Switching the board to digital: What organisations must consider

Over the past few years, increasing numbers of organisations have made the move away from traditional paper-based board materials, realising the benefits in cost saving and increased efficiency that digital board portals offer.

However, it isn’t a change that is made lightly. There are several factors that the organisation – or more specifically, the Company Secretary - must consider before committing to the change. In our experience, these factors fall under three broad categories: security and stability, impact on workflow, and ease of use.

Security

With the continued rise of high-profile security breaches, it’s become more important than ever for boards to focus on information security. After all, boards have access to a company’s most sensitive documents.

When choosing to switch to a digital portal, the Information Security Team should work to ensure that the board portal secures company data at, or above, the level required by the organisation. As part of its product evaluation, the Information Security Team must ensure that the provider is subject to regular, repeated third-party audits (including penetration testing) and that the data-hosting facilities have local redundancy, data backup, and disaster recovery services. With these checks made, the organisation can be sure that the move to a digital solution will be as security focused as possible.

Stability

In addition to being secure, the new digital board portal must be stable. Board members should always be able to access the company materials that they need to do their jobs. This access should be tailored to suit each individual user, granting them only the permissions and access rights that they need.

This could be across a number of devices, including tablets, laptops, and PCs. Consideration should also be given to how any operating system changes or upgrades might affect the operation of the board portal.

Board portals relying on Web browsers are particularly susceptible to stability issues; browsers have varied data responses, which can result in unexpected idiosyncrasies when using the portal. Portals that rely on browser plug-ins (which require constant updating) may even constitute a security risk.

Assessing the impact on workflow

Compiling printed board materials is a complex and often challenging process, which is why most Company Secretaries and their teams have crafted a bespoke workflow that works for them. There may be some initial reluctance to disrupt a proven, if imperfect, process just because a newer alternative exists.

A high-quality board portal should have minimal effect on the internal workflow of the Company Secretary’s team. The same information is being collected; the difference is in how it is disseminated to the board. Rather than being printed in hard copy form or emailed in PDF format, the documents are uploaded to the provider’s secure server.

While members of the Company Secretary’s office and others involved in the process will need to undergo thorough training on using the board portal, an intuitive and easy-to-learn portal provided by a reputable vendor should ensure that this training is accomplished quickly, effectively, and with minimal disruption.

Board portals provide significant workflow advantages. The time and effort spent on version control, for example, is considerably reduced. Using a board portal, documents can be previewed, uploaded, amended, replaced, and published in just a few clicks.

Digital board portals aid secure distribution and collaboration. Distributing updated hard copy board packs to directors (who are often on the move) in time for board meetings is a notoriously difficult task. While sending updated documents via email or a file-sharing platform like Dropbox can cause challenges with version control. A board portal’s features should facilitate secure access, online or offline, to materials from any global location, with the ability to publish and access updated materials in seconds - provided an Internet connection is available.

Ease of use

Board materials are destined for consumption by the board, and so the extent to which the board portal improves the director’s experience, both before and during a board meeting, is vital.

A high-quality board portal should enable directors to both easily access documents and annotate them in ways that mimic how paper documents are handled. It should make work easier, not create barriers to capturing feedback and ideas. If a board portal cannot accomplish this, no other qualities matter.

Most organisations will find that the transition from paper to digital is smoother than they might anticipate. The truth is, many directors are already using tablets as well as laptops for a wide range of business purposes. Most directors have no difficulty making the switch; in fact many take to the new platform quite readily.

But a digital board portal service should accommodate those directors who want to move at a slower pace. The service provider should provide bespoke training that is tailored to the director’s level of comfort with the technology. (A board portal should also allow for easy hard copy printing of documents so that directors who wish to use paper materials can continue to do so).

In our 15 year history of working with global leadership teams, we’ve seen that directors with very little exposure to technology will be able to adopt the portal when allowed to do so in their own time, being encouraged to do so once they’ve seen from observing their peers just how easy a portal is to use.

It may sound like a monumental change – moving away from paper board packs and embracing a digital portal as an alternative – but while the change does have significant advantages (especially concerning efficiencies in communication and cost savings) it’s really just a different platform for delivering information.

In a time when corporate information security is one of the board’s biggest concerns, ensuring that individuals can safely and securely collaborate has to be a high priority. While paper board packs may engender the safety of familiarity, they don’t allow for flexibility, collaborative work and true information security that a digital board portal brings to an organisation.

Michael Charalambous, Marketing Director, EMEA, Diligent