What is the right role for I.T. in managing a board portal?

Recently, we received a call from an IT director who was looking for some advice on how to best help the board office staff take “ownership” of their BoardEffect board portal. The board office was being flooded with requests from committees, senior management teams, and working groups to expand the use of the board portal.  But rather than asking IT to organize the new requests and training, they wanted the IT team to “just handle it,” by which they meant “take over the day-to-day management of our BoardEffect portal.”

In organizations with IT departments, it’s not unusual to initially encounter the notion that IT should be responsible for managing board portal software.  But unless the IT team also happens to manage board communications and documents, it’s not the right approach to have IT manage the day-to-day care and feeding of the board portal.  This role should be reserved for those who already serve as trusted liaisons to the board – the folks who are already accustomed to handling sensitive board information and communications, and often know the organization, board culture, and board members best.  Having said that, IT can and should play several important roles in eGovernance – including:

Vetting the board portal software

Before going “shopping,” IT can organize the governance team in creating a list of specific needs and goals for implementing a board portal.  Fueled with this insight, IT can make the first contact with prospective vendors to get the hard-hitting security and technology questions out of the way.  They can rank the top few vendors against your goals/needs, and provide an assessment of the stability and security of the software.

Planning for board portal deployment

IT plays an important role in ensuring that the in-house infrastructure is ready for the board portal reality.  For example, making sure the board room is wired with enough Wi-Fi bandwidth to provide convenient (and comfortable) access on board meeting days.  If iPads or other devices are being provided to board members, the IT team typically takes the lead in procurement to get the best price and right-sized devices.

Coordinating training and support for the governance team

In our experience, IT is extremely helpful at helping us understand who needs training and at what level.  Typically, an IT team member participates in the training sessions – not because that person is going to manage the portal on an ongoing basis, but because it’s useful for them to understand how the system works so they can help the governance team troubleshoot future issues and provide guidance on when to contact our support team (and what to ask).

Board Meeting “Day-of” Support

Perhaps the most important role IT can play is on the day of the board meeting – being on-call (in addition to good up-front planning) to ensure that board members can connect their devices to Wi-Fi, that they have extra chargers handy, that the projector is ready to roll in the front of the room, and to be “on call” for the governance team should any issues arise.  In this role, the IT team is critical to our support team as they can be our “eyes and ears” in the board room if a problem arises, helping us quickly troubleshoot and resolve it.

Among our clients, IT departments participate at different levels; some manage the selection or implementation process exclusively while others may serve an ongoing role by assisting the Administrators with technical security questions or data best practices.  We work with our clients to help them determine the right roles for all those involved in eGovernance – including the appropriate roles for IT.

Bottom line, the request to “have IT handle it” often comes when eGovernance hasn’t been properly implemented and is perceived to be adding to the staff’s workload.  But this shouldn’t be the case – when eGovernance has been implemented correctly, it should streamline board work and allow everyone to focus more on governance than on managing the software.  If that’s not happening, the right next step is to ensure adequate training and proper alignment of the governance workflow process and software.

Dottie Schindlinger

Dottie is BoardEffect’s Governance Technology Evangelist and promotes the concept of Governance for Good as a leading expert in the field. She researches governance trends and writes for a variety of publications, including the definitive chapter on “E-governance Is Good Governance” for Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets, Ted Hart, Steve R. McLaughlin, James M. Greenfield, Philip H. Geier, Jr., Eds., April 2010: Wiley & Sons, New York, NY. A frequent presenter on the topic of good governance, Dottie speaks to dozens of audiences – both in the US and abroad – and presents hundreds of webinars each year.