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Website Content

Focused on the content of an integrated report and the relationship between integrated reporting and integrated thinking, the <IR> Framework has relatively little to say about the different channels and formats for providing or gathering information and for stakeholder engagement. That is, the Internet and the role of technology are not addressed in great detail. In its discussion defining the meaning of an integrated report, the <IR> Framework merely notes that the integrated report can be an "entry point" to more detailed information, such as the use of hyperlinks for web-based reports.49

Since the next chapter is devoted to corporate reporting websites, here we will merely identify some of the ways in which the companies in our sample were leveraging the Internet. For the most part, they were quite modest, much like the examples in the previous chapter. PDF reports always included a link to the company's website, but specific topics in most of these PDF reports were not linked to exact sections of the website where the content was discussed in greater detail.50 In some cases, the online version of the integrated report included links to supplementary information, like more detailed data or further explanation of a topic. This sometimes helped to illustrate the connectivity of different pieces of information. A few companies enabled users to construct their own custom report by choosing which sections of the integrated report to assemble. Although this feature was not available at the individual data item level, in some cases the user could download data in blocks. Finally, some companies put their materiality matrix on their website. Some only put it on their website. A few included the interactive capabilities discussed in the previous chapter. One of the most interesting examples, discussed in more detail in the next chapter, was SAP's completely digital integrated report, which enables the audience to better comprehend the company's view on the connectivity of different types of performance information.

CEO Letter

Although the <IR> Framework says virtually nothing about a letter from the CEO or any other company official, we studied this item as a proxy for integrated thinking. To what extent was integrated thinking reflected in the opening letter from a senior company official that always accompanies an annual or integrated report? Although not always signed by the CEO, every report we examined contained some type of letter. Some letters were signed by the Chairman of the Board or even the CSO. When the latter was the case, it gave the impression that the integrated report had evolved out of a sustain-ability report rather than a financial report. Putting aside the fact that very few of these letters explicitly used the term "integrated report" or "integrated reporting," the general quality of integrated thinking demonstrated in these letters was poor.

Although better letters attempted to explain how "CSR" or "sustainability" was core to the company's strategy and/or beliefs (i.e., not a stand-alone initiative), these assertions were rarely supported by much information. Those who made this statement sometimes claimed that by being a more sustainable company, they would contribute to a more sustainable society. This too appeared in general terms with little data to back up the claim from a company or society perspective. Some letters accomplished even less than this, mentioning "sustainability programs" or "CSR initiatives" without any attempt to link them to the core strategy and operations of the company. Since these opening letters set the tone for the reader, they are a strong signal of just how integrated the report really is. Conversely, the quality of the letter will be a function of the quality of the integrated report. That said, regardless of the letter's quality and that of the integrated report it accompanies, these paper documents are only one way in which the company communicates to its audience. These must be viewed in the broader context of how companies are using the Internet for their corporate reporting websites, the subject of the next chapter.

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