Digital Bulletin
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Digital Bulletin

A Life in Tech

Paul Stark, General Manager of OnBoard Meetings, looks at how technology has changed the face of the boardroom

The pace of change in the boardroom has been faster, in general, than the pace of change in technology products, because the board has been in catchup mode over the last two decades.

Going back to 2006, the technology in the boardroom was predominantly paper in most boardrooms. Board packs were printed a week before the board meeting, posted or couriered to directors.

There was a shift by some to go digital, in adopting laptops to share and access information. However, the technology in those days did have limits when it came to user experience, and so adoption wasn’t particularly high.

The first big shift in boardrooms becoming digital was in 2010, with the launch of the iPad. It was the first time there was a mobile device available that boasted a good enough user experience side for directors to want to use.

There wasn’t a problem in making information digital in the first place, but the issue was in the consumption of that data. Adding immediate access and security of data were factors which pushed the usage technology in the boardroom. The iPad combined the benefits of digital with the benefits of paper.

The second shift was affordability. The adoption of cloud services made it more affordable. Before then, board portals were expensive systems, built mainly for enterprises. There were smaller versions, but they had fewer features and were ubiquitous in their take up by SMEs.

With the launch of cloud services, 2014’s Microsoft cloud-first mobile-first solution for example, there was a big push for Office 365 to move away from desktop to the cloud world.

Subsequently, board portal technology was not a premium product anymore, and so the technology started cascading down into much smaller organisations, even into the not-for-profit space.

At the same time, there was also a shift in board portals offering more benefits to the user. Originally it was just about the board pack, but soon came more of an emphasis on other aspects of the board meeting, and other simple board operations.

COVID-19 forced boards to digitise and actively bring technology into the boardroom. Even if it was minimal digitisation such as having meetings over Zoom, there was still a shift in attitudes. This change was already in existence anyway, but Covid forcibly accelerated it.

It almost forced people to think about how else they can use technology in the boardroom; whether it was a board of trustees, governors, or directors. Organisations were now contemplating how aspects of technology can be more productive, efficient, informed, and operate better as a board?

The expectations of digital skills have increased and have become a prerequisite. The appetite for learning new digital skills has also increased. The rate of adoption is ahead of the general curve, organisations are now looking at bringing in boardroom digital data. There is more of a focus on the actual boardroom itself and its components, such as agenda analysis and meeting performance.

The future will be about being data smart. Organisations are already cloud smart and are using cloud technology efficiently. Companies want to learn from the data — for example analysing the agenda — or how to make board meetings more forward-looking rather than backwards looking.

The future boardrooms will explore how to use AI to make decisions. Machine learning code will help the board be more effective. A combination of cloud and data technology will empower the board to forward plan much more thoroughly.

For example, looking at which board member will retire soon, their unique skillset, measure this, look how to replace the board member, looking for the same skillset, check within the director database for potential candidates.

Tech companies were lucky with the pandemic. They have come out relatively unscathed, some have come out as real winners such as Zoom or Amazon. Tech is in a fortunate position and now has a duty to give back.

Retailers, restaurants, pubs, and gyms have had to take debt to keep functioning. However, valuations went up and investment increased in the tech industry. In addition, salaries are also higher in the tech world.

The tech industry has recognised it has a moral duty to create tech for good and help with societal causes. This is a real change compared to how the sector was operating 20 years ago.

Boards are thinking deeply about a wider remit and what their purpose is.

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