Home > Risk > The Board and Technology: Questions to ask the management team

The Board and Technology: Questions to ask the management team

I usually like McKinsey’s thought leadership pieces.

However, Five questions boards should ask about IT in a digital world is not, in my opinion, up to their normal standard.

These are the five:

  • How well does technology enable the core business?
  • What value is the business getting from its most important IT projects?
  • How long does it take the IT organization to develop and deploy new features and functionality?
  • How efficient is IT at rolling out technologies and achieving desired outcomes?
  • How strong is our supply of next-generation IT talent?

There’s nothing wrong with asking any of these questions.

I’m just not sure they go far enough!

For example, if I was on the board I would be asking the management team:

  • How will you know when emerging technology has the potential to advance the business?
  • Whose responsibility is it to identify both opportunities and threats that may result from new technology? How are they evaluated and by whom?
  • How is new technology considered in developing the strategies presented to the board for our review?
  • How agile is the organization when it comes to the ability to embrace and take advantage of new technology?

McKinsey makes the obvious point that this is a digital world. However, they then seem to focus on the IT department rather than how the organization as a whole can take full advantage of new technology, while recognizing and addressing risk.

That is an executive management issue that cannot be left to the technicians in IT.

Agility is a tough topic that should merit piercing questions from the board. It’s not only legacy hardware and software that may need to be changed; attitudes and habits across the management team may need adjustment.

What are the questions you think should be asked by the board about technology (i.e., not limiting the discussion to IT)?

  1. Jai
    July 31, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    In this day and age the board not only needs to be technology literate but must be able to develop a broader and more comprehensive understanding of IT strategy and performance. Most businesses are now technology business as business models cannot function without technology. Hence, in my view, the most critical question to ask is whether board members have the necessary knowledge and skills to understand the disruptive impact that technology is having on business and how the risks associated with these changes can be mitigated.

    This is indeed a digital world and both board and management not only need to be technology literate but must understand that business is technology. This is the only way a business can take full advantage of new and emerging technologies.

  2. Jay R. Taylor
    July 31, 2016 at 6:02 PM

    Great questions, Norm, and I expect to include most of these at my next board meeting. We must facilitate the discussion to understand the ways in which technology is expected to be integral in supporting the new business initiatives that are driving growth.

  3. Girma Bersisa
    July 31, 2016 at 9:43 PM

    I think the board should also ask whether outsourcing, or insourcing the IT is beneficial to the organization.

  4. Javed
    July 31, 2016 at 9:54 PM

    IT Pervasiveness to any business also depends on nature of business as if i am selling steel pipes with one plant as compared to fast food chain with 100 outlets , than later IT impact business.

  5. Brian McPhedran
    August 2, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    This goes to the long standing debate about the Business / IT partnership. Today more than ever the business must partner with IT and show leadership at times. IT, while often seen as a service organization must also act as a catalyst, especially in helping the business understand the potential of new technologies. In order to be this kind of catalyst IT must have a solid understanding of the business and corporate strategies.

    The board should put the onus on the partnership, not just IT, for the innovation and execution needed to keep the company abreast of the times and the competition.

  6. Michael Lynn
    August 2, 2016 at 8:59 PM

    Norman I was glad to see you include the dimension of IT agility. In fact, agility should be addressed as part of IT strategy and enabling the businesses’ strategic needs long term and sustainably.

    Also, I think the Board should ask how is technology debt monitored and who approves the level of funding across the entity and IT related risks.

    I find that technology is often underfunded because the business does not understand or feel they own resulting IT related risks… Technology owns their risks… Not true.

    Does the business accept the level of IT related risks balanced against related funding needs or adequacy? I believe the Board needs understand that nuance better, and ensure business acceptance of IT related risks.

  7. August 5, 2016 at 12:02 PM

    IT is the same as any other function in a business, it is a means to an end and that end is the achievement of the organisation’s objectives. This is the thrust of your points.

    I come from an era when the IT department ruled over a machine which filled a large air conditioned room, produced information on green and white striped paper and had the processing power of a smartphone (or less). Are there still echoes of that perception in the boardroom or have they caught up with a world where programs are now ‘apps’?

    My questions to the board would be:
    – Do you have any children/grandchildren under the age of 20?
    – Have you asked them to show you how they use the technology available to them?
    – What is their opinion of your knowledge of that technology?
    -What is their opinion of your organisation’s use of that technology?
    – If you gave every member of your staff a smartphone/tablet, what apps would increase their productivity (hint: ask them)?
    – Similarly for customers.

    • Norman Marks
      August 5, 2016 at 2:21 PM

      Very well said, David

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