A board portal is a software solution to help board members collaborate. Usually this takes the form of an electronic meeting organiser and document library for board papers: agendas, minutes, etc.
More modern, scalable systems are now cloud-based, meaning that they can be accessed through the internet from anywhere and by any user inside or outside of an organisation (with the right authority to do so!).
Many board portals have grown from older Risk and Compliance solutions, but a new breed of board portal focuses more on Corporate Governance Management.
Corporate Governance is of course very relevant to all organisations, whether they are in in the private sector, the public sector or the third sector. By Corporate Governance we mean the system by which companies are directed and controlled. This “system” can be supported by technology, which can make processes more efficient, auditable and better targeted.
For a board member, needing ready-access to past board papers, accounting data, compliance documentation, policy documents, leases, etc, an online portal can be a real boon. Board members can proactively find and scrutinise documents, making evaluations before meetings take place. This saves time in board meetings as the individual members come better prepared and better informed.
Auditable systems also show who added documents to the system, who made changes and why they made those changes. This is not about keeping an eye on people, but about demonstrating accountability and giving confidence to stakeholders.
Board portals can usually be opened up directly to stakeholders, investors, members and auditors. With restricted access, service providers such as accountants and lawyers can also login to present documents to the board.
A board without access to information cannot be expected to make good quality decisions. So the purpose of the Board Portal, is to provide a central space for the board to access and share relevant information in a timely manner.
The Board takes ultimate responsibility for the content of an organisation’s policies and procedures. It should also put sufficient processes and controls in place to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to by the board and executive staff. A Board Portal can help by storing and codifying these, as well as showing an audit trail and version history. As a board director myself, I know that simply having access to these document easily, without having to make a special request to somebody else, means that I can review documents and propose amendments on my own timetable. This also makes me more effective, because I can refer back to policies while I’m reviewing new reports – comparing and linking principles, so I can make more informed commentary and ask the right questions at the next board meeting. In short, I don’t need to wait for someone to give me a board-pack to read the only documents that they think are relevant (or that they’ve had time to pull together) – instead I can refer to anything in my remit, to help me make better decisions.
To help make things more efficient for board members, some board portals can be presented on tablet computers – a complete meeting and document manager, right on your iPad. Naturally some board members are reticent to give up the pen and paper. However others realise that this is not about replacing old methods, but about complementing them – providing access to information in a way that has not been possible before.
Good board portals are secure – storing data in an encrypted format and transferring data using encrypted channels. Most organisations deal with very sensitive data, so it is essential to choose a provider that can demonstrate the ability to keep your data confidential. It is also worth comparing this to your current solution for transferring data – are you sending printed documents by regular post, or emailing them in plain text? If you are, then you could be putting your confidential data at risk of interception.
Most organisations have already embraced technology to support different areas of their business – from email and CRM, to accounting and ERP; good technology just makes good sense. What is your organisation doing to put technology to use in support of your board?