Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) on October 24, 2019. Reposted here with permission.

The proliferation of such productivity tools as email, social media, and remote file storage has created a world in which instant, real-time communication is now possible. These tools have also created a world in which personal and confidential data are more exposed than ever before, and anyone with internet access has the ability to broadly publicize private data critical to your institution or to steal it outright. Even amidst a renewed emphasis on transparency and disclosure in higher education, your institution’s board data must be viewed as always at risk for exposure. Fortunately, there are actions boards can take to minimize that risk.

Is Open Dialogue the First Casualty of Increased Exposure?
First, it’s important to examine the current landscape in more detail. At any higher education institution, board members have certain legal obligations they are required to meet. One such obligation is the protection of confidential information, which presents an interesting conundrum. While confidentiality requires board members not to speak about or share board materials to any nonboard members unless authorized, open dialogue is widely acknowledged as crucial to any board’s success. If members of your board do not feel their conversations are genuinely private or are concerned that the confidentiality of their discussions could be compromised, open dialogue will be the first casualty. Of course, governing boards of public institutions subject to open meeting and records laws must comply with sunshine laws that limit private exchanges among board members.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that most higher education board members serve on multiple boards.  While domestic and international travel is now commonplace, the chances for the exposure of board materials or interception of mobile communications rises significantly. As a result, board members often feel increased pressure to steer clear of certain sensitive topic areas—for example, financials, enrollment numbers, or personnel information. Clearly, this self-censorship can hinder an institution’s success and best interests.

How to Reduce the Risk of Exposure.
To limit the inadvertent exposure of board materials, institutional policies and compliance standards should be put in place to ensure any electronic conversations that take place between board members outside the boardroom are permitted only through secure messaging. Implementing policies that ensure secure communications are enforced will guarantee the transparency of board communications and reinforce trust between board members, professionals, and the institution.

In addition to policies and standards, your board should use a secure board management platform such as AGB OnBoard. Unlike other board management solutions, a secure communications tool (Messenger) is available as an add-on and built right in. All conversations can be archived for auditing purposes. Since everything is in one place, the chances for compromised data are significantly lowered.

Yes, Your Data is at Risk. But You Can Minimize That Risk.
The bottom line is simple. Yes, your board’s data is at risk. But implementing institutional policies and compliance standards while using secure tools such as AGB OnBoard can minimize that risk. Your board members can feel comfortable expressing their views with other members honestly and freely without concern that their conversation will be made public or intercepted.

What to Do Next