In light of digital transformation, boards of directors (BoD) often recognize the need for more engagement in digital strategy and oversight. At the same time, many of them are seeking advice on how to realize this type of involvement. Our goal is to enable board members to learn from their peers and translate best practices of other organizations to their own context. To inspire them, we discuss the board IT governance mechanisms that were established at the University of Antwerp (Belgium).
The University of Antwerp: The Context
Like many organizations, the University of Antwerp has become increasingly dependent on IT. No central business forum existed to decide which projects would be executed and which not, swamping the IT department with many requests they could not deliver against. This situation often led to frustration on the business side, a tension that was also reported to and known by some board members. Furthermore, in 2016, a new rector came at the head of the University of Antwerp. The newly appointed rector strongly believes it is the task of the BoD to create a long-term vision, also regarding IT-related issues.
Two New Governing Structures
A widely acknowledged strategy to increase the involvement of the BoD in IT-related decision-making and control is to enhance its IT expertise. Yet the various board members of the university are elected by different university entities. As a result, little room exists to thoughtfully compose the board on the basis of the university’s needs and to increase its IT expertise. Therefore, the university chose an alternative path, creating 2 committees that assist the board in IT-related decision-making and control (figure 1).
Figure 1—Committees Assisting the Board of Directors
- The IT governance committee is responsible for short-term decisions and portfolio management of IT-enabled investments. Its main goal is to manage the IT-enabled investment portfolio more effectively and transparently and make sure it is in line with the overall organizational strategy. However, the aim of the committee is not to go into the technical details, but to discuss the investments from a business perspective. The IT governance committee includes representatives of all university entities, including 4 directors. All other directors are always welcome to join.
- The digital strategy think tank’s task is to keep an eye on the impact of technological developments on the university and consider how societal and market challenges could be addressed leveraging technology. The BoD is represented in this committee; that is, the rector and one other board member are included.
Our recent Journal article shows how BoDs can actively engage in the IT debate, even those boards with a limited amount of IT expertise.
Read Steven De Haes, Laura Caluwe, Anant Joshi and Tim Huygh’s recent Journal article:
“How Boards Engage in Digital Strategy and Oversight: The Case of the University of Antwerp,” ISACA Journal, volume 5, 2018.