By TECHNOLOGY TIMES Reporter
Lagos. July 18, 2013: “Tech continues to be a game changer for all industries – it’s not something new. But what is new is the velocity of change and the resulting ambiguity that it leaves for boards of directors to understand which way to go.”
These remarks from board director Cathy Allen (Synovus, El Paso Electric, Stewart Information Services) that kicked off a panel discussion featuring some of the top women in technology globally at the third annual WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) Global Institute in New York.
WCD with Nigeria as one of its 53 chapters across the globe convened more than 250 board directors from around the world, with attendees from both large public corporations as well as private companies.
In an onsite poll of directors at the Institute, 55% of respondents said that their boards were “not that comfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with social media – revealing an urgent need for boards to get up to speed with this important communication tool, among other technologies.
Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih was joined by IBM CIO Jeanette Horan, Philippines telecoms and technology CEO Myla Villanueva, and Professor Andrea Dew of the U.S. Naval War College to take on some of the themes emerging as boards wrestle with rapid technology changes – and what these mean for companies, customers, and surviving in global markets.
Key challenges discussed include:
The rise of technology in emerging markets
Southeast Asia represents a critical emerging market for technology, according to Villanueva, Founder and Co-Chair of WCD’s chapter in the Philippines and CEO of Novare Technologies.
“The last ten years has seen a dramatic change and impact of technology on companies across the region,” says Villanueva, who has launched several startup companies in Asia.
“One big difference, though, is this: the mobile phone. It is perhaps the first touch that our consumers would have of the Internet.”
According to her, the rates of mobile penetration in several Asian countries are staggering. “We’re going to see a 100% rate of penetration in a year or two for most of these markets. It is important as a board member to understand that this is the access point to our part of the world.”
Social media is also on the rise in the region: India, Indonesia, and the Philippines constitute the world’s third, fourth, and eighth largest Facebook markets, respectively and also possess large volumes of Twitter users.
These statistics signal significant growth opportunities for Western companies. “Take a look at our part of the world,” added Villanueva. “It is a very dynamic, fast-growing environment at a time like this.”
“What’s the risk of not being on social?” asked Shih, who is also a board director at Starbucks Corporation.
“We know that’s where our customers are.” For Shih, who is one of the youngest women to serve on a corporate board (and was featured in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In), social media “has actually altered what customers today expect from businesses.”
“It almost doesn’t matter if you want to be on social media or not,” she advised. “If your customer is on, then you have to be on.”
Social media technologies can often be a double-edged sword for both companies and governments – as countries have seen in their own struggles to control and monitor communications.
“When I look at technology, I see the potential for it, but I also see the way that states try to shut this down – you have open networks but closed regimes,” said Dew, Co-Director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (CIWAG) at the United States Naval War College.
“There is tremendous potential here, but there is also tremendous risk. You don’t have to be one of the ‘bad guys’ to be able to challenge the legitimacy and authority of the status quo.”
Managing this risk while also utilizing new technologies is a crucial balance that board directors need to help establish for the companies they serve, advised Horan, Chief Information Officer at IBM and a board director at Microvision, Inc.
“Security has to be top of mind for every CIO today, and this is an area that the boards of directors need to get much more educated about.”
Ultimately, the panelists agreed that new technologies can be implemented for both the good and the bad, and necessarily imply some level of risk.
As Shih concluded, board directors must “understand what the risks are and put the tools and processes in place to mitigate the bad, but then also encourage our business leaders to make sure that they’re not missing out on the opportunity to use it for the good.”
The Women Corporate Directors (WCD) Global Institute is an annual two-day, high-powered idea forum exploring compelling issues on the minds of today’s board directors and their companies. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for global board directors to share corporate governance and business strategies and to build partnerships with a purpose, in a private, invitation-only setting. The 2014 WCD Global Institute will take place on May 14-15.
The 2013 program included keynotes, panels, discussion groups, and sessions such as: “Beyond the Next Quarter”; “What Directors Need to Know about Technology”; “What On Earth Were You Thinking?”; “Managing Change and Disruptions around the World”; “New Trends, Ideas, and Best Practices That Directors Can Take Advantage of to Successfully Navigate the Globe”; as well as “Conversations” with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever PLC, Fatima Al Jaber, board member of the Al Jaber Group, Marcy Syms, director of Rite Aid and former CEO and chair of Syms Corp, and Katherine Phillips, Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School.