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Digital Age

11 April 2019 by Ben Harber and Shaun Zulafqar

Digital Age

Board portals and board pack software packages allow secure access to company documents and provide a number of key benefits

An increasing number of companies are choosing to use an electronic board portal to share documents such as board papers, minutes and resolutions with board members. The use of a portal also helps to enhance communication with board members through features such as directors’ questionnaires, board resolution approvals, voting and instant messenger. Whilst many company secretaries are aware of the nightmare of collating hard copy board papers and the advantages of using a portal to easily upload, remove and replace documents, some directors remain reluctant to switch to portals and instead opt for hard copy packs. In a digital age, where a majority of board members have access to laptops, iPads and other tablets, it is likely that with the correct training, support and guidance, board members will find the transition from paper-based to digital seamless.

Some of the benefits include:
  • security
  • access to information
  • board engagement
  • modern board administration
  • ost-effective
  • easy access on multiple devices.

Security

The rise in email hacking and cyber-attacks means that it is becoming risky to send confidential information such as board papers through traditional methods such as email or post. Other potential risks also arise when a board member is unavailable at the time of delivery meaning that their board pack could potentially be left outside their home, fall into the wrong hands and result in confidential and sensitive information being leaked. Fully encrypted board portals eliminate these potential risks and provide full encryption making it one of the safest ways to deliver information to board members.
Online portals also allow company secretaries to set up portals with user permissions allowing only those who sit on the relevant board or committee to have access. Nearly all portals will also provide company secretaries with the flexibility to easily add, remove and restrict the access of members to sensitive documents for a meeting which can be particularly helpful where there are possible conflicts
of interest.
Following a board or committee meeting, materials can be deleted and archived easily without the need for company secretaries to hang around at the end of a meeting to clear or remove confidential information or to worry about document destruction/disposal and archiving processes. In addition, devices can be purged (documents deleted) remotely in instances where a director’s device has been lost or stolen. Email and print functions can also be disabled to prevent documents being distributed using these methods.

Access to Information


Ease of access to information is another benefit of using a board portal. Portals not only allow board packs to be easily distributed, but also serve as a repository/library allowing board members to have access to materials such as meeting minutes, constitutional documents, strategic plans, committee terms of reference and policy manuals. The added search function also allows members to search previous packs or projects for information and access this quite quickly.

Non-executive directors (NEDs) often serve on multiple boards, and the utilisation of an online portal across organisations helps to ensure that NEDs do not miss vital communication or information. An increasing number of board portal providers allow NED’s sitting on multiple boards to access all their board and committee information using one login. This no doubt reduces the burden on board members who often carry a number of documents around in their briefcases to review whilst travelling or in between meetings.

Board Engagement

The use of an electronic board portal helps to increase engagement between board members especially outside of meetings through features such as annotations and instant messenger. Through features such as these, board members are able to discuss, share ideas/annotations and ask questions ahead of or in between meetings which may help increase the efficiency of the board and possibly reduce the length of meetings and matters arising actions.

Modern Board Administration

Online portals significantly reduce meeting preparation time from hours to minutes. The traditional replacing of hard copy documents has always been an issue and most company secretaries have attended meetings where the wrong version of a document has been circulated or someone has printed the wrong version. Not only does the online portal allow the quick replacement and sharing of updated documents, it allows papers to be uploaded to a cloud based software and eliminates the number of hours spent assembling, printing, replacing and couriering board materials. Once uploaded to the site, those with the correct permissions are also able to review the pack in draft form before a final version is published.

Some online portals also serve as a task management tool allowing company secretaries to issue tasks to those submitting papers and grant them access to upload their documents without giving those individuals full access rights. This further simplifies the board pack collation process and removes the need to send various email chasers or calls which company secretaries often have to juggle alongside printing, replacing, re-formatting papers already received.
Environmentally Friendly

With current pressures on boards to work towards green initiatives and make disclosures around their corporate social responsibility, the online portal reduces and in some cases eliminates the reliance on paper which in turn helps the environment and generates goodwill amongst key stakeholders. Most companies spend a huge amount of time and money on the printing, collation and distribution of board packs and the introduction of an electronic board portal will no doubt result in a huge cost saving, not to mention the amount of time saved on the part of the company secretary.

Easy Access

Most, if not all board portals are compatible with all major operating systems and can be used on tablets, PCs and mobile phones. This allows directors to access board papers virtually anywhere and on any device.

Conclusion

The introduction of the electronic board portal has changed the way in which many company secretaries manage their board pack collation process, obtain approvals and communicate with their board members in general. Whilst many boards and companies may see the benefits and values of introducing an electronic board portal, it can sometimes be hard to justify the cost. The increase of board portal providers in the marketplace has driven down the costs of putting this in place and with many different offerings, it may be the best time to contact one of these providers for a demo or a quote. 

Ben Harber FCIS is partner and head of company secretarial services at Shakespeare Martineau.

Shaun Zulafqar GradICSA is company secretary at Shakespeare Martineau.

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