Digital evolution leaving boardrooms behind, says study

Below half (47%) of respondents said that their boardrooms had the right skills for digital transformation, compared to 58% the previous year.

The UK was the region found to be most likely to prioritise development of digital skills, but just 42% of UK-based respondents expressed confidence in their collective digital skill sets in boardrooms.

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Albert Ellis, CEO of Harvey Nash, said: “Boards are well skilled in governance – rooting the business to a key goal, or value. They are less good at constant change and, with digital being a continually moving operational and strategic issue, it often makes it very difficult to identify who owns it.

“To upskill on digital, organisations will need to invest in education and training to bridge the digital skills gap. Directors need to get educated about digital transformation and engage with emerging technologies in order to leverage what makes sense for the company and its strategy.

“The board may benefit from hearing more from those in charge of driving digital strategy, getting more hands-on with technology in their daily activities and keeping up with continuing education.”

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The study also found that boardrooms ranked digital innovation 2nd in terms of priority. This was a substantial rise from the previous year, while governance and risk took a tumble down the list.

Shedding light on the rise of digital prioritisation, Julian Birkinshaw, professor and deputy dean at London Business School, said: “Digital innovation has propelled itself towards the top of the agenda for boards in 2019 – as the continuing rise of digital giants like Google, Amazon, Apple and Alibaba is causing companies in every sector to worry they will go the way of Kodak or Blockbuster.

“But it is important to remember that there are still plenty of sectors – like retail banking, accounting, food and drink, or chemicals – where the biggest companies today are the same as they were 30 years ago.

“As a board member, you need to simultaneously worry about the threat of digital disruption while also reminding yourself of the deep capabilities, strong customer relationships, and powerful brand that you can use to sustain your company through these difficult times.”

In regards to industry sectors, the technology and telecommunications sector seemed to be best placed to see through digital transformation, whereas healthcare was among the least confident.

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The sixth edition of the International Board Research Report was carried out by Harvey Nash Alumni in collaboration with London Business School’s Leadership Institute.

Participants in the report consisted of 640 chairs and non-executive directors from around the world; 12% were chairs, 50% were non-executives, and 32% identified themselves as both, while 6% were some other kind of board member.

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.