Board Portals: Value Added?
Board portals are now ubiquitous. Introduced in 2000 in PC-based versions, their acceptance ballooned with the advent of the iPad in 2008. Today, two-thirds of companies over $1billion and 40% of companies from $100 million to $1 billion are using board portal technology, and the number is rapidly increasing. Tablets and electronic portals designed specifically for directors are quickly making their way not only into boardrooms of large, public companies, but also into smaller companies and increasingly into not-for-profits. The days of directors and trustees lugging reams of paper into boardrooms are behind us.
As their responsibilities and their concomitant workloads have increased, directors are embracing the greater efficiency and access these portals provide. From anywhere in the world, 24/7, directors can get board information and materials that arrive instantly updated in a secure transmission.
In addition, directors can now easily retrieve board materials from past meetings as well as information from a wide variety of company sources. One of my boards has created an electronic “Resource Center” that provides governance information, including charters, bylaws, and board calendars. This Center also displays presentations detailing the company’s strategy, structure, and leadership.
Board portals enable easy communication and collaboration among board members; however, many directors have yet to take advantage of these capabilities. Given their average age, which is about 60 for large companies, many directors are not very facile with the broad functionality of electronic portal technology. Some of my fellow directors bring their iPad to the boardroom in its original box and place a call for their password to their secretaries who hopefully have synced the board books and updated the apps for the portal. In terms of digital literacy, I’m not much further along. Despite several personal tutorials from board portal providers, I continue to struggle with many of the annotation capabilities, including the highlighter, the pen, and the sticky-note. Thus I seem to be doing less mark-up than I did with paper. Perhaps as I gain more skill I will take advantage of the digital annotation capability.
Have board portals enhanced corporate governance? They certainly have enhanced access, mobility, and security. However, I question whether directors are spending as much time reviewing the board material. In the paper days, directors would often make notes and do calculations in the margins. Today, directors may be flipping through the board materials like they flip through TV channels with the clicker. Perhaps the ease of navigation is reducing the time spent reading and digesting the information.
Overall I think board portals have enhanced corporate governance. Directors have ease of access to board materials on a real-time basis. As directors become more familiar with the growing capabilities of these portals, their efficiency will increase and so will their value added.