Founded in 1953, North East Surrey College of Technology (Nescot) is a further education college, which teaches students from the age of 16 upwards. It offers full-time and part-time courses, with everything from foundation courses through to master’s degrees and everything in between.
Nescot Further Education Corporation is the governing body of the college. It consists of 17 members, who are drawn from business, the local community, stakeholders, students and staff. The Corporation is supported by several specialist committees such as Audit, Finance and General Purposes and others, meeting throughout the year. This means an awful lot of time and resources is spent on producing board packs for these meetings, as David Round, Clerk to the Corporation, Company Secretary and Academic Registrar at Nescot, explains:
“We distributed agendas and papers all by paper, so you can imagine the volume of paper that was produced, and it all had to be produced and distributed to the members of the board seven days before the meeting. That’s quite a significant administrative task.”
“We also have a commitment to green practices and reducing our carbon footprint. This includes a policy of reducing the amounts of paper, particularly large packs of paper that is produced for our board members. Finally, our board members are all busy and do the role from a sense of civic duty and giving something back. They have their day jobs, and they want a solution that fits in around their working practices and one that allows them to access the materials in ways that suit them, using the devices that they have available to them in advance of the meeting.”
So with a number of factors meaning the old approach to board meetings was no longer suitable, Nescot decided it was time to look for a new way of doing things.
David and his team began a thorough examination of the online board portals that were available to them. Some of these were being used already by other colleges, which gave Nescot independent and authoritative advice on what would be the best solution.
“We are members of a grouping of colleges, called the Association of Colleges, and I discussed at length what others were using for their own board members,” said David Round. “We undertook a tendering exercise, so I looked at three or four different software solutions, one of which was BoardPacks.”
After evaluating all of the systems, David approached eShare regarding a trial of BoardPacks, so it could try it out in a live environment with a few meetings. The feedback from the governors was positive, and in terms of the functionality and cost benefits, BoardPacks came out best, but due to the number of users required, Nescot did have some concerns.
“BoardPacks is a very slick and effective system, but it was perhaps slightly out of our financial reach,” continued David Round. “After we finished the pilot with the hosted version of BoardPacks, we became aware of the Office 365 solution, MeetingSquared. Financially this was a better option for us, given our 25 users, and the college was already using Office 365 so it felt like an obvious step to use MeetingSquared. It took some work to migrate everything across from the hosted solution to the Office 365 solution, and some work internally with our IT department, but now it all works fine.”
Deployment of MeetingSquared allowed Nescot to realise all of the objectives that it outlined when it initially made the decision to use an online board portal. The users of MeetingSquared within Nescot mostly don’t know (or mind) where the solution is hosted – the user experience is very similar to BoardPacks and that is the main thing, according to David Round:
“We are now almost paper-free in our meetings and members can access and annotate materials on their own device. If there are any late changes to papers, which often does happen, then I can make those changes instantaneously, and they’re immediately there to all members. There’s also the knowledge base, which we started to use to put corporate documents in, like our management accounts.”
The sheer ease of use with MeetingSquared is another major win for Nescot. The age range of the board members is enormous – the oldest member of the board is 78 and the youngest is 18 – and there were wildly differing levels of comfort with using new technologies.
“It’s very, very flexible and simple to use, really. There’s nothing complex about it,” concluded David Round. “That’s what I find really attractive. I also wanted a solution that fitted around the kit that most people already had. Most people have iPads or android tablet devices, so the app that’s available just works beautifully in that environment.”