There is no doubt that the demand on directors’ time has increased and that the requirements and responsibilities of the board are at an all-time high. Therefore, improvements in processes, resources and support have a tremendous impact on how the board works.
There have been several key changes in the boardroom that have helped improve the efficiency with which the board not only satisfies requirements but also increases its effectiveness. Access to compensation experts, governance programmes, on-site development opportunities and an increasing use of recruiting, accounting and other services firms are a few examples.
Most notably, the board portal was introduced more than a decade ago to help directors manage their increasing responsibilities and like any tool or innovation that changes the status quo, board portals have transformed behaviour in the boardroom.
As a governance and boardroom leadership specialist for the past 12 years, I have worked with countless boards and directors. Moreover, as a portal provider my firm XCEO Inc has been at the forefront of utilising technology to improve board development so that directors can better serve shareholders. Over the past decade we have been part of the remarkable improvements and enhancements for both directors and senior officers that portal technology has brought.
However, I strongly believe that to take the portal into the next realm, portal companies must appreciate the difference between something that directors can use and something that directors can experience.
Evolving the board portal
I liken board portals to the cellular phone. At first, the ability to be mobile, to make calls and connect with others on the go was a significant improvement in our daily lives. People were reachable and therefore wasting time waiting on phone calls and missing information was mitigated to a large degree. However, as phones have become smarter, the phone has gone from a communication tool to a tremendous resource.
Phones assist us in remembering dates and appointments, storing information and even providing guidance and information. The phone has evolved into an indispensable productivity resource and its advancement has impacted how we work and live. Phones have allowed us to connect, share and to be more informed, just like portals.
Moreover, in portals the experience of sharing, learning and reaching for enlightenment is what moves people forward. Successful organisations and groups, including boards, find a way to bring people and ideas together. Thus, when thinking about board portals for the next-generation, the question is not really about how technology will evolve. Instead, the value of the board portal will increase exponentially as a platform for delivering resources that help the board improve its overall performance.
When speaking with clients about how technology has changed their boardroom experiences, it is clear that there are adjustments being made. Some are more welcome than others, but almost every director that I talk to knows that this is the way of the future.
With nearly 80 per cent of boards using some form of technology in the boardroom, whether for board books, communication or polling and official business, boards are exchanging old practices in favour of new methods for satisfying regulatory requirements.
I believe that boards will elect to use this technology to move beyond compliance and to transform regulatory requirements into opportunities. It is certain that in order to continue growth in the board portal industry, each provider will need to ensure that their platform is secure, that it is easy to use and that it satisfies the board’s needs. The way a next-generation portal can truly transform a board is by delivering learning opportunities, ways of communicating more effectively and resources that the board cannot get anywhere else.
The best portal will be one that is not only accessible via all platforms but also delivers the same experience using any device or computer. Moreover, the most successful next-generation portals will also be inexpensive, confidential and provide interconnected services. Instead of offering helpful but minor functionality improvements, the most successful portals will influence other critical components of boardroom work, including governance, leadership, succession and development. Like the phone, the portal needs to go from basic to smart.
5 key elements
There are five key elements that most board portals are missing today that I believe will shape the industry and result in positive changes for those boards who take advantage of these progressions.
- Personalised Information: Every phone, tablet and electronic device developed today has a personal element that we have all come to appreciate. Our desire for a personal connection and secure storage of our information has made apps and websites that know what we want indispensable. With that in mind, the next-generation portal will also need to provide information that is specifically for each board and even each individual director. Portal providers have to provide exceptional intelligence and support that goes beyond helpline numbers and encourages usage because it is easily accessible and unique to boards.
- Social and Knowledge Opportunities: The most successful online venues to date include social, learning and sharing forums where there is information generated by others in the community that resonates with individuals. The portal market is no different. Information on other directors, their connectedness, events they attend and awards they receive are all getting much attention and contain an element of natural excitement that people are drawn to. Thus, in order to attract and, more importantly, retain interest from directors, board portals will need to provide social information.
- Governance & Development: As boards have adjusted to regulatory requirements set by listing agencies and governments, we have seen a shift from boards doing things because they have to, to doing things because they want to. Early portals helped the board satisfy requirements. However, because of the value of a properly implemented governance programme, many of the building blocks of board effectiveness, including board, committee and personal evaluations as well as other development tools are not only welcomed but sought out. Utilising a comprehensive portal, a board can easily undertake new means of development that provide constructive data, benchmarking and other information that make a portal even more valuable.
- Board Resources: There are many elements to what a board needs to do to be effective. The administrative side of board work includes many forms and documents that hold a significant place in the board’s official dealings. Moreover, critical elements of the board’s work go far outside the scope of document sharing and meetings and into succession, governance and leadership development. All of this work is tied together, critical and requires a significant amount of the board’s time. Providing a way of successfully accomplishing these tasks more efficiently and effectively makes a partnership with a full-service portal firm extremely beneficial.
- Communication: Collaboration between very successful, busy and engaged individuals is a difficult task. Technical advancements such as web meetings, video cameras and apps have made connecting a much easier and richer experience. One might ask what a next-generation portal can contribute to this arena. My contention is that while there are many options for connecting, the ability to easily, securely and inexpensively incorporate voice, video and sharing on a platform that directors are familiar with will be of great value. Meeting codes, time zones and dial-in numbers are tedious and can be replaced in a way in which meetings are held at the click of a button, are private, include those who should be engaged and provide ways to seamlessly share sensitive information for even the most hard-to-reach directors.
As a worldwide consulting firm that specialises in leadership and governance, my firm XCEO Inc clearly understands that a board is unlike any other group in an organisation. Designing a portal for the organisation is different than designing one that best suits the boardroom. Few providers have truly developed technology that works for the functionality of the board. Many are instead focusing on document sharing and management. At XCEO Inc we believe that a board should not adapt its practices to fit technology; rather it should have a resource that provides impactful opportunities for sharing, learning and increased effectiveness.
Taking an exciting approach
With many demands on a director’s time, a portal is of the utmost value only when a director has a reason to use the portal between meetings instead of simply to read a board book. The next-generation board portal must reach beyond functionality to offer a new and exciting approach to critical boardroom endeavours.
Today, there are many basic portals available that offer standard functionality, with most destined to becoming commoditised. This might be fine for those traditional boardroom environments with low expectations and minimum concern regarding overall board effectiveness, but it is not enough for enlightened boards. We believe offering true value means to offer so much to the directors that they are regular visitors to the portal, completing various tasks, checking out the newest articles, participating in specialised learning and training and effortlessly communicating with their peers.
The next-generation portal is aimed at the enlightened director so that he or she can more efficiently and effectively serve shareholders.
Directors are key leaders responsible for strategy and oversight of the organisation. The boardroom is the place to move ideas forward and a portal is like a phone that evolves to go beyond meeting the basic needs of directors. It should offer better resources, a personal touch, simplicity and comfort, built around security and efficiency. The next-generation portal has infinite possibilities in regard to how to enhance the director experience. The challenge is understanding how the board works and utilising technology to not only meet, but exceed the needs of the board in a way that is exciting and valuable.
About The Author:
Ms. Ronco is the Chief Marketing Officer at XCEO, Inc. In this role she oversees all marketing, public relations and advertising in addition to working with the sales team to support its efforts by providing innovative and exciting campaigns, material and program content for all individual director and board clients. Specifically, Ms. Ronco is responsible for the continuing development, oversight and execution of XCEO’s board succession, board effectiveness, director support services and BoardPortal PLUS™ offerings. Finally, Ms. Ronco is a principal in serving clients by delivering world-class consultative services, products and training. For the past 11 years, she has participated in many facets of the XCEO organization including idea creation, research, sales and marketing. Michelle is frequently sought out regarding board portals by leading governance advocates and groups, as well as influential board governance publications such as Board Secretary.