphones track and collect user location, and there was a potential security breach at a popular online game platform.
It would be unfathomable for a director to ignore a discussion about the company’s financials, because they were not an “audit expert.” Technology should be viewed in the same manner. The topic of IT risk oversight has been covered recently in both this blog site, and in a recent NACD white paper, “Taming Information Technology Risk: A New Framework for Boards of Directors,” published in collaboration with Oliver Wyman. This white paper details four areas of IT risk a firm could be exposed to:
- Competitive risk
- Portfolio risk
- Execution risk
- Service & security risk
Of the four areas mentioned, recent data has placed a spotlight on the oversight of competitive risk, or the risk of competitors getting to the market faster. According to Arbitron and Edison Research, the amount of time Americans spend consuming radio, television and the Internet increased by roughly 20 percent over the past decade, from a daily average of 6 hours and 50 minutes in 2001 to a daily average of 8 hours and 11 minutes in 2011. This dramatic increase in consumer use of technology should be considered in all strategic planning, which is consistently ranked by directors as the top boardroom priority.
Boards are also directly experiencing the pervasive quality of technology. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal noted the increased use of videoconferencing at the boardroom level. Once avoided due to slow connections and poor visuals, Cisco Systems has improved the technology in its “telepresence,” a system that simulates in-person meetings. Many high profile boards use advanced videoconferencing for meetings, including American Express Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. While virtual meetings are unlikely to create the collaborative dialogue created by in-person meetings, their use can supplement those in-person meetings, reduce travel expenses and potentially facilitate more international diversity in the boardroom.
Learn more about the risk areas and the right questions to ask on Wednesday, May 4 at 12:00 PM (ET) for a complimentary NACD webinar: Board/C-Suite Interaction: Skills of the IT Team
 According to the 2010 NACD Public Company Governance Survey