Forward-thinking directors have started examining ways to take full advantage of technology. The purpose was to increase the effectiveness within companies, starting with the board. This step took them from “electronic board books,” which simply organized meeting documents into one, to the board portals available today. The latter facilitate the exchange of information and enhance communication among board members.
But what exactly is a board portal? It’s a web-based, online workspace dedicated to board members. It also centralizes all board-related information, including meeting materials, documentation and records. Directors can access materials faster. And administrative staff can prepare board meetings in less time. It helps make meeting coordination and materials management more efficient, reducing time and costs.
Board portals are growing in popularity, with market penetration forecasted to increase from 35.4 percent in 2015 to 67.6 percent in 20201. And, because boards have different needs and wants, board portals differ by sector, organization size, functionality and price. This comes to show that demand adapts to the needs of the market.
Here is a simple example: the challenge of working with a geographically dispersed boards. Every organization needs to coordinate the work of many people, regardless of industry.
When directors need to make strategic decisions, the balanced distribution of information is essential. Having full access to important data, in an equal way, makes board portals indispensable tools that bridge the distance and bring boards of directors together. They help access, review and comment on the materials, and keep the lines of communication open.
You have already identified online tools, and board portals seem to be the solution.
Let’s examine the options in depth.
Picking the right tool for you
There are two ways a company can go about this. It can either build a homegrown system or opt for a ready-to-go solution. The first one refers to software build internally, whereas with the second, you buy ready and outsource responsibility.
A homegrown system is a great way to start fast, especially when your company is on a tight budget or when there is a need for less complex requirements and features. Boards can use these tools for a more general communication and to meet specific needs. For example, directors use Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook to view calendars of meetings. They can share and access meeting documents by using Google (Google Drive, Google Forms and others), Box.com or Dropbox. Some tools can be practical for project management, includingHuddle, Basecamp, SharePoint, Central Desktop and Trello. Others can support dialogue and collaboration online; examples include Google Chat, HipChat, Skype and Google Hangouts.
The tools can prove inconvenient to board members who are less tech savvy, however, because they will need to learn how to use many tools at once. Moreover, administrative staff needs to create all the meeting documents one by one, adding to the amount of time spent on preparing the board meeting. And, let’s not forget one major aspect: security is not as robust as with paid board portals.
An off-the-shelf solution consists of tools developed especially for boards and the administrative staff, with systems designed to support their workload and schedules. This one single tool, the board portal, is comprised of all the features mentioned above. The most relevant ones are:
- Real-time dissemination of information
- Facilitation of remote meetings
- Virtual collaboration
- Efficient creation of agendas and board books
- Digitization of documents and meeting files
- Automation of meeting processes
- Formation of various users
Another important feature is high security, which can be easily verified by the presence of ISO certification, for example, and regular audits. The board portal keeps all documents and members’ communication protected and classified.
Some of the major players on the market have been developing great tools for several years now. Board portals like Sherpany, BoardPaq, Passageways OnBoard, Board Effect, BoardVantage, BoardWorks, Diligent Boardbooks and Brainloop offer all-in-one solutions that are adaptable for any type of board, regardless of industry.
The Importance of Usability
There is a fine balance between a tool with limited functions and a tool with complex features. The first frustrates tech savvy members and the second intimidates tech-phobic members. When it comes to board portals, the true challenge of any board solution is adoption. The tool is only useful if the board members develop a habit of using it. Thus, ease of use is a top priority.
There are various other aspects you need to pay attention to when choosing a board portal, as well. During your research, you should ask questions like: In which country is data stored and hosted? How attentive is post-sales? Are there customer referrals? How fast is the support system? How clearly defined are security measures?
Board Members exchange sensitive documentation. So it matters if servers are on the premises or if the company outsources the service. Implementation, training and ongoing support is also particularly relevant. Especially since board members wish to access the data at any time of the day, without any problems. Ask to see case studies and referrals from clients. Talk to them to get a feel for the software’s capability and robustness. Select a board portal that “looks like a book.” This will ensure that board members have a seamless experience.
The multitude of choices does not need to be overwhelming. The question “to have or not to have a board portal?” translates into “to have or not to have security, return-per-cost and time-saving apps?
And we all know the answer.
1 Global Board Portal Market: Trends & Opportunities (2016 Edition)