Creating Digital Boardroom Processes in the Public Sector.
In 2010, a proposal was put to UK Government to transform the delivery of its public services. The proposed recommendations were for a ‘revolution’ in the public sector, to deliver services as ‘digital by default’. The change started within government websites, streamlining systems and shifting departmental web information into one place – gov.co.uk – making services easier to find for citizens, and saving an anticipated 50% of publishing costs 1.
Achieving a paperless public sector takes real organisational change. It has to start from the top: senior-level internal processes and business structures can be enhanced and improved by a digital approach, moving away from long-held paper-based systems. It just isn’t feasible to deliver public facing services digitally, and still retain old systems internally. Every board or trustee meeting in the public sector requires packs of information to be prepared, distributed and reviewed in advance. Traditionally, this has been a paper-heavy process, both time-consuming and costly, when organisations are trying to reduce both budget and carbon footprint. It also has privacy and security implications: carrying confidential papers from place to place poses an obvious risk.
Innovation has come in the form of board portals: secure technology that enables the compilation and distribution of board-level information to public sector trustees, directors and senior management teams. A board portal can help improve governance and all senior-level communications across the organisation, reduces staff and IT resources needed to prepare previously paper-based board documentation, and delivers significant savings in terms of paper, couriers and postage.
Diligent Boardbooks is the most widely used of these portals, working with over 87,000 directors, leaders and administrators worldwide, including 37 of the FTSE 100 and almost one third of the Fortune 1000. Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, a Diligent customer, said: “The main driver for going digital was cost and efficiency. Before using Diligent Boardbooks, we used paper copies for our board packs but this involved a considerable amount of administration. We want to be seen as an organisation that embraces new technology to deliver an efficient service.”
Seven Best Practices in Transitioning to the Paperless Boardroom
Attaining a paperless boardroom requires planning. If you don’t take into account how your board members and trustees use information and interact with technology, half-hearted attempts to get rid of paper can backfire. Information that is emailed or stored in a shared file will inevitably be printed out, PDFs or document readers aren’t very user-friendly, and with all of these factors, version control is a real headache. The solution is to use a board portal – a secure way to access, review, annotate and vote on board information.
Once you’ve made the decision to go digital, how do you shift thinking away from paper and towards an alternative? The idea of ‘doing things on paper’ can be deeply embedded within an organisation and its members. They’ll need help, support and coaching, and to take small steps at a time. Diligent has identified a number of best practices to help ensure that the transition to a paperless boardroom is successful.
Be committed. If you’re going to go paperless, you need commitment from your fellow directors. Changing habits can be hard without it. Map your information flow. If you understand how your board packs are compiled, distributed and updated, the new paperless platform can be designed to replicate the current process as closely as possible. It is the paper you’re changing, not the entire board process.
Don’t skimp on training. Proper training on the new system should be straightforward (and can be done online or over the phone). Although digital skills of directors will vary, most carry an iPad or other tablet device and embrace technology that makes their lives easier. Training, and the ability to test the new system in private, will help adoption.
Insist on 24/7 support. If you’re about to go into a board meeting, and you have a question on the technology, you need to speak to someone immediately who can help you there and then, not call you back within four or even 24 hours.
Don’t treat all information the same. If you’re viewing detailed architectural drawings, for example, you may need them to be displayed on a bigger screen than is possible on a tablet or laptop. Be flexible in the format you use.
Take your time. Give yourself and your fellow directors time to adapt to the new system. For the first meeting, you might choose to distribute paper packs as well as using the portal, and then poll the board about which system they prefer. If training has gone well, most directors we work with prefer the digital system within a couple of meetings.
Peer pressure is stronger than decree
Even if you do have one or two colleagues who want to continue to receive paper packs, it probably won’t be for long. Once they see how easily their peers are navigating information, for example, they won’t want to be responsible for slowing down the meeting.
Ultimately, switching to digital must improve processes and efficiency for the organisation, and provide a better experience for individual users. For committee members, trustees, board directors and the administrative staff supporting them, replacing paper based meetings with those enabled by digital technology makes it quicker to prepare for and manage meetings. ExtraCare Charitable Trust, a charity that supports older people in homes and communities in the UK, found that it reduced the time it took to prepare board materials for meetings from 1.5 days per meeting to just half an hour, an annual saving of up to three weeks.
The Digital by Default initiative set out to achieve savings in the billions of pounds from the move to digital services. But it’s not just public services that could save money by switching.
By switching internal boardroom processes to digital, the cost savings – both financial and environmental – can be significant, meeting key requirements of public-sector organisations.
Download the full white paper ‘Attaining the (Truly) Paperless Boardroom’
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Diligent Boardbooks Limited
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