by Richard Pastore

Boston tech innovation scene short on ‘digital catalysts’

Jun 09, 2015
InnovationIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

Some of Bostonu2019s highest profile companies are lacking digital directors on their corporate boards. Without these catalysts businesses cannot effectively prepare for the innovation economy.

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They may be on the cutting edge of technology developments and innovation, but some of Boston’s highest-profile companies in such top sectors as healthcare, education,and financial service are lacking digital catalysts on their boards. In fact, only 170 of the Fortune 500 companies have “digital directors” — people who have led digital companies or transformed enterprises digitally — on their boards.

This is major point that came out of a recent gathering of more than 20 Boston-area digital movers and shakers — investors (VC leaders), transformers (corporate CDOs and innovation officers), disruptors (current and former CEOs and board members) and thought leaders. The meeting was sponsored byRussell Reynolds Associates, digital business transformation practice leaders, and included well-known academics as well.

The objective was to share ideas and insights on how to effectively ignite a digital business awakening on corporate boards, the better to ready their enterprises for the innovation economy.

Some reasons postulated for the paucity of digital catalysts: Advocates of digital transformation can often be provocative (some say abrasive) and thus are not easily embraced as board members, noted host Tuck Richards, a member of the CEO/Board Services practice and Technology sector at Russell Reynolds. Large company CEOs, who control the board agenda, don’t particularly want to discuss transformation.

How to fill the digital catalysts void on the corporate board

Suggestions for addressing the void included collecting and sharing the kind of questions digital board members are asking their companies. That developed further into an idea to share digital board members tinder-style. That is, to actually have digital board illuminati as guests in other company’s board meetings — providing their provocateur perspective without the inherent discomfort or threat that triggers corporate antibodies into suppressive action.

One other suggestion offered, and endorsed by the CIO Executive Council, is to hold a regional digital board “clinic” for CEOs, with digital board members from a cross-industry spectrum sharing how they are going about the business of challenging the status quo, introducing ideas and catalyzing discussion in the digital context—and why that could be a good thing for the attending CEOs.

Many in the group of #digitalgamechangers seemed to embrace Richard’s suggestion to form a loose community that would meet quarterly on the challenge, take on some tasks, and connect virtually between in-person engagements.