THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION and its impact on the worldwide economy will be the strongest influence on future boards. Beginning in the 1990-1991 recession, technological advances and restructurings helped produce layoffs. Productivity gains at some companies fueled tremendous capital investment, especially in technology. Although these investments have often disappointed, computer technology has gained acceptance everywhere, including the boardroom.
E-mail, individual Internet investing, and younger CEOs have produced a transformation. Boards here and in other advanced economies use "secure" Web sites for information flow between directors and corporations. On average, directors are far more computer-literate than a decade ago.
Advanced search technology supposedly divides important wheat from unnecessary chaff in the avalanche of data now available to any Internet user -- but which is which eludes definition. This problem creates special difficulties in protecting directors' time. Significant discrepancies in computer-related attitudes and skills make it hard to know the best content, timing, and format. The challenge is still to present information that facilitates discussion. Yet numerous new, complex, sometimes interrelated factors affect how directors respond to automated information -- and the responses differ widely.
Differences in directors' ability and willingness to take advantage of computers make more challenging than before the jobs of corporate secretaries, CEOs, and board leaders. It was easier before to think about the substance of board information and the processes characteristic...