BoardPad: Paperless operations – Mike Evans
Board meetings are commonly accompanied by stacks of papers for each director to peruse, but with board members often travelling between different locations it can be difficult for administrators to distribute packs in time. BoardPad, an easy-to-use software product for tablets, allows straightforward meeting organisation and secure electronic-paper distribution, so that directors can access and annotate pages wherever in the world they are. CEO Mike Evans explains how it works.
What is BoardPad and what was the background to developing it?
Mike Evans: BoardPad is a software product for tablet computers, initially designed for the Apple iPad but that now works across multiple platforms, including Android and Windows. It enables you to distribute papers out to board members through a tablet, so there is no need to carry bulky packs around. Everything gets automatically updated onto the user's tablet along with email and any other applications that are running on that device.
We originally developed it about five years ago when the iPad first came out, because we had a board product at the time that worked off a PC, but we found that directors never wanted to lug a big laptop into a meeting, and were still taking in papers. So we thought that while we couldn't persuade them to carry a laptop, they might be willing to use what was a new device at that time, but one that looked like it was going to be hugely successful.
The biggest challenge was getting directors to actually use technology in that way. A lot of directors tended to be of an older generation and were traditionally used to bulky packs coming out to them that they can leaf through and mark up. We needed to convince them that with BoardPad they could still do all the things they traditionally did with their packs; marking and annotating pages; being able to print off different sections if they really wanted a hard copy; or being able to interact with the author of the document that was being placed onto the device. Achieving these functions in the product were all challenges, but our biggest was the actual adoption of technology, and in that we were helped enormously by Apple and its drive to get people to use tablets, which are now the norm.
With tablets providing an easy-to-carry device, how does using BoardPad then help make meetings more efficient?
The major advantage is being able to get papers out to members in a timely fashion. An administrator of a board will have lots of papers coming in for a particular meeting, which then need to be collated, formatted and distributed to directors who might be in many different locations. That challenge is compounded by papers coming in late or being amended, so a set of numbers may go out that then needs replacing because something has changed, so a new section needs to go out to the director. Of course, boards want to achieve that in an efficient way, and they want it to be fast and secure. The traditional method of putting it in the post or sending it with a courier was expensive and timely, and there were security issues with that.
Electronic distribution is safer and more efficient, but there are also many advantages for the board member in actually using the device. After directors have securely signed into the device, it's then about how they navigate between the different sections - the fact that they can annotate pages and email different parts if they want to share something. They can also access these papers without being in the office or necessarily being online; so a director might have some downtime on a plane when he or she can sit and read, and it's a great time to look at board papers on a tablet.
Directors' busy travel schedules and the global nature of many companies mean attendees may be in different countries at the time of a meeting. How can BoardPad help with this?
It can certainly help with that because the documentation is there instantly in front of them, but the other thing that you can do, is to be very specific and targeted about who actually gets to see the board paper. And by that I mean that you can actually say on each item separately, 'Well, we've got agenda item number three here, Mike Evans isn't actually allowed to see that; he's coming in to do a presentation to the board, but he's only allowed to see the one item that we give him access to'.
You can also choose when you want the information to be available on the device, so you may have price-sensitive information that you don't want available until a specific date or time, such as the start of the meeting itself. You can have the paper distributed on the device but use the security within the system to only make the paper available to a certain director or directors at a particular time.
With BoardPad, you can also have a meeting with multiple languages being supported on multiple devices, including English, German, Spanish, Russian and simplified Chinese. We find that generally the global business language is English, so the papers tend to go out in English, but there are board directors based across the globe who want to navigate in their own language.
What is Connect software, and how does it help with meeting organisation and management?
Connect is the tool that enables administrators to build the electronic board pack, to build the specific security rights around particular documents and distribute it. So which papers directors are allowed to access and whether they can email, print, annotate or share them; all of these things are controlled by Connect but fed out though BoardPad onto the device. Connect increases efficiency because it enables paperwork to be sent directly to a meeting; the whole workflow is automated. Whereas contributors within the organisation would normally share information as a paper or an email that the meeting administrator would then need to change into a PDF, instead, contributors send documents to a set email address, and Connect takes care of converting them into a format that BoardPad can use and distributing them in the secure, selective manner dictated.
Another feature is a section within BoardPad called Reading Rooms, which are essentially mini libraries. These are areas where the user can place documents that may not be specifically attached to agenda items, but are confidential documentation that the company wants to distribute securely.
With all the advanced functions available, how do you keep the product user-friendly and still ensure security?
The device itself helps with usability in the sense that it makes pieces of paper look like physical pages on the screen, you mark them up with a pen or with your finger in the normal way; you flick through the pages as if you were flicking through a book. It's really the kind of iPad-style functionality that already exists on the device, and we've harnessed that and applied it to a board book.
The idea is then to marry the security with trying to make it as easy as possible to use, and again I think that's partly the device, and partly the look and feel of the application. The device itself has an element of security - so to get into it you already have to have a password, but we've built onto that something called 'two-factorial authentication' so that you not only have to sign in to the device but also to put in either a PIN or a separate password, or even your fingerprint in order to access your papers.
Using BoardPad actually increases the security of information shared in board meetings. With a traditional board paper you could leave it in a taxi or on a train, but if you do that with your tablet, it's very easy for the administrator of the system to remotely turn off the access rights that you had on that device. So if you lose your device, it can be wiped or locked down remotely. You can even set it up so that if there is a director who's going to be using BoardPad, but he hasn't signed into the system for a certain number of days, it will be automatically locked and he will need to phone us to reauthorise him.
BoardPad is very user-friendly, but we do have a 24/7 support line, so users can phone from anywhere around the world at any time and there will be somebody there to support them. For all users, we go along and train them during the first meeting that they have, but a lot of being there is actually just for reassurance, as the software is very intuitive.
Is BoardPad suited to particular industries or types of organisation?
It is really suitable across the board; a lot of big technology companies use it, even including some tablet manufacturers; a number of mid-to-large entertainment companies are using it; and it's very big in the insurance and banking world. It's even being used by [UK] NHS boards, and schools, so its use is very broad.
The other interesting thing is that although the product was originally made for boards and we assumed that just the very top boards of companies would use it, this is now starting to be used by many other leadership teams within the same organisations. Boards have been recommending it to other leadership teams because they too need to organise meetings and distribute paper in a secure and efficient way.