The way a board of directors carries out business sets an example for everyone else in the organization. This affects the culture and operations at all levels. According to the Harvard Business Review, boards play a significant role in establishing the “tone at the top.”
So what are the key traits of effective boards? Progressive recruitment and governance. Efficiency in how they communicate and operate. And a commitment to security of information. The right board portal software is the backbone of fulfilling these functions. Board portals help to engage high-performance directors by providing convenient, confidential information access. Board portals streamline the process to prepare for meetings, and they improve timely ongoing communication between board members and executives to support quick decision making in increasingly competitive times.
Though the benefits of board technology are becoming widely known, with the number of options on the market, choosing the best board meeting software can seem daunting and complex. Maybe that’s why boards in North American are lagging behind when it comes to adopting this type of technology. According to a report by Forrester, only 32% of boards in North America use board portal software. This is the lowest usage rate in the world.
This means that the majority of boards in North America are not operating with the efficiency they could be and that they’re missing out on vital opportunities to attract and maintain the loyalty of board members who expect tech tools to communicate efficiently. Even worse, boards are leaving themselves open to devastating and costly cyberattacks.
If your organization hasn’t already chosen the best board portal software for your needs, this critic’s guide will help you to discover your best-fit board software, in a streamlined process with 4 simple steps:
Board meeting software is a powerful tool for running better meetings by securely and conveniently distributing briefings and reports to directors. Here are some other ways that adopting board portal software protects and benefits your organization.
Even with all the worrisome headlines about cyber attacks, boards of directors remain shockingly cavalier about their online security. The Forrester report found that roughly half of board directors are using their private email accounts for board-related communications.
This practice leaves organizations open to data leaks and breaches. There’s also the risk of losing essential board meeting materials if directors forget a password or can’t access their email account. And despite their less-than-secure email practices, the Forrester report found that 41% of board directors were “very concerned about their ability to secure their communications and data sharing.”
Board portal software allows directors to be confident that they are discussing confidential issues and reviewing documents in a secure online environment. Even if a director loses a device, the data can often be scrubbed remotely to eliminate hacker risk and he or she can easily access all their board meeting materials by logging into their board portal software on another device.
To run an efficient board meeting, it’s best that directors have a clear view of the relevant issues before they take a seat at the table. This requires both well prepared board briefing materials and convenient distribution, no matter where directors are located.
Board portals play a key role in giving directors timely access to board materials and last-minute updates. Timely and convenient access to documents in board software also supports business continuity, making it much easier to navigate a natural disaster, surprise CEO departure, or public relations crisis.
The most productive board meetings are the ones used for discussing materials or making decisions, instead of catching up on background information or rehashing old discussions.
You can make sure this happens by providing directors with a discussion tool to use for conversations before and in between meetings. Board members consistently report that they are more engaged in the strategic objectives of a board with access to software that “allows for document annotation, sharing, and transfer.”
If you have a board chair or executive who feels that email and shared access to file drives are sufficient for board communication, help them to understand that systems like Dropbox and SharePoint are considered secure, but they don’t offer enough familiar functionality or file download protection to safeguard confidential board information.
Dropbox’s encryption level may satisfy your IT department, but Dropbox files need to be downloaded, and when they are, you’ve lost control of the document. SharePoint and other in-house platforms have a similar problem. Even if documents are accessed in SharePoint, most board members don’t feel comfortable in a corporate file drive as non-employees, and it’s common that they will move files to non-secure locations.
When comparing options, remember that emailing board documents or sharing them on free editions of software like Dropbox or Google Drive poses real security risks. More sophisticated file-sharing solutions like SharePoint often frustrate directors who struggle to find the right materials within unfamiliar folder names and labelling conventions.
Let’s get started with a critical evaluation of the board portal software out there.
Every organization is unique and so is the board. You can use a number of factors to define your specific needs. Rate the considerations below in order of importance – this will help you ask the right questions later in this process.
Consider the potential cost savings for your organization. How much time does it take your board administrator to prepare board meeting packages? How dependant is the board on the assistance of your IT staff? The right board portal software reduces staff time and makes access to documents quick and easy. And because a board portal is a digital solution, the need for hard copies is virtually no more. This reduces expenses for paper, bulky binders, and courier services.
A data security breach can be a devastating blow to your organization, from both a cost perspective and a reputational standpoint. Your board software should meet the highest security standards, including document and communications encryption with secure document storage. You need layers of advanced security to give you the power to control access, guarantee compliance, and remotely wipe lost or stolen devices.
As we usher in the next generation of leaders, boardrooms are quickly becoming occupied by the under-40 age group. These leaders are tech-savvy and they insist on immediacy, reliability, and data security. They expect collaborative technology and remote access to information 24/7.
Quick decision making gives your organization an edge. Consider the advantages of board members having the ability to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and vote using their mobile devices.
Successful organizations plan for the future. This means preparing for a situation that requires fast action. It can be a crisis – anything from a data breach to a natural disaster – or a merger. Board members need to communicate from wherever they are and they need the right technology in place to make access to information, communication, information sharing, and voting quick, easy, and secure.
On some boards, only two or three of the board members are consistently engaged. Most of their directors are missing the mark, likely due to gaps in how the board debates, communicates, frames conversations, votes, and runs board meetings.
Disclosure requirements continue to amp up and there’s a shift underway that the Harvard Business Review describes as transparent business leadership. External voices and views, including those of board directors, now must hold businesses to higher standards. It’s not enough to bravely trust that the CEO and board chair are sharing full information – you need to actively ensure that you are informed and be ready to ask the tough questions.
The best board portal software can play a significant role in ensuring transparency among directors. It includes features such as:
To help you evaluate your needs, here’s a list of the top ranked benefits of board portals to consider:
In the next section, we’ll drill in on these topics and on the essential questions to ask board portal providers. To help you track your evaluation, here are a few assessment tools for first time buyers and portal users considering a switch.
Want a product comparison checklist to guide your review? Here are 10 things to compare when evaluating a board portal:
If you’re already using a board portal and you’re reassessing your choice, don’t forget to identify what’s working well with your current product. You’ll have a few more considerations that are more specific in addition to the items in the previous list. Pay especially close attention to these 5 criteria when doing a reassessment of your board portal:
Now that you’ve identified the core areas to evaluate when you reach out to board portal technology vendors, you need to ready yourself with the right questions to ask.
Questions should cover three general themes that apply to the needs of most organizations:
Your board portal should be designed to give your administrator confidence, shave days off the time it takes to compile material, and offer ease of use and the strongest security. Efficiency also incorporates ease of communication to best engage high-contributing directors, which means offering mobile tools so directors can keep track of meeting dates, board materials, and updates.
Efficiency is closely tied to the quality of support. Ongoing training for new directors should always be included as part of the pricing. You also want to ensure that the training has different types of resources, including one-on-one instruction. The software training program must accommodate all learning styles and comfort levels with technology.
Two main reasons to purchase a board portal are security and efficiency. Your total ROI will be tied to how well the details of your solution support these two areas on an ongoing basis – and how much they truly cost.
Most boards have similar goals: they want to streamline their meetings, cut down the work it takes for administrators to prepare for meetings, and find a way to connect with and communicate to all board members that keeps the best and brightest engaged and helps to attract them during recruitment.
Board portal software can help you accomplish these goals, but not all options on the market are created equally. You need to know the right questions to ask.
During a demo, ask yourself whether there’s a logical flow. Is the software user-friendly and intuitive? Does it work the way you work? Is your first impression “I get this,” and is the experience easy to follow?
Remember that a data breach can be a devastating blow to your organization from a reputational and cost perspective. How does the vendor guarantee secure storage of documents and board communication? What about the choice of location for data hosting and processes in emergencies? If a director loses a mobile device, can the data be deleted remotely?
Safeguarding data has never been more important. But not all board meeting management systems conform to the same standards.
Administrators should have self-serve features that let them carry out their functions, including setting up meetings, adding directors, uploading materials, adjusting license assignment, and pulling information for governance reporting – all without needing to contact the vendor.
Learning brand new software can be daunting, especially if this is the first board portal you’ve ever implemented. There are documents to upload, library folders to create, and features to master. Beyond the basic functions of the software, you want to make sure that you’re maximizing every feature to the benefit of your board.
What’s the response time? Does the vendor offer 24/7 availability? Where is the call centre located?
Is there ongoing training available, like webinars, and how does the vendor notify you about new product features?
Phoning for tech support and getting routed to a call centre, especially when you’re dealing with a time-sensitive issue like an upcoming board meeting, is extraordinarily frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when the person on the other end of the phone can’t even answer your question about the software.
Some vendors offer tiered products and may give you a trial of the gold edition and a price pitch for bronze, or a “lite” version. Make sure your pricing reflects all the features you were shown.
It’s not uncommon for some board portal software companies to show you the deluxe package of their software during the demo, while quoting you a price that actually reflects their most basic offering. They strip away the features you found most valuable, saying you can’t access them unless you’re willing to pay more.
Pricing should be transparent and not involve additional costs for things such as adding groups or committees, adding administrators, ongoing training for all levels of users, or mobile apps.
Product pricing is extremely important in order to truly weigh your potential ROI and make a solid argument when building your business case.
The price of many board software options seems appealing during the demo, until you realize how it will change once you start adding administrators and committees, or you start using more data storage. The cost starts to balloon. Suddenly, the board portal you’re using is far more expensive than the product you tested and you have no idea how you got there.
When you’ve decided to adopt a board portal, you need seamless migration of data from your current system to the new board software system. Ask for a demo on how this is done.
Of course, organizations selling a product are going to rave about the technology they’ve created. You can get beyond the hype with these smart questions, but also do backdoor checks. Go back to the questions on this list and ask other organizations that use the same board portal you’re considering. How do they rate the ease of use and level of security? Does the vendor follow through on its promise of great service and support? Vendors who stand behind the performance of their products will also be happy to provide testimonials and references from their customers.
Board administrators usually don’t need to be convinced that they need a board portal. The time-saving tools for setting up board meetings alone give the technology instant appeal. Convincing busy executives to make the software purchase, however, can take some smart persuasion.
Building a business case can be a simple exercise that helps you frame your own thinking as well as convince others of your recommendation. The document doesn’t need to be long, and the process of writing it will give you confidence that you’ve made the right choice. Here are the five key elements:
In this section, state what you want to purchase. If there are other purchases for your board being considered internally, you can point out exactly what is in and out of scope for this recommendation. For example:
Here, you want to highlight the most pressing organizational problems being solved by the purchase. You might be purchasing a board portal to:
Costs should include up-front as well as ongoing expenses associated with the software. You should express pricing as an annual cost and include any explanations on pricing, such as billing schedule and price per user. Some additional costs to consider are:
Highlight the benefits that you can measure, as well as the intangible outcomes that benefit the organization but are difficult to quantify:
Benefit: more efficient preparation of meeting materials and communication between meetings
Measurement: fewer staff and director hours for prep; fewer staff hours for between-meeting director assistance
Benefit: reduced security risks from downloaded corporate documents and email exchanges
Measurement: no data leaks via board
Benefit: more focused, efficient board meetings
Measurement: agenda items covered within target meeting length
Benefit: improved transparency and accountability
Measurement: same-time distribution of, and access to, all board materials
Benefit: increased board member engagement
Measurement: improved meeting attendance and preparation by directors (logged access to board documents in advance of meetings); intangible: board directors feel more respected and efficient (assess in board evaluation survey)
Benefit: improved recruitment for new board members
Measurement: intangible: monitor anecdotally by committee
If you’re using email and file sharing tools already, you won’t have the paper cost of traditional board books for all your board members. You will, however, still have costs for administrative and technical support, as well as any printed booklets for board members who get frustrated trying to find what they need and ask for paper. You should also account for time spent by admin and IT on:
A board portal can reduce administrative time spent on supporting board members as well as the need for IT support. Director and administrative questions on the board portal should be answered by software support teams.
Here’s an example of the type of calculator you might use – we’ve filled in the approximate savings your organization would experience with a board portal:
|Current expenses||Total current expense $||Approximate % savings with board portal software||Annual savings $|
|(Admin time: hours per year) x ($ per hour)||=||60%|
|(IT time: hours per year) x ($ per hour)||=||100%|
|Hard costs: $ for paper, courier, etc., per year||=||90%|
Your total amount saved per year can then be compared to the cost of the software to determine ROI over five years. Subtract software costs from the estimated annual savings:
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Total|
|Estimated annual savings||$|
|ROI: savings minus costs|
Now that you’ve developed a solid business case, present it to your executive. It shows that you’ve done your homework and instills confidence in everyone that you’ve chosen software that’s a business advantage for the organization, justifying the investment.
Whether you’re looking to make a switch or to adopting board portal software for the very first time, we invite you to consider Aprio board portal software. According to Capterra, Aprio is the trusted choice of credit unions, financial institutions, crown corporations, non-profits, and public companies across North America.
A long list of clients have adopted Aprio as their first-choice board meeting software.
Financial and credit unions – Aprio board portal software is the #1 choice of credit unions, small banks, and large financial institutions to run efficient meetings, effectively recruit and engage directors, and safeguard the financial information critical to their organizations.
Government – Aprio technology provides boards of government associations and crown corporations with the efficiency, data security, and transparency required to effectively manage a board and be accountable with public funding.
Education and non-profits – Aprio makes good governance simple and affordable for boards that spend very cautiously but highly value efficiency and transparency.
Corporations – Aprio provides industry-leading security for board information, streamlines board communication, and fosters better board meetings for businesses that value efficiency and transparency.
Health – Aprio provides the efficiency and security that is top of mind for health organizations as they work to stay ahead of compliance and governance regulations and run their boards in the most productive way possible.
Indigenous – Aprio makes good governance simple and affordable for boards that serve First Nation communities.
Let’s go back to the top factors identified by Capterra in Step 2, which is the list of things directors and administrators consider when choosing board meeting software. Here’s how Aprio delivers:
Earlier, we mentioned that level of support is closely tied to your efficiency. Aprio offers personalized training and assistance 24/7 from experienced board administrators for:
Here are some real-life examples of organizations that made the switch to board meeting software. They chose Aprio.
“The ability to transmit large amounts of confidential data electronically has been a game-changer. We’re no longer constrained by file size limits or needing to encrypt. Our board portal software takes care of that.”
– Michelle Akers, director of governance and administration, Firstmark Credit Union (read the case study)
“With our board portal, I notice less confusion as directors prepared for the meeting. I used to get board members contacting me frustrated because logging in was difficult. They may have lost their password and there was no easy way to reset it. Or, they could login but how to find things wasn’t always clear.”
– Ruth Shirley, CUES Executive Administrator and Board Liaison (read the case study)
“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. SharePoint security was good but we needed that same security and more ease for directors. Now we have both.”
– Louise Carlow, Island Health Board Liaison (read the case study)
Aprio makes it easy to:
Aprio board portal software also improves transparency and board engagement, which leads to more progressive boards. Aprio increases efficiency, resulting in better board agendas and minutes. And the software ensures business continuity in times of urgency.
At Aprio, we routinely benchmark our software against the competition to be sure that our technology and support are the best in the industry, at the best price.
We pride ourselves on product innovation and we’re continually improving. Read about our cutting edge features like three-step annotations, making it easier to prep for meetings, and Aprio surveys, making board evaluation, CEO review, and quick voting easy.
Our mobile app also makes it easier than ever to review, communicate, and prepare for board meetings – anywhere, anytime. You can:
Every organization is unique and so is its board. We would be glad to help you build a business case for the Aprio board of directors portal that’s tailored to the specific needs of your organization, whether you’re considering a switch or adopting board software for the first time.
Get in touch. We look forward to showing you how to take your organization to the next level with Aprio.