Boards have done well over the past few hundred years, but times have changed and boards have to keep up with the times – a digital board pack can offer so much more than a traditional paper one.
The use of technology in the boardroom is not a new concept. The ability to consume a high volume of corporate information, delivered through a user-friendly and intuitive iPad or Windows 8 device, means that more and more directors are happy to consider a portable tablet solution as a viable alternative to paper board materials.
One might ask: but why all the fuss? Haven’t boards been operating perfectly well for hundreds of years using paper board packs? What can digital board packs delivered via a board portal do better? Well, yes, boards have done well over the past few hundred years, but times have changed and boards have to keep up with the times – a digital board pack can offer so much more than a traditional paper one.
While a letter, or even a hand-written note or memo is, on occasion, entirely appropriate, it is unlikely that insistence on using only this type of written correspondence for communication with and by board members would be considered in the best interests of the company, or practical. And this is the question directors must ask themselves when considering switching from paper to digital board packs – is it in the best interests of the company to do so?
When considering switching to a digital board pack, directors should ask themselves questions such as: Will my productivity (or the company’s) increase? Will the change save the company and/or myself time and money? Will it be more secure than our current practice? Will such a change warrant the costs involved (and, indeed, will there be any long-term savings to be gained)? What other advantages will result from such a change?
Efficient and functional
By pairing the latest tablet technology with an application, a whole host of powerful features and functionalities for directors become possible. Using just a tablet computer, directors have instant access, online or (depending on the service provider) offline, to all of the details and documents for their board meetings plus the ability to annotate. In addition, if you so choose, every board and committee paper is at your fingertips. Using a digital library means that financial reports, background papers, news articles, websites, company charters and/or articles of association, terms of reference for the board/committees etc, are all instantly available and accessible (and searchable). Literally thousands of other applications that help directors and company secretaries, as well as CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and other C-suite level executives do their jobs better, are available, instantly.
The above, are a few advantages of a digital board pack versus a paper one from a user’s perspective, but it might also help decide whether or not the change is right for your company if the opinion of the company secretary is sought. After all, most directors (and CEOs for that matter), have very little to do with the actual preparation of the board packs. Once their reports/papers have been sent to the company secretary or board administrator, I doubt that much thought is given to what happens next. The fact is that preparing board and committee papers is an enormous undertaking.
Physically compiling packs of 150-plus pages for a dozen or more directors can take hours, often at night. Even sending papers to directors in PDF format still requires a director to print out the papers and put them in a folder. The reluctance of a director to do so is quite common. Directors are generally quite busy people and don’t want to take time out using their own printers to print out board papers, hence the company secretary’s office more often than not undertakes this tedious task and couriers the physical pack to the director.
In my own experience, I can tell you that on more than one occasion a director did not receive the board papers because the courier had left the package in the wrong place or delivered it to the wrong address, or delivered it the correct address but had left it by the door and someone had walked off with it! If that doesn’t send shivers down the collective spines of directors and company secretaries alike, I don’t know what will!
Let’s do some basic maths
If we consider the main board has 14 members, plus the CEO, CFO and Company Secretary, bringing the number of board packs required to 17. If we say that the average board pack consists of about 250 pages (not uncommon in my experience), for each meeting the secretariat would need to compile approximately 4,250 pages of written information – let’s say 2,125 pieces of paper if we use both sides of the paper.
If the board of our above example meets six times during the year it would use approximately 12,750 pieces of paper for its meetings (not counting the paper notepads used during the meetings). The figure would be even higher if, again, as is often the case, the board has additional meetings. In addition, it is usual for an additional pack to be prepared for record purposes or in case a board member loses or forgets his/her pack.
That’s an astonishing figure for an SME, with a relatively modest-sized board. Think of the trees that could be spared if this small organisation went digital and used a board portal? The courier costs would also be reduced substantially (especially if some of the directors lived abroad), not to mention the sparing of the staff who often stayed until gone midnight to compile the paper packs.
If these are the savings and efficiencies that can be made at an SME, imagine those that could be made at larger companies? The truth is that it is very difficult to justify the continued use of paper packs other than the fact that directors are comfortable with paper. But whoever said that having directors comfortable was in the best interests of the company?
So what have digital board packs ever done for us, apart from being more secure than paper packs, easier to update, more efficient, allowing direct instant access to a wide variety of material and background information, saving staff time and saving trees plus so much more? Well, if you embrace them – rather a lot.