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Killer App

October 26, 2010
by Bobbie Byrne
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Creating a portal for board meetings

Within the first month of working at Edward, I noticed the five-inch binders prepared for each Board of Trustees meeting. One of the administrative assistants would relentlessly hunt down the agenda item owners to get the material as soon as possible. Presentations or supporting documentation were printed and copied. They were couriered to the board member’s home ahead of time. Some duplicate copies were carried to the meeting on a cart. It was the latest in 1980s meeting preparation technology, hot off the Xerox machine!

It was a no brainer to set up a Board Portal. Not only would we save on paper and courier fees, but it would allow the board members to review documents as they were prepared ahead of time at their own convenience. We are lucky enough to have some excellent SharePoint programmers, and they pulled together a clean and easy Web page almost within a matter of hours. There was some quick revision cycles until it was ready to be rolled out.

The first meeting, we did duplicate processes-paper binders and laptops. The team arrived at the boardroom prior to the meeting to set up the laptops, connect the separate mice and the several miles of extension cords required to daisy chain the power. About an hour into the meeting, the laptops had been pushed to the side in favor of the binder books. The laptops had timed out. The smooth surface of the boardroom table was not conducive to mice operation. The older index fingers of the board members were not conducive to laptop touch pads. The spreadsheet font on the screens was too small and not all board members knew how to enlarge the view. Some of the management team presenters noted that it was unnerving to present to a room where everyone had their nose buried in a laptop screen. Nobody really liked the experience. I left a bit dejected as I signed overtime slips for the laptops to be removed after the meeting ran quite late.

The second meeting was a little better. The iPad had been released, and we had purchased some to trial. This time we had half laptops, half ipads, and the printed books as back-up. At the end of this meeting, the laptops were pushed to the side with all the same issues from meeting one. Those with iPads were still going electronic—even the most senior board member had mastered the ease of enlarging screens. The iPads had won; they even beat paper!

Since then, we have stopped printing books all together. We issued each board member an iPad to use during their time on the board. This is certainly far cheaper than any laptop we could purchase and far cheaper than the labor to set up and take down laptops every meeting. It is a more pleasant experience to present with the audience using iPads. They do not block the board members facial expression like laptops can. We have made some additional enhancements to the board portal for home use.

We have continued to enhance the in-meeting experience as well. We placed an internal link on the agenda. This means that as the meeting progresses, board members can just return to the agenda, select the link, and move to the next presentation or document. The fewer clicks the better.

We have had a few irritations.

  • Our initial roll out was somewhat sloppy with the printed cheat sheets not exactly matching the user experience.
  • We tried to place an icon on the desktop with the bookmarked site. Our security software does a redirect that precludes this. I find that irritating enough that it makes me question the utility of this software all-together.
  • We have some on-going issues related to our super strong security settings that could almost be a case study in the balance between access and security.
  • The inability to run Flash on Safari was an issue only once.
  • We have yet to have problems when board members download or upgrade something, but I am sure we will eventually.

It is not perfect but it just may be the killer iPad application.


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