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Boards Should Focus on Big Picture, Not Gadgetry
Posted by Norman Marks | | US
April 11, 2012 8:54 AM ET

Nearly half of corporate directors started using tablets or smartphones over the past year for reading their materials, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' most recent survey of board members. And an additional 38% wish that their board would use them. At the same time, directors have been complaining that the information they receive is insufficient for them to provide effective oversight of both risk management and strategy-setting.

Some companies have chosen to send the directors the same information they have always received, but on a tablet. (I donęt believe it is practical to expect directors to read board materials on a phone.) The directors will be grateful that they wonęt have to carry a heavy board briefing book, and the technology exists -- and has for some years -- to ensure that the information is secure and only delivered to the directors' devices.

But is that practice sufficient? Will it meet the directors' needs for information so that they can not only provide oversight but share their wisdom when it comes to setting objectives and strategies, managing risk, and optimizing performance?

Executives can now obtain real-time information on their mobile devices, especially tablets, with ędrill-downę capabilities to explore the reasons for trends and unexpected variances. CFOs may want to provide directors with similar, real-time financial, operational performance, and risk information that lets directors explore the details behind the data to satisfy their information appetites.

Balance is required. If I were CFO, I would first recognize that if they donęt already have tablets, all my directors will have the devices very soon and will expect to receive board documents on them. They will want the ability to search and drill down, and I would want them to do so - within reason. As it is, board meetings are usually strapped for time, and you'll want directors to focus on the data that matters most, away from the minutia of a few data points. So I would go further than simply sending board materials electronically and think about how to change the formatting of this information.

To begin, consider meeting with the board members and have a frank discussion about what they want, what the management team can provide and when, and agree on a plan for action. Have periodic follow-up meetings to discuss what is working and what is not, as well as options for further improving board effectiveness.

Norman Marks CPA is a vice president with SAP and a long-term internal audit and risk-management practitioner. He has been honored for his thought leadership by the Institute of Risk Management (honorary fellow) and the Open Compliance and Ethics Group (fellow). He regularly blogs and provides updates on Twitter, @normanmarks.

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