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Making the Digital Switch: Experts Weigh In

Board portals can be the answer for company secretaries feeling inundated by the inefficiencies of managing hard copy board packs. While company secretaries may have a few concerns, the switch to digital is fairly straightforward and simple.

Rob Bellhouse, who spent 11 years as company secretary at Lonmin, oversaw adoption of Diligent Boards portals for Lonmin in 2011. He offered an expert’s perspective on three of the top concerns of organisations considering digital board portals: security and stability, impact on workflow, and ease of use.

Security and Stability

When adopting new digital board technology, it’s important that the platform is stable and the board’s sensitive data remains secure.

Questions arise:

  1. Who has access to sensitive information?
  2. What devices and platforms does the board portal support?
  3. How is the information protected?
  4. Are the right people accessing the sensitive information?

A good board portal values security and can make sure that sensitive information is only accessed by appropriate board members.Board portal stability ensures that board members always have access to the necessary materials. Does your board portal support various devices such as mobile tablets? Does it secure information in the cloud?

As an example, you may want to test the security of your board portal partner.

“We had to feel comfortable having sensitive internal information on someone else’s servers,” says Bellhouse. “When Diligent emerged as our first choice, we engaged an independent IT security firm to try and hack into Diligent’s system. They couldn’t do it.”

Impact on Workflow

A common concern is also the impact on workflow. Take a look at your current workflow challenges. Will a board portal assist in version control and distribution? Do you need global reach?

“Our directors are literally 8,000 miles apart and constantly on the move,” says Bellhouse. “The logistics of getting updated paper board packs to everyone before each board meeting was just overwhelming.”

Going paperless has other advantages especially if you’re with a global organisation — board portals provide significant workflow advantages such as ensuring the information is up-to-date, and can offer round-the-clock access for any board member, anywhere, at any time.

With digital board portals, you’ll have the advantage of making updates without the re-printing of hard copy board packs.

Overall, a quality board portal should have minimal impact on the internal workflow of the company secretary’s team. It should aim to augment workflow, not disrupt.

Ease of Use

It’s important when you make the switch to a digital portal solution that the transition is an easy one.

  1. How will the new user adapt to the technology?
  2. Does the board portal solution provide training?
  3. Is there ongoing support?

“The key thing is to realise that moving to a paperless boardroom involves technology,” explains Bellhouse. “But it’s not a technological endeavor — it’s a cultural one. You’re asking people to do things in a different way.”

Training needs to be accomplished quickly, effectively, and with little disruption. It’s important to have an account management team — what Diligent likes to call the customer success team — to help make the transition as seamless as possible. A board portal provider that offers one-on-one training can help with the transition. Furthermore, a provider with a multi-language support team can be a tremendous help if your organisation is global.

Conclusion

While each organisation’s adoption will be different, concerns over security and stability, impact on workflow, and ease-of-use are quite common. When considering adopting a digital board portal, the stakes are high. However, as Bellhouse says, the advantages are worth the risk.

“The company’s secretary’s fundamental mission is to support the board. If you fail at doing that, you’re very quickly going to become an ex-company secretary. So I was quite aware of what the stakes were for me personally,” says Bellhouse. “But by the time the rollout actually took place, it was clear to me that it was going to be a success.”

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