Emails and PDFs Don’t Make Your Board Digital

By AGB October 23, 2023 October 26th, 2023 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

In a recent AGB webinar, Matt Maxwell, senior consultant at AGB OnBoard, and Ross Mugler, vice chair, AGB Board of Directors, and member of the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors, explored what true digital board management is and the efficiencies it creates.

By now, many boards of directors recognize that paper-based processes aren’t effective or efficient, and a growing number of boards have made the switch to digital. Often, however, that simply means a board has stopped printing board books—and instead uses PDFs distributed via email. But the reality is, making the switch to PDF board books doesn’t mean a board has “gone digital.”

“Emails and PDFs are almost harder than paper for a lot of institutions,” said Maxwell.

The better approach is using a digital board portal.

Maxwell and Mugler discussed how true digital board management makes boards more effective and efficient, and how the right board portal can:

  • Streamline board meeting preparation
  • Ensure board members can find what they need, when they need it
  • Increase director engagement

Here, we share a recap of this session with five key takeaways.

1. Boards must go beyond PDFs and emails.

Preparing printed board books is a tedious, time-consuming task. In the past, the board professional at Old Dominion would set a deadline for when board meeting materials were due. She then would compile the materials into a board book and mail it to directors. “Back then, you had a two- or three-inch stack of documents,” Mugler noted. “This process created a lot of problems as far as real-time updates.”

Many boards have moved on to creating PDF board books, which are then sent via email. But this approach is problematic. “Sometimes, the files are too large, and people can’t open them. Also, a lot of people will end up printing the books out because you can’t make annotations on the email attachments,” said Mugler. “In addition, it can be challenging for directors to stay on top of all the emails. Before, it was kind of a mess because there were so many different emails. It was very disjointed and inefficient.”

Today, Old Dominion uses AGB OnBoard to digitally compile board books. Directors are alerted when the portal has something new that requires their attention. “With AGB OnBoard, it’s all in one place, and you don’t have to guess where something’s going to be,” said Mugler.

2. It’s essential to give directors a single source of truth.

Boards deal with a lot of documents. Pulling up the right document at the right time can be a challenge.

“My first tenure on the board, I had an entire file cabinet with four drawers filled with information from Old Dominion board meetings,” said Mugler.

Locating the right document at the right time is also challenging for boards that use email and PDFs. It’s hard to comb through emails and determine which version of a document is the latest and greatest.

Today, AGB OnBoard enables Mugler’s board to easily locate any board document with a few taps or clicks. “Now it’s all in one place, and I can easily look it up,” he said.

This is especially helpful for directors who sit on multiple boards. “They can access everything from one spot,” Mugler explained.

3. The right board portal streamlines annotations.

When printed board books were the norm, directors would often jot down questions and notes on the board book itself. For example, a director might make a note to ask a question or get clarification on a certain point. With AGB OnBoard, directors can make those notes digitally, with a few taps or clicks.

“It’s so easy to use,” Mugler explained. “You can circle something or make notes, and you can share your annotations with others. Sometimes, whoever is in charge will even answer your question prior to the board meeting.”

With AGB OnBoard, these notations transfer across all devices the director uses. Maxwell shared a story about a board member who couldn’t find his iPad. Accordingly, the organization deactivated and wiped his device remotely. He received a new iPad at the next board meeting, logged on to AGB OnBoard, and was able to access all the notes he needed.

4. Ease is key to wide adoption.

Getting people to adopt a new technology can be challenging.

“A lot of people think when they’re going to make a change, it’ll be disruptive and difficult,” said Mugler. “It’s important that organizations choose a user-friendly board portal that’s easy to learn—regardless of a director’s technology level. I’ve used multiple platforms in the past and found AGB OnBoard to be the best one.”

Mugler added that it’s easy for new directors to get up to speed with AGB OnBoard, which has led to wide adoption.

“What we’ve found with new board members, especially younger ones, is that [AGB OnBoard] is easy-peasy. Very seldom does anyone even have a question,” he said. “If you get people who can’t use email or can’t figure this out, they probably shouldn’t be on your board, plain and simple.”

5. A board portal increases board engagement—and productivity.

Board members lead busy lives. The easier it is to find what they need, the more likely they are to prepare in advance and arrive at board meetings ready to engage.

“People used to arrive with stacks of paper and shuffled them around to find what they needed,” Mugler said. “Now, they come in with a cup of coffee and their iPad and log on to AGB OnBoard and have everything they need.”

With AGB OnBoard, organizations can control and customize notifications that go out to directors. That way, directors always know when there’s something they need to review or do.

“If you’re going to be on a board, you need to be engaged,” Mugler said. “I think the platform lends itself to people getting fully engaged.”


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