For many organisations, embracing technology can be the difference between remaining relevant in their market, and being disrupted by new entrants. It represents a significant, and often the leading, business risk that boards need to address.
At the same time, by being proactive in their approach towards technology, boards may profit from what others see merely as threats. But what skills does the board need in order to provide such effective oversight, while being strategic?
Increasingly, technology is a tool that successful organisations use to create and maintain competitive advantage, pervading all aspects of an organisation.
In the need to remain relevant to customers and stakeholders, organisations are recognising that it is essential to adapt and embrace the opportunities that are created. Technology itself is an enabler, but it is never the solution, nor the sole driver.
Impact of technology
In our report, The Race for Relevance, we consider six technologies that are directly impacting the finance function alone. There are significantly more technologies that impact organisations as a whole.
As customer “stickiness” becomes a key tool in growth, organisations are starting to recognise the value of data created by the technologies that they own. It is an asset that is increasingly important, yet is also vulnerable to attack. Regulatory regimes are changing in order to address this. The upcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, which focuses on personal data held in the EU, is one such example.
For many organisations, technology and the data generated by it present a significant business opportunity and risk—one which deserves appropriate board-level attention. So what role should the board play in assessing the use of technology and data?
Insight and guidance
The board needs to have the capability to provide insight and guidance in a number of areas. First, in the role of technology to deliver the business strategy, and whether advantage is being taken of emerging technologies.
Then there is the appraisal of technology investments, whether they are to support growth and commercial advantage, or to protect assets.
Boards must also evaluate the data strategy of the organisation by assessing whether the financial and non-financial data used to report against strategic objectives is appropriate.
Next, the board should consider the appropriateness of the organisation’s strategies to protect existing assets and information from unauthorised access or malicious attack.
They should also appraise whether the assessments of the critically held data are appropriate, and understand how data flows in an organisation comply with legal and regulatory requirements.
Assessing the risks arising from the use of technology, and how these are monitored through the organisation’s enterprise risk-management framework and internal control structures, is also a priority.
Lastly, boards should consider whether appropriate recovery plans are in place to manage the consequences of business disruption—including the management of technology and data assets.
The right skills
In discharging their responsibilities, boards should ask whether they have the skills within their membership to assess and advise appropriately.
This responsibility can be done in one of two ways. The first is by ensuring that at least one board member has direct experience of technology in the context of the industry in which the organisation operates. Having experience of addressing the risks of projects and protecting assets is invaluable, especially in those sectors where there is a high dependency on technology.
Or as an alternative, it can be done by ensuring the board has access to those with the requisite experience to advise on the risks. These may be internal experts or third parties.
Technology is an issue that cannot be ignored by boards. While not every board member needs to be fully technology-literate, it is important that all members can appreciate where it is used to create and sustain commercial advantage.
Equally, it is important that the board takes the lead in communicating across the organisation the risk and opportunity associated with technology. Without a shared understanding of the organisation’s approach to the use of technology, it will be practically impossible to roll out a consistent approach effectively.
Technology will continue to develop and provide new opportunities. Risks will continue to evolve. Commercial strategies will change as a result.
Boards need to embrace all of this if they are to remain relevant.
Maggie McGhee is director of professional insights at ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).