How can health organizations, which are under intensifying regulations to protect data security, also ensure board information is easy to access for directors?
In this interview with Island Health Board Liaison, Louise Carlow, we examine the impact of making the switch from using Microsoft SharePoint to a board portal. She shares the experience of a health board finding technology that both safeguards security and makes it easy for board members to prepare for meetings and engage in informed strategic decisions.
Here are some insights from a board that has used both SharePoint and Aprio board portal software.
Louise Carlow: Island Health is responsible for the health and well being of all residents on Vancouver Island, Southern Gulf Islands, the islands in the Salish Sea and the Johnstone Strait, and mainland communities north of Powell River. We serve an extremely diverse population including one of highest concentrations of First Nations residents in BC.
We provide everything from home support to lab services to hospitals and primary care networks as well as engaging local groups to collaborate on effective delivery of health services. We are the largest employer on Vancouver Island with over 23,000 employees.
My role as board liaison is to act as the link between our organization and our 10-member board. My role is to arrange the logistics to support the dialogue and decisions of the board. In consultation with the Board I evaluate discussion topics and ensure materials are appropriate to support effective decision making. My role is similar to a corporate secretary.
Louise Carlow: Our board’s annual schedule includes six regular meetings a year, with extraordinary meetings called as required. Our regular board sessions involve four standing committees, committee of the whole and closed board meetings held over three days. One of the days includes presentations from the public and engagement with local health providers. Our regular meeting in May is dedicated to the review of audit findings report, audited financial statements and discussion with our external auditor.
Louise Carlow: We had two issues to address: ensuring data security and providing our board members easy access to information.
Prior to choosing Aprio, we were using SharePoint. Our internal team liked it. It was secure, and had lots of functionality.
On the access side though, directors had challenges. We need very strict confidentiality with patient records and health information and the way we used SharePoint with external board members led to access issues. They would forget their password or not be able to find documents.
At the start of our board meetings, we’d have a dedicated IT support person come and assist directors and executives with getting logged into SharePoint on the iPads we provide. That’s when we discovered directors had not seen the board package in advance. Because our board package is large – it meant unprepared directors.
Louise Carlow: Our organization had a leadership change with the shift in government in 2017. With it came new leadership for our board. Our procurement department was already well into a 6-month evaluation of board portals and the new chair was committed to using board technology.
The evaluation team chose Aprio because of ease of director access to information and the software’s security. We share lots of confidential financial and corporate documents through Aprio and needed certainty of data protection and Canadian storage.
Louise Carlow: SharePoint security was good but we needed that same security and more ease for directors. Now we have both.
We needed technology that worked for board members not familiar with our SharePoint environment. Not all directors are technically savvy. And even something as simple as forgetting a password had to be easy for them to resolve instantly without needing IT support.
We learned that the SharePoint environment was right for our organization but not for our board. Our health employees are required to change passwords every 42 days and contend with some syncing issues when they are mobile and not working locally on our Island Health network. That is reasonable for our internal team, not for directors.
Louise Carlow: The majority of our time preparing for a meeting is in organizing and reviewing documents for board review. That time is similar, regardless of technology.
With our board package ready, it takes us an hour or less to upload board documents and to prepare an agenda. That’s efficient.
Even more beneficial is the ease of distributing board information and communicating any changes to directors. If documents change in the run up to the board meeting – I can make the change and click to notify all directors. They will get instantly alerted and will see latest version.
Louise Carlow: Everyone finds they can more easily access information and move back and forth between board meeting materials, committee documents and so on.
Many like the ease of using Aprio on any of their own devices. And since Aprio launched single sign on, directors familiar with their Google or Microsoft credentials can use those and not bother remembering another password.
Some directors especially love it. They immediately took to making and sharing notes using annotations for pre-meeting discussions.
Louise Carlow: Our board members who are least familiar with modern technology can find new features, like highlighting text, a challenge but they have continuous access to Aprio support.
We began our board roll out with quick one-on-one training for directors from Aprio. All but two directors have done Aprio training. And our most recent board recruit, an accountant accustomed to modern technology, just logged into Aprio, found it familiar and came up to speed quickly.
Louise Carlow: We used the Aprio survey tool last summer to evaluate board member capabilities across a skill matrix. That went well and gave us good benchmark data to compare against in future years.
We’re not yet using voting – looking to explore that for timely decisions between board meetings with an audit trail.
Louise Carlow: When I began board administration we distributed paper documents, different coloured paper for each committee and it took three days to prep packages and then courier them off. It worked but did not allow for revisions and obviously had a huge environmental impact.
Later I used PDF packages of merged board documents. Board members could use Adobe Reader to review and make comments. That was bit better in terms of process, less cost and timely delivery of information, but it did not meet a very strict level of confidentiality.
Now health organizations have access to affordable board portal technology. Many organizations in health are at different stages of adopting technology. To those not yet using a board portal I would encourage them to consider it. Don’t take any risk with the security of your board information. And think of the value of better engaged, better prepared directors at board meetings.
Download the full Island Health Case Study.
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