Today’s company secretaries have a lot on their plates. The pace of business has accelerated exponentially over the past two decades, and over the same period, scrutiny of corporate governance and board performance has risen to unprecedented levels. Supporting corporate and not-for-profit boards has always been an important role. It now requires company secretaries to work faster and more efficiently, doing more in less time and often with fewer financial and human resources.
As the importance of effective governance rises, the role of the company secretary as a strategic advisor is also growing in profile. This presents opportunities for company secretaries to expand and consolidate their influence. However, this also puts pressure on the corporate secretariat.
In response, many organisations are exploring how they can deploy technology to resolve the tension between expertise, time and resource availability that is so often a factor that limits productivity. Software for the company secretary offers a wide range of benefits that not only improve efficiency but underpin the drive for modern governance and form a springboard for a more strategic appreciation of how good governance builds competitive advantage.
Recover Time for Higher-Value Activities
The most precious resource for any business is time, and it is a resource that is usually in short supply for both company secretaries and board directors. Printing, collating and distributing paper board packs has historically been a significant time-sink for the corporate secretariat, and a costly one, too. Deploying company secretary software in the form of a digital board portal eliminates the time spent wrangling with reprographics and the paper, postage or courier costs associated with getting board packs to directors. Packs can be built quickly, with an intuitive structure that makes it easy for directors to navigate. Once shared with directors, they can access the board pack 24/7 to review and make notes in advance of the meeting.
A board portal also simplifies one of the biggest bugbears of any company secretary: last-minute changes. However organised the corporate secretariat team might be, there are always departments or executives that require last-minute changes to the materials they have submitted. With a paper pack, this means reprinting and substituting pages—and that only works if the pack hasn’t already been posted to the directors. When using a board portal, the new information can simply be uploaded and directors alerted to the change with a push notification.
This flexibility of being able to share real-time updates to meeting materials is especially valuable when meetings are taking place virtually, as is now common. Similarly, many boards have been meeting more frequently—albeit virtually rather than in person—due to the prevailing situation, meaning more work for the corporate secretariat. Being able to support boards through a digital platform is a major advantage that also helps company secretaries manage a heavier workload.
The value of the time saved by switching from analogue to digital board materials shouldn’t be underestimated. It takes what, for some companies, could be a three-day task and reduces it to a few hours. This frees time for higher-value activities and gives company secretaries the bandwidth to add value to governance in the organisation. They can focus on the elements of governance that are more complex and not suited to automation; those requiring human intuition and intelligence. As awareness of the importance of good modern governance continues to grow, freeing up this time through technology adoption amounts to a strategic decision with benefits that cascade through the whole organisation.
Consistency in the Corporate Record
As well as saving valuable time, utilising technology to support board processes helps company secretaries fulfil their duty to ensure a high level of consistency in the corporate record. Agenda templates can be quickly populated and standing items retained from meeting to meeting, while meeting minutes software ensures that the process of taking, circulating and archiving accurate, effective minutes is simplified.
Maintaining Confidential Communication
Ensuring the security of board materials and communications is another responsibility that has devolved onto the company secretary. In a digital environment, achieving strong security is paramount as hackers frequently target the high-value confidential information shared by board directors. Using a secure board portal reduces the risks associated with sharing files by email, which can be easily compromised by cybercriminals.
In fact, the risks associated with directors communicating by email should not be understated. Non-executive directors typically use personal email addresses that are outside the protection of the corporate security regime. These are sitting targets for cybercriminals, meaning the organisation’s most sensitive data is exposed to unacceptable risk. Implementing a secure director messaging service, like the one offered by Diligent Governance Cloud, takes those communications out of the high-risk public email domain and gives them the protection appropriate to their importance.
COVID-19: An Inflection Point for Company Secretary Software Adoption?
The global health crisis resulting from COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation for most organisations. Remote working and virtual meetings have become the norm and boards, faced with the biggest challenge in the past seventy years, have had to adapt. Those that previously relied on paper board materials have been forced to embrace the digital age. A recent survey of company secretaries by executive search specialists Leathwaite found that 41% felt digitalisation and automation were key areas of focus for the corporate secretariat in the current climate.
Furthermore, 61% felt that technology and data were the areas most in need of improvement in the company secretary function for the organisation to emerge strongly from the crisis. This indicates that there is a timely opportunity for company secretaries to advance the digitisation agenda in their organisations.
Company secretaries are playing an increasingly strategic role as good governance becomes a competitive advantage in a volatile and uncertain environment. Given the considerable benefits of company secretary software and how it supports ambitions for better, more efficient governance processes, this inflection point for adoption is an opportunity not to be missed.
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