Sensor sensibility in governance

A PwC survey found in 2015 that nine out of 10 CEOs believe they “should champion the use of digital technologies to get the most from investment”. The discourse has moved on from digital transformation to the broader scope of the impact of cyber crime and digital terrorism, including state-sponsored malicious acts, on the business.

The same survey also found that companies are struggling to correlate digital investment with financial growth.

A quick — and related — Google search for “touchpoints” makes the myopia in business leadership — and dare I say “thought leadership”? — quite clear. The discussion on touchpoints is still fixated on how a business can sell a customer more of its goods and services. I see your arching brows. “But isn’t this good news about financial growth?”, you ask. Yes, it is but it is not only good news nor is it all of the good news.

The discourse on touchpoints is a mere nod to our ever-connected world of device proliferation. This problem is being exacerbated by the glut of data being collected from trillions of sensors and actuators. Our ability to make sense of this tsunami of data, especially in real time, is highly constrained. This is the “insight gap”, where the disconnect between digital investment and financial growth lies.

There is also a growing governance challenge arising from this data glut. From the point of view of the board of directors, whose job is about risk foresight, assessment and mitigation, failing all of which, crisis management, every touchpoint, every sensor connected to the business’s systems is a potential open flank for cybercrime or digital threats, many of which are unforeseeable.

Yet, as recent as two months before writing this in autumn 2016, the discourse on boards and digital savvy is focusing on how to adapt boards to a digital age.

The disconnect, ironically for a hyperconnected age, between what is and what is needed right now, could not be more gaping, the glacial pace of progress evident in the time stamps on the thought leadership pieces.

The challenge is that ole devil called “talent”.

The current crop of business leaders finds itself poised between the “digital natives” churning out as well as seamlessly using products and services that assume always-on connectivity, and the boomers, who use a bit of technology themselves and are in charge in corporate board rooms.

The governance talent that is needed right now, not tomorrow, not a year from now, is digitally educated (mere literacy won’t do!), business savvy, with a stomach for complexity and uncertainty, and some degree of good judgment. These are the people that need to be in board rooms now, bridging the gap, bringing everyone up to speed, representing and protecting the stakeholder interests in the face of challenges for which handbooks, governance frameworks and regulatory compliance requirements do not yet exist.

For boards, this talent is the governance equivalent of “sensors” who are in constant touch, seeing the glut of big data as well as finding insights in small data. And successfully translating between technology generations.

The question is: as a board director, where are you looking for this talent to bring on your board? In other words, are you sensor sensible?

(Disclaimer: These are my own views and do not reflect the views of the boards of either JP Morgan US Smaller Co.s Investment Trust or BeyondMe, where I serve as a non-exec director.)

What do YOU think?