Estelle Metayer (@competia) who I greatly respect as a futurist and governance expert tweeted out today this article:
Digital directors in industrial boardrooms
The thrust of the article is that digital strategy is so important these days that having a “digital director” is crucial to board room governance and strategy.
There is no doubting the importance of digital technologies in the current environment and for a more comprehensive take on this I recommend you read:
Which Productivity Puzzle?
by Bill Janeway. It is a great discussion around an issue that is getting lots of airplay (is that a thing any more?) – the question of why we are not seeing greater productivity increases from the adoption of digital technologies. The last part of the post looks at some of the data that clearly shows that productivity is increasing much faster than the average in “digital leaders”. Given that productivity is a key driver of profitability and general economic growth it seems obvious that successful digital strategy is a key component of the future of nearly every business.
If we take that as a given then we come to the question of whether there should be a digital director. My view is that you cannot have every technical/strategic/financial/legal capacity on a board or board size becomes unmanageable. In my experience big strategic failures arise when strategy is driven by technology adoption rather than being customer driven. Also on boards where I have been a director I have seen too many times a board abrogate its responsibilities by deferring to the expert on a particular issue. Rather than taking an open and questioning approach boards will turn to the legal director or the risk expert and follow their view. This reduces the collective intelligence that is brought to bear on the issue.
My concern is that if there is a digital director then strategy around digital technologies will be driven by the views of that person. I want the following things to be uppermost in the mix of skills on a board:
- Enough industry experience – so that the board is not naive.
- Enough outside the industry experience – so that the board is not captured by the thinking in that industry.
- A mix of males and female (see my comment on the Uber board around this )
- A large focus on customers.
- Strong strategic minds with the capacity to question strategy proposed by management.
If you are able to get all of those things then I do not see the room for a director with specific (and probably narrow) digital expertise.
I am particularly taken by the view expressed in:
What a digital organisation looks like
by Janet Hughes, who views a digital organisation as essentially an organisation wide attitude to become open, responsive, and efficient. A single person that is deferred too cannot achieve that as Janet eloquently represents in her image: