The idea that boards need to start sitting up and taking notice of advances in technology is not a new one.
For quite some years the need to be up to date with technology has been on the agenda of most boards with the majority of discussion around what is emerging in their sector, innovation in applications and what are their competitors up to. More recently data security and privacy are hot topics of discussion.
Technology is not just an enabler or money and time saver, it also opens up opportunities that may never have been possible or imagined in the blue sky sessions the board has had before. This is true when trying to predict how current clients or customers will interact with you in the future especially for those newly created opportunities for partnering, affiliation and tapping into emerging markets.
Ironically, while focusing mostly on the operational aspects of technology, many board do not take the time to investigate how new technologies could improve their own efficiency and effectiveness.
Traditionally the work of NFP boards is associated with dim meeting rooms, evening meetings and white bread sandwiches. These may still be part of the staple processes boards employ as they keep keep costs down and relationships alive, however there is an emerging trend that may challenge this way of doing business.
More and more boards are embracing technology to carry out business that can have an enormous impact on efficiency.
At the basic level there is a growing offering of online tools that can facilitate the collation of information readily available to board members and support staff. The emergence of cloud based file sharing such as Dropbox and Google Docs has helped enormously. Calendar sharing and scheduling applications complement this as well.
There are also a number of board portals that will help manage the back end of the board process with filing documentation, distributing papers and recording minutes. These are a little more sophisticated as they house the work of the board in one location allowing for secure logon and access.
Many of these also include discussion threads and areas to share information and stimulate thought. Some of these include, but not limited to DirectorPoint and OurCatHerder for the NFP sector.
Taking board and committee meetings on line is also becoming more prevalent as meeting platforms become increasingly stable and accessible. The growth in functionality to allow for screen sharing, submission of questions and polling make it an even more powerful alternative.
I and many fellow directors have personally attended meetings using Zoom or Skype, with GoToMeeting being extremely popular too. Put all these together and you could be anywhere on the globe attending a board meeting and accessing information in real time.
Taking it to the next level some investment funds in the U.S. are reported to be utilising algorithms and software to make decisions for the board. The agreement between the board is made at the programming stage with thresholds and risk tolerance built into the package. For now this may be more aligned to finance and where there are vested stakeholders on the board.
I am not sure how it would transfer to a service organisation, where decisions on human behaviour are required, but Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are increasing at an exponential rate, allowing for the use of big data to better predict behaviour and in some instances, influence.
Technological advances in service or product delivery is already transforming some service sectors whereby practitioners receive information, administer care and upload reports without having to see an office. Collation of data is much more instantaneous and usable.
So where is the future of technology making boards work? My opinion is that there will be a two level amalgamation of technology that will play out.
Millennials are looking to be part of the bigger discussion while gravitating towards technological and mobile solutions. They also yearn for collaboration and innovation while shying away from the old adages of tenure and hierarchy. What we have seen recently is that if they can’t influence within their environment, they will simply create their own. This will impact static boards that don't have a robust succession or rotation plan to ensure renewal of ideas and visions of the future.
Online information sharing and reporting will mean board members will always be up to date with the day, trends and current status. Boards of the future will become less focused on reviewing performance and more focused on making their version of the future happen with greater predictability.
There will be an older guard who see the board meeting as the last bastion of working behind closed doors and shuffling (real) papers, that will be slower to adopt, (if at all) but this is the normal cycle of change.
Robert Crowe is Founder & Principal of Leading for Purpose helping NFP Chairs and directors develop the skills, courage and confidence to collaborate and achieve their true purpose.