By Ruth Medd, Chair of Women on Boards
26 Apr 2020
In this article Ruth explains how a telephone survey resulted in her joining an Advisory Board and reviews three online and board management products - timely given COVID-19 necessitates boards to operate "virtually".
The current COVID-19 restrictions imposed on all of us are an opportunity for board members to focus on professional development. This includes company secretaries, who often sit on the board and are now extremely busy organising ALL meetings and interactions online. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Governance in smaller organisations often has room for improvement. The introduction of regular video and teleconference calls is one way that this is improving during our current lockdown. It also gives us the opportunity to focus on the matters at hand, rather than being busy booking tickets and accommodation for board meetings.
Introducing cloud-based board software is a potential area for your board to improve its efficiency. Board software products typically track action items and have an annoying habit of reminding board members when they committed to doing something.
With board software packages being in a sweet spot right now, in this article I review three readily available board software packages 1) BoardPro (which has been provided free of charge to Women on Boards for assessment purposes) 2) Diligent and 3) Boardtrac.
How my interest was piqued in board software?
I met Brett Herkt founder of BoardPro, via an out-of-the blue telephone call. Brett was looking to understand entry strategies into the Australian market and selected some people to call for a short survey. As always, I was willing to assist. I answer a lot of surveys as they tell a lot about what is going on with organisations in the marketplace. My answers must have been ok and we organised a longer call.
This led to a glass of fine wine and an invitation to join the Australian Advisory Board of BoardPro. Having done some due diligence, I agreed to join on the conditions of two face to face meetings annually and that I would provide commentary on their entry strategy and some introductions. A modest fee was offered which I accepted.
Having had experience with Xero (also NZ based) and board software packages in the past, I was naturally interested in the topic and the state of the market for board software. My prior experiences were not entirely positive.
Board software reviews
Mr Google provides the following board software reviews. Many are US based, but there are a number relevant directly for Australia and New Zealand. Advice suggests that the offerings fall into five broad categories:
- Self-help via desktop tools
- Generic meeting tools (management focused)
- Governance document or minutes software
- Board Portals – corporate focused
- Board software – with SME and Non-profit focus
This article focuses on those offerings which could be regarded as ‘the more modern implementation’ and are known to the writer:
- Diligent - a board portal
- BoardPro - board software
- Boardtrac - board software
If you have experience of any the others please let me know.
Developed in New Zealand the software allows boards to manage their meetings, responsibilities and documents easily and effectively in the cloud. Here are a few points about what they say about their differences from competing board portals:
- Supports the entire board process – not just document creation, distribution and security.
- Specifically focused on SME and Non-Profit needs – delivers up to 50% time savings for time-poor administrators.
- Priced for mass market uptake. They claim it is 3 to 10 times more cost effective than corporate portal alternatives
- A solid NZ customer base and plan to expand into Australia
- WOB Chair and Directors use BoardPro
As an early stage business, BoardPro plans its next fund-raising round (of course dependant on the economic environment) to raise approximately $3million. They currently have 11 staff with plans for 15 staff in the next 12 months.
Having used BoardPro for 2020 I now view it as the Xero of company secretarial software - cost effective and intuitive to use. A free trial is offered by WOB to full members here
Diligent was also developed in NZ but now offers services in 70 countries, according to their website: “Diligent Boards, used by 50% of the Fortune 1000, provides boards and executives with modern governance tools that allows the board to expand their reach outside the boardroom as well as meeting requirements such as distribution of board meeting materials in a secure environment. A fully priced offering.
- Conduct board evaluations, fill out D&O questionnaires, and view industry leading thought leadership in one succinct tool.
- Real-time industry and company analytics, curated news and director resources to stay current to match the fast pace of business
- Access director data to improve governance oversight on issues like board diversity or director interlocks
Boardtrac was developed in Australia in consultation with experienced directors and legal governance experts from leading Australian law firm Minter Ellison to provide a paperless meeting solution suitable for use both inside and outside the boardroom. It's marketed as being intuitive and simple to use, enabling meeting documents to be collected, organised and shared quickly and easily, whether you are a director, board administrator or facilitating an event.
Boardtrac offers an entry price for NFPs and Women on Boards Non-Executive-Director, Mary Sue Rogers, uses Boardtrac at one of her Not-for-profit boards and finds it helpful.
I'm not claiming to be expert or unbiased in my appreciation of board software packages. However, I do know that more recent implementations should be easy to use (aka Xero) and less expensive. All software packages offer a demonstration upon request. My estimated time investment in getting up to speed with BoardPro was modest, with learning on the job.
Previous articles in this series: