Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB) is a member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. On March 23, WGOB hosted a digital webinar in collaboration with their National Strategic Partner, KPMG LLP. The topic of the webinar was the innovation agenda and how to govern with a digital-first mindset.

Deborah Rosati, FCPA, FCA, ICD.D, Founder & CEO of WGOB, kicked off the virtual event by introducing the moderator, Armughan Ahmad, President & Managing Partner, Digital, KPMG LLP. Armughan introduced the following panelists:

  • Katherine Emberly, President, Business at Shaw Communications
  • Jane Skoblo, CPA, CITP, ICD.D, Independent Corporate Director
  • Pamela Steer, FCA, FCPA, CFA, Former Chief Strategy and Financial Officer at Payments Canada

Armughan began the panel discussion with the bold idea that “digital success is now starting in the boardroom.” With technology evolving more quickly than ever before, it has never been more integral for board members to understand their role in enabling technology development and managing its risks.

“It’s about striking a healthy balance between governance and innovation,” said Jane Skoblo.

Armughan asked the panelists, “As innovation continues to accelerate, how can a board ensure that their organization keeps up with the pace of technology?”

Katherine Emberly recommended that board members focus on what matters—the business itself. It can be tempting to get caught up in the buzzwords—AI, cloud, blockchain, machine learning—but directors should concentrate on the business case for each new technology and how it has the potential to impact their organization.

Jane explained that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to innovation. She said different firms require varied forms of governance from their boards on technology. In high-growth companies, the board’s role is to enforce accountability and discipline without slowing down the pace of innovation.

In more established companies, boards might wish to encourage higher levels of innovation. The role of the board, in this case, is not to drive innovation itself but instead to provide a mandate for innovation by hiring the right CEO, incorporating innovation into the corporate strategy and nurturing a company culture that fosters innovation.

As Pamela Steer also pointed out, many companies must overcome significant technical deficits while plunging into the realm of innovation. Boards often find this task challenging because bringing an organization’s technology up to the industry standard does not directly drive revenue. In fact, it can be costly.

“It’s not the fun stuff,” said Pamela. “However, it has to be part of the solution to go forward to mitigate risks built up due to lack of investment.”

Executing digital transformation successfully

Once a firm determines its approach to technology, the board ensures effective execution. Armughan asked, “What can board members do to encourage successful technological innovation and development?”

To begin with, directors should ensure that they stay educated on the relevant issues. They must also ensure that they clearly understand the goal or outcome expected from each technological initiative. Will the project result in better customer service? Quicker service delivery? More digital sales? That goal will guide decision-making moving forward.

Boards should be keeping a close eye on the timelines, the metrics for success and, of course, the budget. It is up to board members to oversee that costs remain under control.

Managing technological risks

Managing risk is a critical piece of the innovation puzzle. Directors should be aware of the potential dangers that adopting new technologies may pose for their organizations.

“Boards are good at managing traditional risks,” said Jane. “But traditional risk infrastructure hasn’t necessarily kept pace [with digital transformation].”

Digital transformation brings new risks, with which even the most experienced corporate leaders may be unfamiliar. For example, firms integrating AI for the first time should ensure they have a strong understanding of possible biases that their AI could unintentionally bring into its operations. Similarly, companies moving more of their services online should ensure they have sufficient measures in place to protect their customers’ privacy when doing so.

It is the board directors’ responsibility to educate themselves on the unique risks that digital technologies pose to their organization and be prepared to make informed decisions regarding those risks.

Technology and culture

A culture shift must accompany any successful technological transformation. For employees to feel comfortable trying new approaches to solving problems and delivering quality products, an organization must foster a culture of innovation.

That culture starts at the board level.

“The permission from the board to drive the culture in that direction is critical,” said Katherine.

As the mandate cascades down through the organization, individual employees and teams should be encouraged to take ownership over their projects, recognizing that the people on the ground often know how to integrate new technologies into their roles best. That is how a truly innovative culture develops—at the grassroots level.

As new technologies continue to emerge at a staggering rate, one thing is clear: boards cannot afford to ignore the impact of technology in the business landscape. Board members should seek to understand these innovations as they emerge. Still, they must also recognize that an organization’s future is determined by its people, not by its software.

“Technology is just the enabler,” said Armughan. “Humans are the real transformers.”


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About Women Get On Board

Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB) is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. We do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom. Learn more: https://womengetonboard.ca/about/

You can watch a recording of this virtual session here: