Driving the digital disruption conversation in boardrooms is difficult.

Driving the digital disruption conversation in boardrooms is difficult. Source: Shutterstock

Digital disruption deconstructed for board members

DISRUPT or be disrupted is a fact of life for corporations in today’s world.

Those that are ignoring the rise of technology or are slow to adopt are making their customers unhappy — all of whom are waiting for a new-age, cross-industry, digital disruptor to change things up for them — and they’ll gladly vote with their wallet when that happens.

However, the fact is, the adoption of digital is a conversation that must start in the boardroom, and its the board members that must change before they can lead the company through any kind of change or digital transformation program.

Tech Wire Asia recently moderated a panel discussion organized by ManagementEvents between board executives Rajesh Narasimhan (TVS Motors Singapore CEO), Faizal Saleh (Cargills Bank Director), and Azran Osman-Rani (AirAsia X and iFlix ex-CEO) and uncovered some exciting insights about leading the change from within the boardroom.

“There’s a lot of hype when it comes to technology, but it’s not the be-all-end-all solution. Companies need to stop and think about what technology really means to their business,” said Osman-Rani.

The truth is, there are a lot of startups out there that have built or are in the process of building solutions that companies can pick up and run with, and there are many ideas in the business that the company can choose to nourish internally — but it all needs to be thought out.

“Before you set out to do anything, you need to remind yourself who you’re aiming to please. It’s the customer and the shareholder that you need to keep happy — and the balance is difficult,” explained Saleh.

“Customers compare the experience you provide with the one that your competitor offers, and that’s where you need to use technology (extensively or liberally) to ensure what you’re offering is a cut above the rest,” continued Saleh.

According to the veteran banker and Cargills Bank Director, the board needs to explain to shareholders the value in plowing funds into the business to invest in massive technological upgrades.

Shareholders might be more concerned about their returns in the short term than about gaining a competitive advantage from the massive investments in technology (that might hamper their returns in the short term), but it’s up to the board to explain and manage, the panelists agreed.

Although the CX and technology need to dominate the agenda, Osman-Rani highlighted that a fundamental change is required in the mindset of the board itself.

“They’re all too slow, they plan and strategize in annual terms when the real world is changing every quarter, or maybe even every month,” explained Osman-Rani.

“That is something we see often when we deal with technology startups that we want to invest in,” interjected Narasimhan.

“Our due diligence process usually takes 2 months or so, by which time, things drastically change — which is a reflection of the market. Boards need to be that agile and flexible if they want to lead in the digital era,” he added.

The panel members came from different countries within Asia, from Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka to be specific, but it seems as though the conversation about digital is the same everywhere — stagnant.

In order to change, the board members need to start being more flexible and agile, and they need to think about technology in terms of improving the CX instead of going for the latest or most exciting technology out there. If that’s the starting point, the sky is the limit for the board and the company.