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Many directors are feeling outmatched by the ferocity of changing technology, emerging risks, and new competitors. Here are four ways to get boards in the game.

Today’s boards are getting the message. They have seen how leading digital players are threatening incumbents, and among the directors we work with, roughly one in three say that their business model will be disrupted in the next five years.

In a 2015 McKinsey survey, though, only 17 percent of directors said their boards were sponsoring digital initiatives, and in earlier McKinsey research, just 16 percent said they fully understood how the industry dynamics of their companies were changing.1 In our experience, common responses from boards to the shifting environment include hiring a digital director or chief digital officer, making pilgrimages to Silicon Valley, and launching subcommittees on digital.

Valuable as such moves can be, they often are insufficient to bridge the literacy gap facing boards—which has real consequences. There’s a new class of problems, where seasoned directors’ experiences managing and monetizing traditional assets just doesn’t translate. It is a daunting task to keep up with the growth of new competitors (who are as likely to come from adjacent sectors as they are from one’s own industry), rapid-fire funding cycles in Silicon Valley and other technology hotbeds, the fluidity of technology, the digital experiences customers demand, and the rise of nontraditional risks. Many boards are left feeling outmatched and overwhelmed.

To serve as effective thought partners, boards must move beyond an arms-length relationship with digital issues (exhibit). Board members need better knowledge about the technology environment, its potential impact on different parts of the company and its value chain, and thus about how digital can undermine existing strategies and stimulate the need for new ones. They also need faster, more effective ways to engage the organization and operate as a governing body and, critically, new means of attracting digital talent. Indeed, some CEOs and board members we know argue that the far-reaching nature of today’s digital disruptions—which can necessitate long-term business-model changes with large, short-term costs—means boards must view themselves as the ultimate catalysts for digital transformation efforts. Otherwise, CEOs may be tempted to pass on to their successors the tackling of digital challenges.

At the very least, top-management teams need their boards to serve as strong digital sparring partners when they consider difficult questions such as investments in experimental initiatives that could reshape markets, or even whether the company is in the right business for the digital age. Here are four guiding principles for boosting the odds that boards will provide the digital engagement companies so badly need.

Close the insights gap

Few boards have enough combined digital expertise to have meaningful digital conversations with senior management. Only 116 directors on the boards of the Global 300 are “digital directors.”2 The solution isn’t simply to recruit one or two directors from an influential technology company. For one thing, there aren’t enough of them to go around. More to the point, digital is so far-reaching—think e-commerce, mobile, security, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data—that the knowledge and experience needed goes beyond one or two tech-savvy people.

To address these challenges, the nominating committee of one board created a matrix of the customer, market, and digital skills it felt it required to guide its key businesses over the next five to ten years. Doing so prompted the committee to look beyond well-fished pools of talent like Internet pure plays and known digital leaders and instead to consider adjacent sectors and businesses that had undergone significant digital transformation. The identification of strong new board members was one result. What’s more, the process of reflecting quite specifically on the digital skills that were most relevant to individual business lines helped the board engage at a deeper level, raising its collective understanding of technology and generating more productive conversations with management.

Understand how digital can upend business models

Many boards are ill equipped to fully understand the sources of upheaval pressuring their business models. Consider, for example, the design of satisfying, human-centered experiences: it’s fundamental to digital competition. Yet few board members spend enough time exploring how their companies are reshaping and monitoring those experiences, or reviewing management plans to improve them.

Board members also should push executives to explore and describe the organization’s stock of digital assets—data that are accumulating across businesses, the level of data-analytics prowess, and how managers are using both to glean insights. Most companies underappreciate the potential of pattern analysis, machine learning, and sophisticated analytics that can churn through terabytes of text, sound, images, and other data to produce well-targeted insights on everything from disease diagnoses to how prolonged drought conditions might affect an investment portfolio. Companies that best capture, process, and apply those insights stand to gain an edge.

Engage more frequently and deeply on strategy and risk

Today’s strategic discussions with executives require a different rhythm, one that matches the quickening pace of disruption. A major cyberattack can erase a third of a company’s share value in a day, and a digital foe can pull the rug out from a thriving product category in six months. In this environment, meeting once or twice a year to review strategy no longer works. Regular check-ins are necessary to help senior company leaders negotiate the tension between short-term pressures from the financial markets and the longer-term imperative to launch sometimes costly digital initiatives.

Boardroom dialogue shifts considerably when corporate boards start asking management questions such as, “What are the handful of signals that tell you that an innovation is catching on with customers? And how will you ramp up customer adoption and decrease the cost of customer acquisition when that happens?” By encouraging such discussions, boards clarify their expectations about what kind of cultural change is required and reduce the hand-wringing that often stalls digital transformation in established businesses. Such dialogue also can instill a sense of urgency as managers seek to answer tough questions through rapid idea iteration and input gathering from customers, which board members with diverse experiences can help interpret. At a consumer-products company, one director engages with sales and marketing executives monthly to check their progress against detailed key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure how fast a key customer’s segments are shifting to the company’s digital channels.

Fine-tune the onboarding and fit of digital directors

In their push to enrich their ranks with tech talent, boards inevitably find that many digital directors are younger, have grown up in quite different organizational cultures, and may not have had much or even any board experience prior to their appointment. To ensure a good fit, searches must go beyond background and skills to encompass candidates’ temperament and ability to commit time. The latter is critical when board members are increasingly devoting two to three days a month of work, plus extra hours for conference calls, retreats, and other check-ins. Board members need to increase their digital quotient if they hope to govern in a way that gets executives thinking beyond today’s boundaries. Following the approaches we have outlined will no doubt put some new burdens on already stretched directors. However, the speed of digital progress confronting companies shows no sign of slowing, and the best boards will learn to engage executives more frequently, knowledgeably, and persuasively on the issues that matter most.

“We now have a refined approach when preparing for and documenting Board and Committee meetings together with relevant documentation.  As a result of eBoard, we now have paperless meetings, a central document repository accessible to all from anywhere as well as the ability to carry out board performance evaluations and other evaluations/surveys with reports captured seamlessly. When I think about eBoard, efficient, confidential, transparent and effective are the words that come to mind.”

Ms. Betty Kanyagia, Company Secretary, Bamburi Cement Limited.

Bamburi Cement Limited, a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim, was incorporated in 1951 and is listed in the Nairobi Securities Exchange.  It is the leading cement manufacturing and marketing company in the Eastern Africa region. Bamburi Cement has grown to be the leader and Industry Captain with a bold vision for the future, which is to be the undisputed leader and the preferred partner by providing innovative solutions for nation-building with Health & Safety as its overarching value.

The challenge

Large volume paper use: The Company Secretarial administrative staff compiled Board and Committee packs for all Board/Committee members for every single meeting. The Company then made arrangements to collect the packs after some time for destruction due to their sensitive nature.

Lagged process: Compilation, printing and binding of board packs for each director took days after which the physical copies had to be delivered to the Directors wherever the Directors were located, including outside Kenya.

Manual evaluation: Evaluation forms had to be printed, delivered to the Directors for completion and collected after which the Company Secretary had to manually enter the ranking and compile the reports.

Access to Documentation: the Directors had to have the hard copy documents if they wished to make reference. This proved a challenge if the Directors required access on the go.

Why Software Technologies

“For us, ease of use as well as the adaptive and accommodating nature of eBoard as a product to our specific needs and requirements was a key feature in the selection of a board management software. Software Technologies’ support is commendable with feedback wholly accepted and implemented, where possible,” Ms Kanyagia states.

The Results

Paperless Board Meetings: With paperless meetings, Bamburi Cement has significantly reduced the amount of paper used for Board related purposes. Further, Board members have access to the meeting packs and other documents at all times irrespective of where they are, which has increased the productivity of the Board.

Easy updating and sharing of board papers: By using eBoard, Bamburi Cement has seen ease not only in the sharing of board papers but also in the ability to update or amend them, when necessary. Betty explains, “I do not worry when I have to update a document, because I do not have to send notice that a document is updated then send hard copies of the updated version – the system automatically notifies everyone and the updated version is immediately available.”

Seamless board evaluations and easy report tabulation: With eBoard, Bamburi Cement’s Board of Directors now has an online and effective way of carrying out the assessment together with an automatic report generating system. “Performance evaluations are seamless, easy to analyze and generating reports is just a tap away,” Betty states.

Savings on resources: Previously, significant time, printers, paper and staff resources were used in preparation for Board and Committee meetings. With eBoard and, in line with its environmental agenda, Bamburi Cement continues to reduce its environmental impact by using less paper thereby saving trees. It has also saved on resources previously spent on the preparation and distribution of meeting packs.

 Leaders from the public and private sectors shared with the audience how ingraining good governance at planning makes vision a reality.

 

The Institute of Directors (Kenya), in collaboration with Software Technologies Limited and other partners had their 3rd Corporate Governance Conference hosted at the Inter Continental Hotel in Nairobi.

The Theme of the Conference was Sustainable Governance for Africa. The Conference explored Africa’s potential and the role of good governance for a Sustainable Continent. Leaders from the public and private sectors shared with the audience how they think ingraining good governance at planning and throughout implementation, makes vision a reality. Topics such as Politics and corporate governance, Achieving real results in the fight against corruption; the roles and responsibilities of a dynamic private sector, Building an ethical organizational culture as a driver for corporate sustainability and Building sustainable corporate Governance systems in Africa; the African Challenge were covered

Objectives of the Conference

  1. To “unpack” the East Africa region in terms of potential, opportunities, numbers etc and their implications to socio economic transformation.
  2. To highlight the importance of good environmental, social and corporate governance in the socio-economic transformation of Africa.
  3. To highlight the importance and value of good governance in the private and public sector.
  4. A platform for policymakers, corporates, public institutions from across the East African Community to encourage and practice.

Outcomes of the Conference

The Conference explored East Africa’s potential and the role of good governance in unleashing this potential. Leaders in Africa’s public and private sectors will share with the audience how they think good governance brings visions to reality, from planning to implementation.

“Moving from email distribution to eHorizon eBoard has brought transparency, security of confidentiality to board information. In addition, our board members experience more organisation and uniformity. We no longer have to bear with Directors asking ‘did you really send the files? Everybody gets whatever is sent in the same format and the board administrator can track all documents. Board members can now access all board materials from one central place.”
Elias Mwaura, Board Member – CITAM

Industry:  Religious Organization
Solution: eHorizon eBoard

Challenges

  • Arranging and organizing meeting materials
  • Distributing board materials in a secure manner
  • Emailed documents getting lost in inboxes or not being read
  • Version control of documents
  • Moving board communications out of personal and corporate email systems
  • Moving storage of board materials out of personal computers
  • Member collaboration confined to boardroom meetings
  • Projecting of minutes and packs during board meetings

Solution

  • Simple “drag and drop” board pack creation
  • Instant sharing of board materials within a secure app. • Audit trails and email controls to block forwarding and “copy and paste,”
  • Harmonized update of last-minute revisions
  • Secure messaging and sharing of board information
  • Easy to search and access digital storage of board materials
  • A real-time collaboration of board members
  • One intuitive secure board portal for digital board meetings

BACKGROUND

Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) is a mission’s oriented Pentecostal church with business interests in education, media and recreation facilities. CITAM has 18 church branches located countrywide. Its businesses include 5 Academies, Hope FM, and TV as well as a camp. Since 1960, the church has experienced continuous growth to the current over 30,000 members and over 300 employees.

CHALLENGE

CITAM is one of the largest churches in Kenya. The governing board, the Council comprises 7 council members who meet every quarter. Supplementing the council is the Board comprising 11 members who meet every two months, and board committees with meetings held on a regular basis. Additionally, there is a Senior Pastors Board with 20 members who meet eleven times a year.

Board members need to receive and review board papers ahead of each meeting, which means the board pack needs to reach every Director in advance. To make this happen, the administrative team shared each committee reports as it came in on an ongoing basis and later collated the vast amounts of the reports into a board pack put on a laptop and project it.

Emailing of board materials often disorganized the Directors and some documents would get lost in inboxes. “Normally, emails have a way of mixing especially if you receive too many emails and some get lost in between,” explains Sarah Njuguna, the board administrator.

Board members made their comments on documents separately on notebooks and they had to wait till actual meeting day in order to share them with other members.

Each board member had to have own system of keeping their documents for future reference. In addition, version control as some documents could not open on some machines required the administrator to keep resending documents in a version that can open.

This was not an efficient and secure way to produce board materials. Furthermore, it was a huge task for some of the Directors, especially those with no system of keeping documents in order to ease reference. So, they were more than happy when in mid-2016, they went digital with eHorizon eBoard.

THE APPROACH

The Head of ICT for CITAM, Joshua Ogacho, oversaw the tremendous task of finding the right board portal vendor. He looked at three vendors. One of them was a foreign company and the other two including Software Technologies, were local companies. CITAM was looking for an intuitive, customizable and user-friendly solution for its board’s digitalization.

They also wanted to provide board members with a flexible tool allowing them to annotate modify and share comments in real time and without having project minutes during every meeting.

After looking at what other vendors’ offerings were, Elias Mwaura, a board member explains the biggest advantage eHorizon eBoard was tried and tested ready-to-use software. It had all the features that board members could possibly look for. “There is a very big difference when a product is mentioned and you are told this is what it does, and when someone comes and literally shows you this is what you can do with it. We got to understand what the ICT Manager was drumming all the time,” he says.

RESULTS

eHorizon eBoard lessened the amount of time in creating the board pack folder in the way it had to be prepared. We can now do it in minutes. Additionally, committee reports can now be uploaded on eBoard on an ongoing basis with notifications sent to all Directors who can access them from anywhere, any time.

Board members are more organized. The can access all documents from a central place within the eBoard app; hence do not require a personal system of arranging documents sent on email on their computers.

Our meetings are now shorter and productive as Directors can comment on documents, share notes and communicate privately with other board members beforehand.

 “The beautiful thing is that each Director can access eBoard on iPad. If I annotate a document each one of them will see it immediately even without internet connection. We no longer project our minutes or wait to share our comments with other board members during meetings,” explains Elias Mwaura, board member.

Referencing to past material is now easier as board members can instantly search and access resolutions and items discussed in previous meetings. “Every item has a minute number. If you want to reference something on eBoard, you only need the date, title or other search terms.

On the day of the first live board meeting, eHorizon Board customer support team was on high alert to ensure a successful meeting.  “It went very smoothly,” said Elias. “In fact, all the Board Members were very happy and comfortable using eHorizon eBoard.”

With close to a year of being online with eHorizon eBoard, CITAM is very satisfied per Elias. “In the beginning, one of the things we also heard before choosing eHorizon eBoard was that they provided personalized services, and we found this to be very true. And, we were really amazed by the eHorizon eBoard solution – it is so simple and easy to use.”

Software Technologies Ltd. Chief Executive, Jyoti Mukherjee named Ernst and Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the year 2013. The award was in recognition for her strength, vision and determination to re-shape the business environment in achieving economic growth should be celebrated,” said Gitahi Gachahi, Ernst and Young Eastern Africa CEO.

Accepting the award, Ms Jyoti said it was humbling to emerge the winner of her category.

“The three of us had equal chances but I’m humbled to carry the day,” she said and advised fellow women: “We are equal; a good mind has no gender, a good brain knows no limits.”

Click to Read more on Kenyan women top region at coveted Ernst & Young entrepreneur awards gala by The EastAfrican.

 

 

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