Board Portals: An Ongoing Global Digital Revolution

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By Felix Marks – felix.marks@ethicalboardroom.com

 

There is a quiet revolution occurring in boardrooms across the world. A rapidly increasing number of company directors are abandoning paper and taking their communications online. Five years ago the idea of board portals would have been foreign to most organisations, but now the idea is gaining wider acceptance.

Increasingly company directors now have access to a virtual boardroom which they can access anywhere they happen to be.

Why Are Board Portals Proving Popular

Traditionally corporate secretaries have busied themselves preparing board books, now instead of spending their time stapling, sorting and mailing out information to directors they now upload the information to the portal and it is available for any board member who needs to view it. Several factors have come together to make this the moment that board portals achieve critical mass.

Electronic delivery of board materials isn’t a new concept – email and the internet have been around for many years, and we are all used to viewing material online. Given the fact that electronic delivery of materials offers significant savings in both time and delivery costs some individuals may be surprised the change has taken so long. So what has changed now to make this the right moment for board portals to become mainstream?

Portability Is Key To Success

The technology available has advanced to the point where it is now portable enough to be easily carried around by board members wherever they go. It is possible to access board portals on a laptop, but it is the birth of the iPad and the subsequent growth of the tablet market that has enabled board members to easily carry the necessary technology anywhere they need to go. Board members are busy people and few want to carry heavy laptop bags around with them. Tablets are smaller and more lightweight so they can be fitted into a briefcase and the additional load is barely noticeable.

Other advances in technology include the development of apps that enable board data to be stored offline for viewing when an internet connection is not available. This is vital for those situations where data may be quickly required but an internet connection is not available.

The Willingness To Change

Technological changes have impacted the shift to portals in another way. It is only in recent years that many board members have been willing to accept change. Going paperless in the boardroom requires participation from all members of the board and unless everyone is prepared to support the change it can be difficult to push through the change.

Imagine a situation where most of the board are keen to push forward with the conversion to electronic delivery, but there are still one or two members who lack the confidence in their technical literacy to agree. This situation exists in many boardrooms around the world. It is best addressed by involving the reluctant board members in the process of selecting the portal. Giving them the opportunity to be involved at an early stage should boost their confidence. Providing training from the IT department and the suppliers of the new portal is also recommended.

The Costs Of Change

There are also the cost implications of the switch-over to be considered. Boards members who are less computer literate are less likely to possess the technology needed to access a board portal. To implement a board portal may require an investment in new technology both in the boardroom and in the homes of the board members.

While implementing a boardroom portal does have upfront costs, over time there will be significant savings in both office supplies, and employee time. The convenience factor of the new portal should also not be underestimated. In the past directors have needed to carry large amounts of paper documents to a meeting. In more recent times many would have had to carry a laptop as well. Now all that can be replaced by a single tablet.

The Importance Of Security

Advances in digital security are another factor driving the shift. As Diligent’s Alex Sodi says: “Security has to be bulletproof.” In the past there has been a perception that placing sensitive material on devices which could easily be misplaced or stolen is a greater risk than providing physical copies of the material to board members. One of the ways this concern has been addressed in recent years has been the development of apps that allow data to be ‘wiped clean’ after a pre-set time. In this situation if the tablet or other device is lost the data it contains is still safe and there is no possibility of a breach in security.

Are There Any Downsides To Board Portals?

The major concern that has been expressed by those who use board portals has not been with security or technology at all. It has instead been related to the issue of connectedness. Board members now have an almost permanent connection to their boardroom. With the data always on hand and the ability for anyone to reach them at any time it is becoming increasingly difficult for board members to ‘switch-off’ at the end of the meeting. It may be convenient to access boardroom data anywhere you want, but the converse is equally true. Issues which an individual board member may have preferred to deal with at a later point become harder to ignore when the boardroom is always with you.

Which Board Portal Provider Is Right For My Organisation?

Both BoardVantage and Diligent BoardBooks were among the first to offer portals and have since been joined by many other providers. Each organisation will need to decide which provider is the best fit for their needs. Corporate secretaries will want to consider whether the portal can offer companies all of the following:

■ Ease of use for board members

■ Easy administration for the company

■ Watertight security

■ Software that can be customised to adapt to business needs

■ Full usability across a range of platforms – tablet, laptop, desktop, etc

For any company seeking a more bespoke option it is possible to design a board portal without using any of the existing portal suppliers. In that case, the only questions that need to be addressed are:

■ Is the DIY approach cost-effective when compared to existing offerings?

■ Does the DIY approach offer significantly improved functionality over what is already available?

Whichever route your organisation decides to take, it is clear that boardroom portals are here to stay. Further technological advances will only consolidate the changes taking place in boardrooms throughout the world.