The 21st century corporate secretary

How technology has helped corporate secretaries ride the wave of transformation and advance their role in the corporate law department

Technology has been a key enabler in the expanded role of the 21st century corporate secretary’s office. Today’s corporate secretary is an active adviser to management for a wide array of matters, including corporate governance, board of director requirements, entity and subsidiary management, and compliance with corporate-related federal and state laws and regulations. This well-documented evolution from the corporate secretary’s original function as minute-book and records keeper has been largely driven by a steady stream of regulations, an increasingly complex global business environment and the need to interact with a wider array of constituents and stakeholders. In addition, corporate secretaries have had to perform their broader role with the same or less resources. Leveraging technology was the most obvious answer to meeting this complex challenge.

Transformational Compliance and Governance Technologies

The first wave of technology deployed was electronic recordkeeping, which empowered the corporate secretary with the capability to organize, review and manage complex data that had been too time-consuming or simply not feasible with paper records. It also provided a centralized corporate record to which other departments—such as tax and finance—could be granted secure access. It delivered a means for consistent data collection and storage, while allowing for customized data management specific to the business’s unique needs. Finally, with electronic records, the corporate secretary could provide regular and ad hoc reports to inform and aid management in business decision-making.

This set the stage for the second wave: process improvement. Infusing technology into the corporate secretaries’ lives automated and streamlined many workflows. New capabilities ranged from simple time-saving conveniences to more complex procedures for oversight of task assignment and data management. For example, corporate secretaries could set up automatic reminders for annual report filing due dates as well as pre-populate repetitive data on electronic forms. Tasks could be automatically assigned and tracked for certain workflows. Some solutions also offered advanced capabilities to enable business unit or regional-level data updates that could then be reviewed and formally accepted into the central record.

Corporate secretaries discovered that workflow automation drove higher quality, more timely corporate compliance, and improved oversight without requiring additional staff. They could also eliminate a significant time drain—responding to requests for basic corporate information from dispersed departments or office locations.

The third wave of technology for the corporate secretary is emerging now—mobility. In today’s anytime, anywhere business environment, corporate secretaries must be able to easily access data and communicate from wherever they are—at home, on the road or even within the office at meetings. With the explosion of new device choices, the market need for non-PC mobile access to applications will continue to grow rapidly, and it may ultimately become the primary interface for accessing data and applications.

Best Practices for Riding the Technology Wave

Having benefitted from these efficiency gains, tech-savvy corporate secretaries regularly and actively consider how technology tools support their ever-expanding role. Some tips:

  1. Periodically evaluate current tools for how they can be better leveraged. In particular, think about how to use new capabilities and supporting technologies to optimize business needs and processes.
  2. Stay one step ahead of the company’s business operations by looking ahead. For example, consider corporate mobility needs. As mobile devices become more widely used in corporate governance and compliance, look for solutions that are optimized for this environment.
  3. Actively discuss needs with your technology suppliers to influence future technology development, and look for technology suppliers that engage in ongoing active dialogues regarding enhancements to their offerings. They are also a good source for learning the latest tips, tricks and other best practices.
  4. The value of networking is a well-known best practice, but one that bears repeating in this context. Learn what your peers are thinking about and doing, both at traditional venues such as professional society meetings and conferences and via social media outlets such as LinkedIn. Interesting ideas for unique and effective ways to better leverage technology are often found in these settings.

The Trend Continues

Given their unique position at the intersection of the board of directors, the management team and external constituencies, corporate secretaries are empowered to advise on regulatory trends and the impact that compliance requirements can have on business decisions.

New technologies have enabled better accuracy and responsiveness, wider reach and better compliance management. With each new generation of technology, corporate secretaries have integrated increasing efficiency into their workflows, which they in turn have used to expand and deepen their interactions with their many stakeholders. 

The transformative power of technology in the corporate compliance and governance function continues to accelerate. Technology is imperative in facilitating the effective oversight of the corporate record while staying in control of compliance needs and internal processes—all while working within corporate cost constraints, thus freeing the corporate secretary to focus on his role of trusted adviser. 

Contributing Author

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Tom Rowland

Tom Rowland is a Senior Product Manager within CT Corporation’s Compliance and Governance business line. His perspective on the application of technology within the enterprise...

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