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All About Board Portals

A board portal is a secure platform designed specifically to enhance the effectiveness of meetings, collaboration and decision-making for boards, committees and senior leadership teams. Today, these teams can operate entirely paperless and board portals have been established as a must-have in board communications and collaboration.

BOARD PORTAL: AN OVERVIEW

After years of scattered adoption, successive improvements in hardware and software have led to compelling benefits that have driven the shift from oldschool paper towards modern board portals. 

Technology has fundamentally changed the way modern boards communicate. 

Traditional board and committee communications were paper and fax based. Companies sent out (hard copy) boardbooks in advance of meetings, and directors always met in person to discuss agenda topics. Until a few years ago, this approach to managing communications was sufficient. 

A new landscape 

Regulatory scrutiny, greater globalization, deeper competitive pressures, and an increase in shareholder activity have dramatically increased the volume of work. Today, a great deal of activity takes place between meetings.

Goodbye to paper 

Old-school paper processes are simply too inefficient to keep up with the pace of today. Boardbooks are difficult to update and subject to loss; faxes are unreliable and present security issues. 

The advent of the board portal 

To deal with the changing needs of today’s board and committee communications, many have adopted board portals. Board portals give directors and leadership teams greater visibility, streamline the boardbook creation process, and tighten information security.

EVOLUTION OF THE BOARD PORTAL

Tired of bulky boardbooks and in need of faster but secure communications, companies began to explore alternatives to paper. A board portal, with its built-in security, ease-of-use, and document management capabilities, had obvious inherent advantages to address these needs. 

It started with the need for electronic access 

There were two factors that propelled market development of the board portal. The first was a cadre of progressive directors who, enthusiastic about technology and tired of bulky boardbooks, advocated electronic access to meeting materials. 

The second driver was the passage of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley act. This major piece of legislation, written in response to the accounting scandals of that time, threw a spotlight on board portals as a vehicle to drive governance. The “electronic boardbook” that emerged provided rudimentary online access — but not much more. 

The board portal concept is born 

It wasn’t until 2005 that the board portal as a category found its footing. Around this time, the term “electronic boardbook” was replaced by the “board portal” concept that is in use to this day. This was an implicit acknowledgment that newer technology could do much more than provide simple electronic access to board materials.

 A new demand: from access to process 

The second-generation board portal that emerged in 2007 web-enabled all board processes as they were practiced inside a typical Fortune 500 company. This iteration of the board portal included a corporate secretary toolkit for creating an online agenda, managing and tallying director input, and assembling a boardbook from Microsoft Word. 

The iPad as game changer 

After the release of the first iPad in 2010, boards across a wide range of organizations moved quickly to board portals. The iPad combined immediacy of online access with the readability of print. In a short 18-month period, board portals became a must-have in boardrooms across the globe.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN BOARD PORTAL TECHNOLOGY?

Most directors today carry their iPads everywhere and rely on them for access to their board materials—even when they’re out of Wi-Fi range. The online-offline syncing found in an advanced board portal ensures directors remain up-to-date. 

Five requirements of an efficient board portal platform: 

1. A better-than-paper experience. Though paper may be inefficient, it has the advantage of giving boards control over who sees what and when they see it. When you replace this process with a board portal, the technology needs to have the equivalent ability to differentiate access between various users (this is called “content segregation”). 

2. Two-way communication. For years, the board portal was a one-way communication tool used between the general counsel and the directors. Now portals are shifting to two-way interactive capabilities that can improve decision making by providing greater efficiency and allowing directors to focus on the substantive issues rather than minutiae.

3. Online-offline syncing. Board portal technology uses an electronic “briefcase” (an encrypted folder designed for storing sensitive documents and personal notes) to give directors mobile access to materials even when they’re offline. Information in the briefcase is automatically synced when Wi-Fi is restored. It lets the general counsel push new materials directly to the directors’ devices (usually an iPad) to ensure that they have the latest information. 

4. Protection against discoverability. Making the boardbook accessible on a director’s iPad creates potential legal exposure if the director forgets to purge the information at the end of the quarter. To eliminate this risk, the board portal system must have centralized control so that downloaded content and directors’ notes can be purged remotely by the person assigned this role. 

5. Engaging visuals. When you change a long-standing process, you have to offer an incentive. The board portal user experience needs to be more intuitive and engaging for directors than the paper boardbook, taking maximum advantage of the rich graphics and animation capability of the iPad.


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