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Higher education boards have embraced new board management technology to an extent, but cost and resistance from directors who aren’t comfortable with new technology are the primary drivers for boards that still use paper, PDFs, and email to conduct their meetings and communicate with members.
That’s according to an OnBoard survey about the state of technology in higher education boardrooms, conducted in the fall of 2023.
OnBoard heard from 153 higher education board professionals about board meeting technology, cybersecurity, the biggest issues they face with regard to board meetings, and other related topics.
Board and institution sizes ranged from single-digit boards to upward of 40 members. The survey included independent institutions, public institutions, institutionally related foundations, and public systems.
Let’s take an in-depth look at what the respondents said.
Preparation Is Key to Effective Meetings
Survey respondents were emphatic that the biggest challenges board professionals experience while planning, preparing, and holding meetings are time management, effectively engaging board members, and ensuring trustees and directors are prepared.
Interestingly, board professionals whose boards used board management software were 33 percent more likely to say their board had “very high” levels of engagement than their counterparts who didn’t use the technology.
Board meeting pain points varied, with 34 percent of respondents saying directors who don’t come to meetings fully prepared and/or don’t review board materials before meetings were the biggest problem. Another 30 percent cited board meetings that don’t focus on the most important topics or focus too much on comparatively trivial matters. Another 30 percent said their biggest headache was materials that don’t arrive early enough for members to prepare.
Technology Streamlines the Process
Respondents whose boards use board management software said they were 19 percent more efficient with cybersecurity and 19.2 percent more efficient with pre-meeting communication, and they enjoyed 14.7 percent better committee communication.
Meanwhile, 13.6 percent felt they were more efficient at onboarding new board members, and 11 percent felt more informed overall.
Board professionals who had board management software were 11 percent more likely to say their boards had “high” or “very high” engagement levels compared to those who used PDFs, mail, and emails to supplement their board meetings.
How Does Board Management Help the Most?
Survey respondents identified three key factors that improved their board’s effectiveness and their work:
- Time savings: Not only did respondents “rate” this benefit 9.1 on a 1-to-10 scale, but nearly half (47 percent) said they saved two or more hours per meeting by using board management software. Another 14 percent said they saved one to two hours per meeting.
- Security: Respondents rated this category a 9 on the same 1-to-10 scale, which is key when considering the confidential, sensitive information they must handle.
- Ease of access: Survey participants rated this area an 8.9, believing their board materials are much easier to locate and retrieve, and the information is available anytime, from anywhere.
What’s Stopping Some Boards from Utilizing Technology?
Frankly, many board professionals simply are not familiar with board management software. Forty-five percent of respondents said they were only “somewhat familiar” with the technology. Another 10 percent claimed they weren’t familiar with it at all.
Veteran or seasoned board members who aren’t comfortable with digital solutions often resist the technology. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of board professionals listed some level of concern in this area.
When asked, “Why hasn’t your institution adopted board management software?,” the most common reason was “other,” but “cost” was a close second.
The Bottom Line: New Board Technology Helps Solve Old Problems
The problems survey respondents most often cited—unprepared directors, lack of focus on important topics, and late-arriving meeting materials—all have an easy solution.
Board management software allows busy directors to prepare for meetings more efficiently. Agenda builder tools help boards stay focused and on topic. Similar meeting management tools help board administrators and secretaries gather and distribute meeting materials more efficiently.
Board professionals from a wide range of institutions—large and small, public and private—have shared their views on what makes their higher education boards work effectively. They’ve also shared what hinders their work. Solutions are available for boards that are ready to take the next step.
Matthew Maxwell is a senior consultant at AGB OnBoard who has worked with the company for over a decade and has been integral in the establishment of the AGB-OnBoard partnership.