What is a Board Portal?

Definition of a Board Portal

A board portal is a secure online system designed to manage the people and processes required to schedule, document and govern meetings between the directors and management team of an organisation.

A board portal provides a secure, central platform for:

  • the creation and secure distribution of board meeting documents
  • the scheduling and management of board meetings
  • documenting attendance, decisions and outcomes of these board meetings
  • providing an accessible repository of meeting documents

In these times of social distancing, a board portal allows board and committee members secure remote access to board meeting materials at any time, on any internet connected device.

The board portal software operates in three main areas:

  • Meeting preparation
  • In-meeting processes
  • Post-meeting processes

These activities are usually carried out by the company secretary, often starting a long time before the actual meeting. They include preparation of meeting documents, scheduling and announcing the meeting as well as handling mundane processes like booking board rooms, arranging seating and ordering digital presentation devices and refreshments.

Board packs are built using an assemblage of documents and reports sourced from far and wide within the organisation. These documents often need to be prepared for the board meeting by over-scheduled executives who juggle many other responsibilities. As a result, the execs sometimes have to be pushed and badgered by the company secretary to complete their submissions in time for inclusion into the board packs. Adding to the frustrations and delays faced by the company secretary are the routes used to submit board docs as they flow in via email, Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive and courier. Arriving in a multitude of formats from Microsoft Office and PDF to images and scans in a plethora of graphic file types.

Many of these documents, which are set for inclusion into the pack have to be reviewed and approved by the company chairman or other members of the C-Suite. This adds further delays and friction to the compilation process.

Approved documents have to be fitted into the meeting agenda which in large organisations is traditionally handled by the chairman. The chairman works then together with the company secretary, who usually has a deep knowledge of the organisation and can assist the chairman in structuring the meeting agenda.

As a result of all the background effort required, the production of a final pack can take far more work than immediately apparent. Which is where the advent of tools for the digital preparation of board packs come in.

Initially the innovation in board pack production was the PDF.

What was previously a mound of paper, photocopied for each director became a merged PDF document that could be dispatched to each committee or board member by email. Unsurprisingly, for the company secretary, this simple sounding process often consumed most of the time between board meetings to produce. This was caused by the many challenges related to the board pack production process.

Modern board portals have evolved to address many of these issues, which include:

  • Facilitated board pack production by ingesting source documents in most digital forms
  • Versioning of board document pack builds
  • Earlier delivery of packs, allowing directors time to research and prepare ahead of meetings
  • Managed distribution flows, that allow for tracking of board pack delivery, on a director-by-director basis
  • Engagement statistics per board member, driving measurement and reporting of involvement (per agenda section) for all directors

Board Meeting Processes

In the time of COVID, the deficiencies in the email distribution of board packets became much more obvious.

Emailing packs as merged PDFs to directors opened up many potential problem avenues, which included:

Security issues:

  • PDFs were sent as simple email attachments, which could be opened and read once downloaded to a director’s laptop or device
  • There was no way to track downloads, opens or any activity once the mail had been sent
  • Board pack revisions were announced via email when the company secretary sent an update, invalidating the previous version and replacing it with a new attachment. This left directors with ‘version uncertainty’, as they could be working from an out-of-date pack, without realising it.

A board portal overcomes these issues by providing a secure platform that facilitates all of the above process. Most crucially by delivering and storing all documents in an encrypted form.

Availability Announcements for new Board Packs

A board portal will never send board packs directly. Instead, availability messages prompt directors to connect and authenticate to the board portal before gaining access to board documents.

Current best practice for the announcement of the availability of board documents is via a secure link, dispatched from a board portal. These announcements are delivered via email or electronic message such as SMS or even via message services such as Slack and Teams.

In addition, messages can be bubbled-up to the mobiles of directors, via (smartphone) app-based messaging services.

Inclusion of E-Meeting Attendees

The advent of the hybrid or fully-remote board meeting has lead to the proliferation of videotelephony systems like ZOOM and Teams. These kinds of e-meeting platforms are superb at connecting meeting attendees and facilitating the meeting process.

However, hosting meetings in this kind of environment abstracts the meeting processes from the meeting itself. As a result, board portals have an option to include the videotelephony functionality directly within the platform, which provides a unified board meeting experience for directors. This is a good option for organisations who have an enterprise-wide platform like Microsoft Teams.

Another less comprehensive option is to include links to meetings with the meeting data. These kinds of links allow for greater flexibility, since links can be sent any videotelephony system. Once clicked the links open the target system in a separate browser window or via a separate app. Thus the unified experience of hosting the e-meeting alongside the agenda is lost.

Secure Document Storage

The portal also exercises role-based access control to all the documents it stores. This ensures that documents can be hidden or made available by committee group or by individual board member and prevents unnecessary exposure of sensitive information.

Once sent by email board packs go ‘off the radar’ and actions related to each pack in a director’s hand become unauditable.

This results in a number of issues and gaps in the governance of meetings and the directors invited to attend them, which includes:

  • Tracking meeting attendance and absentees
  • Ensuring delivery of board documents happen in a timely fashion, thus allowing directors sufficient time to review and reflect on agenda items that concern them
  • Providing board members with tools which allow board pack annotations and highlighting functions, within the board portal system, thus avoiding the use of external tools, which can compromise sensitive board information
  • Provide board members with access to historical board meeting data and previously used supporting documents
  • Vote counting and recordal by individual board member

Modern board portals give board meetings the cover of accountability, by unobtrusively tacking and guiding meeting preparation as well as in-meeting activities.

After Board Meeting Processes

Events post-meetings are one of the most ungoverned and untracked areas of board meetings in general.

It is human nature to focus on upcoming events and for past activities to recede in importance. This also happens after board meetings. A board portal will greatly reduce this by delivering minutes in a timely fashion as well enabling tracking of tasks.