Board portals promise an escape from the “paperless abyss” while improving collaboration and security. This frees companies from using paper and low-cost solutions like email and file sharing, which compromise the security, integrity, and timeliness of critical information. (See “Traps to Avoid: Stuck in the Paperless Abyss.”) But attaining the goal of a truly effective and paperless boardroom requires more than selecting the right board portal. It also calls for a carefully executed rollout of the new solution. Based on our experience supporting thousands of boards of all types and sizes around the world, Diligent has identified seven best practices to help ensure that a portal delivers on its promise:
1. Be committed. For the transition to succeed, you need commitment from all directors. Changing habits will be difficult if some directors don’t support the shift to a new way of getting information. For an effective rollout, you’ll generally want to select a vendor and start training directors approximately two months before the first meeting.
2. Map your information flow. Start with a solid understanding of how and when your board packs are currently compiled, distributed, and updated. The new platform can then be designed to replicate the current process as closely as possible while adding lots of improvements. Your organisation will have unique requirements, so don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, FirstRand, a financial services firm in South Africa, generates more than 8,700 board packs a year and thus needed a board portal that could reliably handle that level of throughput.
3. Don’t skimp on training. The quality and thoroughness of training given to administrators, directors, and board members is a major factor in determining whether or not a portal takes hold. Proper training on the new system should be straightforward and can be done online or on the phone. Make sure your vendor also provides unlimited training when new board members are added or directors need a refresher.
4. Insist on 24/7/365 support. Make sure that support staff will be available immediately to help you whenever you need them. When you’re having connectivity problems right before boarding a plane, for example, you don’t want to wait for someone to call you back hours later. Diligent’s support team answers calls received at all hours of the day from directors and administrators. Having a human on the other end of the line when you’re tight on time is a lifesaver!
5. Ensure flexibility for different formats. A first-rate solution will give you the flexibility to use a format that meets your needs, regardless of the document type. A board pack might need to include larger-format documents that don’t lend themselves as well to tablet viewing. Make sure your solution will cover these situations. For example, one of our clients is a city council that includes architectural drawings in its packs and then uses large flat-screen monitors to display them right from the Diligent app.
6. Take your time. Give yourself and your fellow directors time to adapt to the new system—there’s no need to push for an abrupt transition. We often hear that board members request a paper copy of the pack alongside their iPad for the first meeting with a board portal. Those stories typically end with an untouched paper document being returned to the administrator and the director saying, “I don’t think I need paper anymore.”
7. Let peer pressure motivate adoption. It’s okay to accommodate the few holdouts that may still want hard copy packs after the first paperless meeting. They’ll join their paperless peers soon enough. Once they see how easily their peers are navigating information, they won’t want to be responsible for slowing down the meeting. For example, when a leading insurance company switched to a digital board portal, a few board members insisted on using hard copy. But after a few months of watching everyone else using the iPad-based solution of Diligent Boards, they abandoned paper without looking back.
In our next post, we’ll talk about how to play a more active role in data governance and share five high-level questions that you can ask your CISO.
The development of board portals and widespread adoption of powerful, easy-to-use tablets have finally made the paperless boardroom a reality. But thorough planning and a user-centred approach to rolling out a board portal are essential for ensuring that your company captures a portal’s true promise. For more on keeping the user at the centre of the transition, see “Attaining the (Truly) Paperless Boardroom: The Human Side of Technology Change.”
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