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Every board needs tech-savvy directors

From iPads to Twitter, it's time for directors to get on board with technology—or step down.

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In a speech I gave this week to a large room of directors in Montreal, I asked for a show of hands on how many directors use iPads. About 80% of the hands went up. When I asked the question a year ago, the figure was about 20%. If you are a director who does not own an iPad, request management purchase iPads for all your directors, or, better yet, buy your own. Request that your board have a board portal installed. Within a year, most boards will be paperless. Good boards already are. If a laggard director blocks technology or refuses to upskill, they should be asked to step down. They have no good excuse—technology has gotten a lot easier to use in recent years.

Technology literacy at the board table is increasingly essential. Some directors are calling it an IT revolution; how boardrooms and companies operate and compete is rapidly changing. IT skills are necessary not only for prudent risk mitigation, but, more importantly, for strategic opportunity, innovation, and communication with a new generation of investors, consumers and employees. Virtual meetings, electronic reporting and social networks are now becoming the new communication platforms. Mailed proxy statements, in-person meetings and even email may become relics of the past.

If your board does not have a solid understanding of IT-drivers, such as cloud computing, big data, consumerization, mobile computing, cyber-crime, e-corruption and social media, it will suffer. It will not recognize deficiencies, weak benches, red flags, product and service distribution channels, or even many basic opportunities (like using social media to fundraise). Management and investors will perceive the board as dated. And make no mistake about it: they can now go online and find out whether or not a director is IT literate.

Technology literacy can no longer be learned on the job or through educational primers for older directors, as the turnover and learning curves are too great. The world is changing and the notion that a 65 or 70-year-old former executive possesses IT competency is generally a myth. Generational shifts and emerging demographics need to be embraced by boards, as do IT experts. In short, younger directors and tech gurus must be at the table.