Final thoughts - boards must discuss tech in 2020

Technology has to be as important in boardroom discussion as the share price and city sentiment

"The ICI board spent most of its time on the ICI share price and relations with the City," Shoichi Saba, chairman of electronics giant Toshiba told CIO of chemicals manufacturer ICI Richard Sykes. That difference between the board meetings of the Japanese and British companies is as prevalent and as important today. 

As 2019 draws to a close it is time to reflect on the past year and also sadly reflect on the passing of Richard Sykes, a CIO who did a great deal to define the role of the CIO as a business leader.

2019 has been a turbulent year for business technology leadership with outages hitting the headlines, data breaches and a world economy that doesn't end the year in the finest of health. The impact of technology continues to challenge all vertical markets and change the behaviour patterns of society. And in truth the technological impact on business is not new, what is new is the scale. It was for this reason that Sykes learned from his Japanese experiences and always pressured the CIO networks we both inhabited to ensure technology was a top table discussion. 

The leadership team must, of course, talk about the share price and consider how the investment community responds to the business, its products and services. But regular analysis and debate about technology is as vital.

Board level discussions cannot just focus on the technology in use by an organisation, but must be a wide ranging exploration for what technology can and most likely will do to an organisation. The last two decades has demonstrated that if organisations don't see a different way of doing things then someone else will.  And again, the last two decades demonstrate that those that see different ways of doing things are in all likelihood not in your market today. 

The word innovation is widely overused at present; it has become a cliché, like all clichés from a truth. Technology enables new thinking and more importantly, new doing. 

It is the role of the CIO and CTO to bring this discussion to the table. A recent piece of research shows that board members feel they lack digital skills. The International Board Research Report by the London Business School's Leadership Institute with CIO search firm Harvey Nash finding that boards are not equipped to analyse digital disruption and understand the capabilities of technology led customer service.

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