The classic board table scene is changing. Where once it featured stacks of board papers, now it’s increasingly common to see a series of iPads instead. It’s a new way of communicating for trustees, as boards transition to universal adoption of mobile devices.
It’s easy to assume the move to paperless is entrenched in the sustainable psyche, but it’s a shift that runs deeper than ethics. Among the reasons boards cite for adoption are productivity, risk management and ease of information provision and transfer.
Sean Leonard, general manager, product and business insight for Cbus says the board took on iqBoard, a technology solution touted by its producer as “safer than paper”, a year ago.
“We had a desire to really improve the production of board papers and their consumption by directors,” Leonard says, noting that it’s a time saver and very much about productivity.
Far from being a straightforward push to be tech savvy and paperless, iqBoard was designed with the trustee office in mind, and the central focus was this productivity for the secretariat. It’s been taken up by 10 superannuation funds, including Qantas Super and Local Government Super (LGS).
“There was a gap because most board meetings are run on paper,”says Graham Sammells, chief executive of the IQ Group. He has chaired the ASFA e-commerce committee for the past three years, and sits on the SuperStream Advisory Council.
“Our solution helps the secretariat, who organises all of the board meetings, automate the process, it adds more process and controls to the [document preparation] and managing the meetings.”
It also facilitates swifter and more secure delivery of board papers to directors, who can consume the papers – meaning read or annotate them – on devices securely on an iPad or laptop.
“We have a bunch of different security protocols and processes that can be employed to manage the content that is on the iPad as well.”
Board papers in some cases require a great deal of manual work – assembling papers according to sections, and so on. For Leonard, it’s also partly about risk management because it’s easy to miss information if it is on paper.
“It wasn’t prompted by risk management, but it helps.”
As for the board’s receptivity, Leonard acknowledges a mix of responses.
“But I think it mirrors technology acceptance generally. Broadly it’s been well accepted, some absolutely embraced it, others were hesitant; but no one has rejected it.”
Peter Lambert, chief executive of LGS, says his board has been using iQBoard for the last eight months or so. The response has generally been positive – a surprise for Lambert, who says the board is of an older generation.
“Many of them are not particularly computer savvy, but they’ve picked it up pretty well. Sometimes you present these as a fait accompli and they rise to the challenge.”
Productivity for the secretariat increases, he notes. “We find we’re able to produce board papers a lot quicker, so the quality is a little bit better.”
Deadlines can be extended because once papers are filed, it’s a relatively quick process to send them out. On average, Lambert says it amounts to a day and a half saved.
Additionally, while operating in a cloud might be new, the security risk is minimal.
“There’s more risk in a board member leaving papers in a taxi. However, if someone loses their iPad, it can be disabled in a matter of minutes.”
He does, however, say there are challenges in annotating documents (“We’re still developing this”), and finding things electronically can be a clunky process. “Probably the biggest challenge is ensuring the reports are iPad friendly.”
The “clunkiness” concerns are shared by Gerard Noonan, chair of Media Super, who says it’s sometimes a “surprisingly clumsy” situation to keep all board members on the same page – literally – when the skill range varies among those using iPads or laptops.
“I work with four separate boards, and have not yet seen one where the whole membership can operate without back-up,” he says. “And, in the event things go wrong, you suddenly find yourself hostage to an IT person who may or may not have the skills and common sense to fix the problem in a timely manner.”
Noonan doesn’t view it as an insurmountable problem, but he says it’s also not a simple matter. He argues that the technology itself is still struggling to compete. “In my experience, it’s not only the technology training or the age or skill of the individual board member that’s deficient,” he says. “A knowledgeable and adaptable board member using a physical paper document can typically move pretty easily across a 300 or 400-set of pages, backwards and forwards.”