If you’ve never used agenda management software, you’re in for quite a treat. Creating an agenda and guiding a meeting through it just got a lot easier. It feels like suddenly cutting a loaf of bread with a sharp knife after dutifully sawing away at it in vain with a dull blade: Less mess. Less stress. Better results. Michelle Cooper, Government Specialist at Diligent, has singled out the four features that significantly magnify the benefits that boards can get from agenda management systems: streamlining, security, searchability and service.
Gone are the days of scrambling through stacks of papers to find all of the related information (e.g., background legislation, media reports) as you build and deploy the agenda for a board meeting. Indeed, you’ll never again have to toggle between multiple tabs. Nor will you clog up email inboxes with a baffling collection of versions of an agenda edited by different people at different times (and never quite following a file-naming system that could bring order to the chaos of all those versions). Rather, a good agenda management system brings all background documents to one online location: the board portal.
No words can do justice to the value of this function. Imagine the time you would free up by not having to track down past meeting minutes, news reports, historical records, and edits in some random combination of print and digital formats; and then making photocopies or otherwise pulling them together so your users won’t have to start their own Google search for every last resource.
Consolidating documents into an online location runs the risk of exposing information to hackers. Google Docs or SharePoint can provide such consolidation, and so lots of boards started using them. Many of those boards are now running as fast as they can away from unsecured online file-sharing sites. The reason? Such sites are wide open to hackers, who can compromise data for ransom or steal the personal identifying information (e.g., salaries, medical records and Social Security numbers) of employees, customers, voters or students. They can access that information even though it does not appear in the posted documents; email addresses and other information in your documents can function as a gateway to a system’s entire hard drive.
Horror stories of such cybercrimes explain the exodus to cloud-based secure systems with double encryption. School boards, in particular, need this security, as they are more desirable targets than they realize. Some groups want access to the school-age children in their systems – as ISIS did when it broke into US school districts’ sites to reach potential recruits in early adolescence. Other cybercriminals “chance upon” school districts with surprising frequency as they simply scour the web for unprotected targets. With cloud-based agenda management systems using double encryption, boards can keep their students, staff, voters and vendors safe from the prying eyes of bad actors with computer skills.
Boards need to know that not all agenda management systems offer comprehensive searchability. Most allow users to search only the agenda itself; that ability has given digitized content a distinct advantage over hard copy since the days of Word Perfect ’95. What’s new and different is the ability to search not only the agenda itself, but also file attachments. The ADA does not require such granular scouring across the complete body of related documents for legal compliance, but their needs are not those of a professional who might need to find every last occurrence of a phrase to arm board members with all relevant history on a topic – or to comply with the strict mandates of the legal discovery process. Searchability down to the attachment level is the gold standard.
Boards using agenda management systems for a long time have advice for new and returning users: Buy from the best! In this case, that means selecting a brand with a commitment to this particular product, as well as a proven record of service and training. Surprisingly, such providers are the exception – not the rule – in today’s climate.
The commitment to agenda management systems can be ascertained in part from the years a company has provided such software. Did they pick it up a few years ago in response to a one-time surge in demand? Did they inherit it from a new parent company? Do they offer such a broad suite of services that they lack the expertise that only specialization provides? If so, they probably don’t thoroughly understand the software, and they may phase it out in a year. Either way, they may leave past clients stranded when they themselves move on to their next adventure – or when the person at tech support isn’t sure how to address a thorny technical issue.
These concerns are not merely hypothetical. Over the past 10 years, the software industry has seen a spate of overreach and experimental dabbling in various markets. Enraged customers rue the day they wrote the check for software for which there is no longer a compatible platform or a knowledgeable voice on the other end of the phone. As they onboard new staff, there is nobody available to offer them training, as the company that sold them the software now has a new product line or even a new name.
An eyewitness to this calamitous acquisitions spree, Diligent’s Cooper advises: “It’s important to think about the future of the company you partner with. As more and more ‘Gorillas of the industry’ continue to gobble up competitors and make acquisitions that allow them to have a broader breadth of products, most have lost sight of being the best at meeting management … Most cloud-based technology companies now want to provide a one-stop shop where you can have your website redesigned, purchase accounting software, and track internal spending or staff time. This means a lot of ‘Jacks of All Trades.’”
Cooper traces the success of BoardDocs to its ability to provide a safe port in the storm that resulted:
“BoardDocs has always provided, and will continue to provide, the best-in-breed Meeting Management Solution created, supported and maintained all by the same folks who wrote the original code. The tools that are on our Road Map are focused on how to improve what our clients’ organizations will need in upcoming years. We do not have outdated product with little to zero support – because our focus has not changed.”
By contrast, she reports, “Most companies implemented a ‘tiered support system,’” In a tiered support system, a customer’s need for technical support or training receives a prompt and adequate response only if the customer spent at a certain threshold level when buying the service – or if they serve a population of a minimum size. Customers with a smaller census or a smaller order go to the back of the line.
Adopting an agenda management system can make your board more effective with less effort and stress. Smart boards will look before they leap. To get the most from your agenda management system, insist on streamlining of materials, security from cybercriminals, searchability of all attached documents, and service born of stability and expertise. Leveraging this tool to its full potential will free up time and energy for your board to focus on the issues that matter most.