Coping with change is a phrase board members are going to hear a lot over the next 18 months.
As the government’s consultation on corporate governance reform gathers momentum, millennials move into more prominent positions within companies and technology extends its reach into all aspects of business, the pressure on boardroom decision-making and transparency will undoubtedly intensify.
The fear, of course, is that boardrooms will not cope well. They will become slow, ponderous places draped in anxiety, struggling to meet the demands of compliance and technology change. Issues such as cybersecurity, increased automation, and the HR and legal challenges that follow will continue to have an impact on boardroom workload.
Managing boardroom documents in an efficient and flexible way has never been more important. As the complexity and volume of information increases, boardrooms have to adapt to meet these challenges.
Of course, talking about boardrooms as a single entity can be misleading. Boardrooms are full of individuals with different backgrounds, ages and cultural influences. Board members consume information in different ways and work at different speeds and in different locations.
It doesn’t stop with the board. These issues apply equally to partner meetings, committees and any regular meeting forum where decision-making and sensitive information is involved, such as executive or line of business management team meetings.
Adopting technology to accommodate differences is essential. Board portals need to be able to empower board members regardless of device, location or working pattern, and not dictate how and when information can be accessed. Whether this is reading and annotating documents on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or even on paper, flexibility to reflect the diverse nature of the board is key to ensuring the portal helps, not hinders the information flow and decision-making process.
A common issue that we come across is technophobia. Some boardroom members are not keen on the idea of using screens to read and annotate documents. They would rather print. It’s a cultural thing. Traditionally documents were printed and we understand that this has to remain an option, regardless of the fact that some boardroom packs can resemble a few volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica (which incidentally went fully digital in 2010).
It’s part of being flexible. The idea is to work together and that the technology facilitates all approaches and methods. It’s also key that this flexibility doesn’t hinder key matters such as security, data privacy and protection, or compromise governance practices.
Ideally, any board would want all members to embrace digitisation. It’s more secure, better meets compliance and governance needs, is easier to manage and track, and improves internal communication—but education can take time. The benefits need to be lived, the ease of use experienced.
The best way to look at it is to ask: what can paper do that digital cannot? How can board members keep up to date with changes in board packs and ensure they have the latest versions? How can they achieve the balance of usability with the right levels of controls, checks and balances? How can they discuss topics and collaborate on content?
Paper-based methods and even, as we have consistently come across, use of applications such as SharePoint, cannot cope sufficiently. As Mike Dalzell, company secretary of insurance consultancy Pro Global, says: “Our business has changed over the last two years and grown significantly.
“With a single platform, we have streamlined three key processes: the preparation of board and executive packs, collaboration with external auditors and ensuring business continuity.”
So what does success look like? Ask any business, and the answers will be very different, but ask most boardrooms and they will usually be united in their thinking: good governance, well-informed decision-making and ensuring the business protects brand reputation and grows shareholder value.
In a fast-changing world, this becomes increasingly difficult as factors that can influence change can be increasingly varied. Globalisation has meant increased exposure of supply chains; automation is changing the workforce; and expectations on transparency are increasing.
Governments are reacting to the growth of data. Policies are forming, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), on how data is managed, and data leaks such as the Panama Papers have a bearing on how boardroom finances are viewed.
Security is paramount. No board can afford a member leaving a board pack on a train, or for an email to be sent to the wrong person, or files accessed remotely. Board portals are designed to eradicate error by building information from within secure walls.
Integration with Microsoft Office means documents can be written and edited in familiar software environments securely. All communications are then carried out from within the safety of the portal. No more emails containing sensitive information sent to the wrong people.
It also means a myriad of tedious, time-consuming tasks, like uploading and downloading documents, naming, saving and managing versions, and conversion into more secure PDF formats, become things of the past. And it brings tremendous benefits to the business in terms of efficiency.
Given the nature of their businesses, law firms in particular get it. Graham Stedman, senior partner at international law firm Nabarro, says he needed a system that would “preserve the confidential nature of the documents we use but at the same time facilitate the easy dissemination of those documents to busy board members often working in different offices or on the move.”
By using a board portal to distribute encrypted documents in a secure digital boardroom, Stedman has achieved his goal. The law firm is singing from the same hymn sheet. “The security and ease of distribution is just what we wanted,” he adds.
In fact, most boardrooms want it, they just don’t know it yet. Flexible, secure information-sharing and communications that minimise risk and boost performance—that should be on everyone’s boardroom agenda.
Join Brainloop for a webinar: “Flexibility essential for digital boardroom“, on 24 April 2017, 16:00–16:45.
This article has been prepared in collaboration with Brainloop, a supporter of Board Agenda.