Book Review: "Digital in the Boardroom" by Jennifer C. Wolfe

By Howard Brod Brownstein
September 3, 2018

Whether considering strategy, risk, sales and marketing performance, vendors and sourcing – virtually any area of management for which a board is exercising its oversight role – there is always an important digital component.  Digital in the Boardroom is a very timely resource to help directors, whether at public or private companies, navigate the changes.

The book is designed to give board members the tools they need to ask better questions of management, as well as to better understand the answers they receive, but is also written so as to be accessible to all readers, regardless of their degree of experience with “all things digital”.  Board members’ lack of digital understanding, the author surmises, is part of the reason some boards missed “big shifts”, such as the ubiquity of Amazon. 

The author Jennifer C. Wolfe is CEO of Dot Brand 360, a digital agency in Cincinnati, and the principal of Wolfe Board Advisors, where she offers education and consulting for boards and C-suite executives on digital, data privacy and cybersecurity strategy, the impact of emerging technologies, management and compliance.  She has a background as a patent attorney, and her prior publications — as well as this one — have been widely acclaimed.

In an interview with the author, she noted that many board members who are former C-level executives may be 10+ years removed from those roles, and therefore may not have had to deal with the pervasiveness of the digital dimension in virtually every area of a company’s activities.  She says, “Every company is to some degree a ‘tech company’, and therefore board members must educate themselves accordingly.” 

As the book states, “The traditional roles of C-suite executives — like the chief marketing officer, chief information officer or chief technology officer, and chief legal officer — have had to evolve, and how a CEO and a board oversee these functions is rapidly changing. Digital is no longer just for the Facebooks, Googles, or Amazons of the world but is for every company. Every company functions digitally, and every company will continually evolve in managing digital in the coming years.”

The era of rapid change in the digital world is far from over, Ms. Wolfe advises, and predicts there will be increasing regulation of the Internet and how companies operate in a very digital world.  The recent advent of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)  in the EU — which can have extraterritorial effect — are just the beginning. 

As she states in her book, “To think about the future of your business in a digital age, you must be willing to proceed with the one assumption that all things will change. And once you are open to that reality, you can start to visualize and paint the future of your business.”

Covering everything digital, from learning to discern signs of change, to taking charge of cybersecurity, and revolutionizing your marketing strategy, this book will help you bring your boardroom into the digital age and prepare your company for the future of the Internet. This accessible guide for senior executives and board members shines a light on what you need to know about the digital landscape, how to predict future trends, and what boards should consider in managing digital across the organization. 

The book is broken down into the following helpful categories:

1.  The signals of change, the next generation of the Internet, and new top-level domains

2.  Cybersecurity, search, social networking, mobile and the “Internet of things” (watches, smart houses, smart cars, smart thermostats — all of the things that now connect to the Internet that didn’t before)

3.  Content and data optimization

4.  The role of digital in the boardroom, including suggestions on how to manage digital at the board level

For example, in considering further digital changes that are already on the horizon, the author discusses how search-engine optimization may look in the future, how Google and others will likely respond, how data will change and what new data might be gathered, how the user experience will change, and how the changing Internet naming system integrates with mobile, the Internet of things and social media.

Importantly, the author has seen the struggles some organizations have in battling the status-quo mentality, and understands how “silos” operate in large organizations and what is needed to overcome them, in order to build in more collaborative and open processes to manage digital in the future.  In a sense, she “meets the reader where he/she is at”, which is crucial for this book to be of value for the typical board member who may be a product of those traditional organizations.

Each section of the book includes helpful key takeaways to make sure that the reader has gotten the most important points.  For example, even the first chapter reminds the reader:

  • “Change in digital and cybersecurity is constant…Start with the assumption that change is the law of life.”
  • “Turn off the status-quo mentality in your company…”
  • “Be mindful of the signals of change in our digital world…”
  • “Understand and map your digital world…”

There is also a “Cybersecurity Quiz” to help the reader “assess your threat points as an organization”.

Author Jennifer Wolfe helps those in C-suite positions break down status-quo culture and shatter the silos that are holding their companies back in order to better meet the demands of a complex and rapidly changing digital environment with more collaborative and open processes. 

Digital in the Boardroom is an easy to read guide for directors to understand the basics of digital and cybersecurity, how to see trends coming, as well as practical tips to break it down into manageable pieces in the boardroom environment. 

The Board [Reading] Room is a regular feature of Directors and Boards, providing reviews of recent books of interest to board members.

Howard Brod Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Corporation, a turnaround management firm, and of the NACD Philadelphia Chapter, and serves on the boards of P&F Industries and Merakey.