Futureproofing your board skills

Nora Scheinkestel FAICD, chair of Macquarie Atlas Roads and a Telstra board member, is among the growing number of directors who have gone to coding school to expand their knowledge of the digital world. Scheinkestel undertook the Code in a Day course at Decoded and emerged with her own location-based app.

"It's not about being able to code," she says. "As a director, understanding how code works helps you frame questions in a different way."

Scheinkestel and her fellow Telstra directors have completed Decoded courses in data and cybersecurity, while the boards of Rio Tinto and Suncorp have participated in customised sessions with the Decoded team. The UK-owned school, which teaches the "global language" of coding, opened in Sydney in 2016. Its experiential teaching method has helped directors understand concepts such as blockchain, the Internet of Things and how to incorporate innovation in the boardroom.

However, directors no longer need to leave Australian shores to gain exposure to the latest thinking on technology. An increasing number of locally run and online courses are available to top up your knowledge and skills.

The AICD has launched its Cyber for Directors short course in collaboration with the CSIRO's data innovation group, Data61, and will add a Strategy and Innovation course in 2018. Data61 will launch its own hands-on directors' school, InFuture, in 2018 to connect directors with local researchers and share the tools for creating new businesses.

Online education allows directors to learn about new areas at their own pace. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford, INSEAD and Harvard are among the institutions with relevant web-based courses, while portals such as edX offer courses from a range of universities.

Lindley Edwards MAICD, CEO of AFG Venture Group, is completing the second unit of a five-unit MicroMasters program in Digital Leadership from Boston University through edX. She says a director's knowledge base involves governance education, "but also being across economic, macro, micro and market trends, as well as fostering innovation and continual improvement of the business".

Christine McLoughlin FAICD, who chairs Venues NSW and is on the board of Suncorp Group, Nib Holdings and Spark Infrastructure, says they have benefited from Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank that provides educational programs and a business incubator. "Technology has become indivisible from how people, enterprises and governments operate," she says.

Understanding exponential technology and cybersecurity

McLoughlin completed Singularity's immersive six-day Executive Program in California, which brings together a high-calibre cohort of 100 and covers topics such as robotics, genomics and tech.

"Directors visit Silicon Valley and see a whole lot of exciting developments, but it will often mean that they don't do anything differently when they get back home," says Shelley Copsey, leader of New Ventures & Commercialisation at Data61.

Her team is designing InFuture, which will deliberately expose directors and senior leaders to industries they don't work in and incorporate different business models that challenge long-held beliefs and reveal new ways of thinking. Says Copsey, "We will expose them to the latest in areas like genomics, robotics and data."

Penny Bingham-Hall FAICD, a director of Dexus Funds Management, says in-depth boardroom sessions on topics including automation technology opportunity and risk, digital customer-engagement strategies and cyber-risk management are a feature of many of her boards.

In the flow

According to Nora Scheinkestel, directors have to find ways to "put themselves in the information flow", which means reading, listening to podcasts, doing online courses, attending conferences and travelling with boards and trade missions.

Sally Evans MAICD, a director of Opal Aged Care, has taken the design thinking and lean startup methodology she learned in her executive role at AMP and specifically applied it in her role as chair of social enterprise LifeCircle. Evans says the pace and shape of business has changed so fundamentally that boards need to use human-centred design approaches, which favour iterating fast and getting feedback from users to help speed to market.

"For the LifeCircle board, the hardest thing was learning to live with the ambiguity that comes with design thinking and lean startup. You have to be wedded to the user's problem, not your solution. So we went through the process of testing hypotheses in the market, which is a very different approach."

 The AICD regularly runs courses and events for directors, aspiring directors and executives, covering governance and business best practice. Click here to see our upcoming courses in Western Australia.

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