Laurence Berry-Brisson
Founder and manager of Secrétariat Excellence

The impact of digitisation in today's corporate governance landscape

Sherpany: Following an experience of over 30 years as assistant director for the American Hospital of Paris you chose the path of entrepreneurship. What determined you to make this change?

Laurence Berry-Brisson: Pursuing a path of entrepreneurship was an aspiration that I expressed from the very outset of my career. At that time, however, the opportunity did not present itself and I instead pursued a more traditional and comfortable career path. I had to leave my previous position for reasons internal to that organisation and was thus confronted with the need to examine alternative opportunities. Very quickly, I chose the path of independence and freedom: creating my own company.


Sherpany: The accelerating digitisation of administrative processes transformed the corporate governance landscape. As an independent administrative assistant, what are your biggest challenges when it comes to digitisation?

Laurence Berry-Brisson: The greatest challenge is to help corporate leadership members, who can be unfamiliar with the latest technological trends, understand that digitisation can allow them to work remotely. These leaders often do not realise that this is even possible, or even if they do they will avoid creating a fully digital collaborative workspace due to apprehension. The 'Cloud' does not mean much to them and they do not fully trust these new technologies. The next challenge is then to foster a climate of trust that allows me to obtain access to interact with files or documents owned by the company for which I am working. As a non-salaried employee, this can sometimes be difficult.

'I believe that professional organisations absolutely need to further embrace digitalisation. Using digital tools adds value to professions such as mine.'  

I never felt threatened by their appearance. In fact, they make work far more interesting, quick and efficient. Gaining knowledge pertaining to digitalisation is necessary and, as an administrative enterprise manager, it is up to me to learn the ropes. I see the digital era as an opportunity for improved support in everyday tasks, and certainly not as a threat, even though the implementation of these digital tools can be challenging.


Sherpany: Do you believe technology helps administrative assistants have a more holistic view of governance, risk and compliance in today's increasingly complex business environment? How so?

Laurence Berry-Brisson: I do not think that technology in itself 'helps' assistants obtain a holistic view of governance. Rather, assistants are already well-positioned to perfectly understand the inner workings of their company and therefore have to know how to anticipate risks. In the sphere of compliance, technology can most definitely provide high performance support. I also try to think of anything that can help minimise cybercrime, and technology is a highly useful tool in that regard. With that in mind, I am convinced that specialised digital tools will be an inescapable part of the corporate governance management landscape. Information sharing via shared documents can allow a board member or director to be more proactive and efficient. For an administrative assistant, this type of technology is an essential ally.

In my previous role, nearly 40% of my work time was dedicated to meetings, 20% of which was spent on preparation. In other terms, this meant that I was spending nearly one week per month in meetings and another week preparing them. There are so many other tasks to perform besides spending an entire morning photocopying dozens of files that will end up being thrown out.


Sherpany: As far as you know, are there significant differences in the way directors' meetings are organised in France compared to other countries across Europe?

Laurence Berry-Brisson: I would honestly be unable to provide you with a proper response, as I was not exposed to these differences in my previous profession. However, my two biggest jobs were at Franco-American companies and, over 30 years, I did not notice any major organisational changes. In fact, it was only when the administrative department moved to a new building that our meeting rooms were finally equipped with a computer and projector (and the whiteboard was never too far away). Video conference capability was only implemented later on and shared document capability was provided by my team: I took the bull by the horns and, with the help of IT, the hospital’s first server was born. Agendas, convocations, presentations, document preparation, meeting minutes, action plans; none of that changed per se but instead went through a digital transformation which allowed us to save significant amounts of time.


Sherpany: What are some of the most common requirements that demanding directors make prior to, during and after meetings? How do you manage to accommodate them?

Laurence Berry-Brisson: There aren’t so many requirements from my point of view. A director that requests that documents be sent out prior to a meeting or that they be available throughout shows that he is a professional and is concerned with ensuring smooth proceedings. A director who would request a bouquet of white roses for the meeting, however, would be overly demanding. What is a sine qua non, however, is proper file preparation, and finding things out in advance whenever possible (email and shared servers are indispensable in this regard unless you’re lucky enough to have a meeting management software).

I remember a time when paper files had to be prepared in advance for various committees and had to be photocopied and sent out to each attendee prior to the meeting. These files then had to be prepared a second time the day of the meeting 'just in case' and then had to be placed in folders on the meeting table prior to attendee arrival.

In my role, I had to anticipate anything that could occur during the meeting: insufficient document copies, pens, paper, missing data or documents. As soon as the 2000s rolled around, the need to access specific documents remained but searching for or sending those documents out became far easier thanks to email. Furthermore, accessing documents during meetings became easier as I now only needed an identifier in order to find documents on the server. Everything was just a few clicks away.

Digitisation can be equally helpful for support in post-meeting tasks. Meeting minutes are drafted during the meeting, various tools are easily accessible, tables are updated in real-time, etc. There is no longer a need to control content, attachments, attendees, absentees and those who are excluded. Ultimately, the help provided by digital tools allows us to get precious hard-earned time back.

Laurence Berry-Brisson
Laurence Berry-Brisson
Founder and manager of Secrétariat Excellence
Ms Laurence Berry-Brisson is the founder and manager of Secrétariat Excellence, a consulting company that provides services for French companies in need of administrative support and project management. Having been awarded a BTS degree in administrative management from the Paris Academy, Ms Berry-Brisson pursued a career in administration over the course of 30 years. During this time, she worked for companies such as ATAL, Citroën-Euroccasion, and the American Hospital of Paris.

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