The digitization of corporate communication has given rise to new opportunities for organizations to streamline internal processes and ameliorate outdated practices. Boards should now be looking for vendors that can further enable their governance practices by providing access to the right tools, insights and analytics in real-time while being anywhere in the world. Technologies designed for efficiency, security and speed are transforming how companies work, and nowhere is this more evident than with the adoption of board portals. However, not all board portals are created equal and in your process of understanding why they are a necessity, you should look for a vendor that has all the tools you need and who can also help you improve your governance footprints further down the road.

What Is a Board Portal?

At its core, a board portal is a software platform that allows the board of directors and company management to communicate, collaborate and exchange information more securely and effectively.

Board portals have become an essential tool for corporate secretaries, board administrators, directors and the management team alike. In the past, administrators were limited to producing and distributing board materials like meeting agendas and information packets manually and in print format. With directors often stationed all over the world, secretaries had to rely on courier services to get critical orientation and meeting materials to recipients on time or turn to email for help with distribution despite the fact that email doesn’t provide the level of security necessary for exchanging board-related information. Factor in last-minute updates and amendments to meeting materials after a packet has been released, and the situation grew even more complex.

With a board portal, however, administrators are able to contain all of this information, review and revise it in real time, and easily share the resulting digital documents with meeting attendees. Board portals have revolutionized the way board support teams operate, providing more control over the meeting cycle, the board meeting material development process and overall communication among board meeting participants. Board portals have also changed the way directors engage with board-related information, providing a secure paperless solution that can be accessed on any device, anywhere and anytime.

Board Portal Benefits

The benefits of using a board portal are many. Board portals can:

  • Streamline board communication and improve productivity
  • Support corporate secretaries and board administrators in the creation, revision, and distribution of board materials, easing the burden of consistently meeting tight deadlines
  • Keep confidential board meeting documentation and sensitive corporate data safe and secure.

Let’s take a closer look.

Streamline board communication

Corporate Secretary magazine’s Diligent-sponsored survey of 300 corporate executives found that there’s an urgent and ongoing need for software that facilitates content sharing among all board directors. The study, “Trends in Board Portal Adoption,” found that 33 percent of executives have at least one board member who participates in meetings remotely a quarter of the time, while 30 percent said that a quarter of their directors don’t live in the city where their company is based. Board portals help administrators and executives manage the complexities of a geographically diverse group of directors.

Ease the burden on administrative staff

Tasked with managing board books, meeting minutes, proxy statements, corporate records, stock transfers and dividends, and shareholder engagement — all while ensuring compliance with corporate governance laws — corporate secretaries are saddled with a colossal amount of responsibility, and often have very little time in which to fulfill their duties. When it comes to preparing directors and the management team for a board meeting, the pressure intensifies, and every obstacle, however minor it may seem, has the potential to become a wrench in the gears.

By streamlining workflow and affording users the ability to revise, publish and distribute materials without delay, board portals maximize the administrative staff’s productivity and mitigate unnecessary complications. Allowing the secretary to grant or limit access to corporate data during transition periods like onboarding and director departures benefits the administrative staff and the board alike.

Keep company intelligence and sensitive data secure

With Deloitte reporting in Cyber in the Boardroom: Time for a Cyber Risk Chair? that annual loss related to cyber theft amounts to approximately $500 billion worldwide, cyber security is becoming more of a priority for organizations than ever before. According to IBM X-Force Security’s 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index, the number of security incidents rose by 64 percent from 2014 to 2015, and the volume of breaches continues to grow, putting companies at risk of losing priceless corporate data and intelligence.

Given that board portals house, the pivotal proprietary information that can be at risk, the security of the portal is another critical area of evaluation. Board portals have the potential to keep data safe by consistently conducting penetration and security tests, obtaining third-party certifications that prove they employ a systematic approach to managing and safeguarding sensitive company and customer information, and using a minimum of 128-bit encryption for client materials like board books. Vendors that lay claim to all available measures to protect corporate data become indispensable partners in board communication and management.

What to Look for in a Board Portal

In Deciding on a Board Portal Solution — Key Questions, accounting firm BDO advised that organizations follow a 10-step process:

  • Set goals and objectives for the board portal solution
  • Assess the scope of access — who will use the board portal, and what are their needs?
  • Perform due diligence on all potential vendor partners
  • Consider which decision makers will be responsible for selecting a board portal
  • Consider budget and the cost of the solution
  • Ask who will implement the solution, along with protocols and procedures for use
  • Determine who will operate the board portal and be the point of contact for the vendor
  • Review who will ultimately train board members to use the tool
  • Decide on the metrics that will be used to measure board portal engagement and return on investment
  • Ask how an organization and its administrative staff can stay up to date on board portal use best practices, and how a vendor could help

This may seem like a lot to think about, but these points are highly relevant to the board portal decision-making process. Not all vendors are able to offer assistance with all of these issues, so conducting a complete and rigorous evaluation is key. With that in mind, here are three more vital factors to consider when selecting your board portal.

The Board’s Ability to Enhance Good Governance

Before organizations and board administrators make their final decision, all parties should step back and evaluate the extent to which a digital board solution stands to enhance and support good governance.

Every company can benefit from improved efficiency, particularly with regard to the board of directors, which faces extreme pressure to perform and positively impact the company’s bottom line. The presence of multiple governance-related features turns a board portal that’s useful into a requisite tool that can ultimately lead to a more informed, productive and collaborative board of directors.

Board portals that offer a mobile app, for example, have more value than those that don’t, as this offering allows directors to confer outside of the meeting environment, boosting strategic output and improving director relations.

Also look for a board portal with a survey module that allows administrators to:

  • Create, edit and distribute Directors and Officers’ (D&O) questionnaires
  • Access governance library with the storage space to house past and present board materials like investor reports, earnings statements, and press releases
  • See support real-time updates and revisions so that the board always has the most current information at its fingertips.

Board assessment tools that make it easy to analyze the board’s performance are also an advantage. In general, vendors that offer a modular compliance solution with flexible options for use are better equipped to deliver a high return on investment.

Customer Support

Customer support that’s available 24/7, 365 days a year, and that supplies clients with help from a real person, rather than an automated system or a bot, is a primary feature to look for in a board portal solution, as it allows users to ensure that they’ll have access to assistance when they need it most. If one of their directors is having trouble logging into the platform in the early hours of the morning on the day of the annual general meeting, the corporate secretary can rest assured that help is only a phone call away.

When it comes to board portal assessment, ease of use doesn’t just apply to how a portal is structured, but also to what’s happening on the back end and how the vendor intends to provide ongoing training, troubleshooting and expert support. According to Corporate Secretary‘s Trends in Board Portal Adoption, close to 70 percent of board portal users are “highly satisfied” with the customer support they get from vendors, with Diligent receiving the highest favorable opinion score of all.

Reputation

The reputation of both the board portal vendor and its technology should not be overlooked.

  • How long has the vendor specialized in board portal software, and what awards has it won for its product and customer service?
  • What professional organizations does it belong to, and how do these relationships improve the product?
  • Does it have a consistent record of outstanding performance?

These are all critical questions in a board portal vendor assessment.

Select a vendor that has operated in the corporate governance space for at least 10 years, has been publicly recognized for its high caliber of product and service and is active in the corporate governance community through affiliations with organizations like the Society of Corporate Secretaries and the National Association of Corporate Directors. These characteristics provide a clear indication of its reputation, knowledge of its clients’ business operations and devotion to meeting companies’ needs.

Our Commitment to Boards

At Diligent, meeting all of these requirements is inherent to our value proposition. With a global presence, a product development team more than 60 people strong, the ability to offer customer support in eight languages, and multiple awards and appearances on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 ranking list, Diligent’s commitment to our customers goes above and beyond providing industry-leading technology.

After a decade and a half of proven success, Diligent continues to enhance our offering with new products and features that provide improved usability, security and value to our clients’ corporate governance efforts. We are now trusted by more than 150,000 board members and executives and are adding more clients every day.