August 28, 2013
I like to see cloud technologies being applied to sectors where they’ve not generally been prevalent. Want an example of an old world part of business that is still steeped in traditional ways of doing things? Look no further than your nearest boardroom where printed boardpapers and fax machines are the norm and overhead projectors are considered cutting edge. This fact is kind of counter intuitive when one considers two very relevant facts:
- Boards of directors are tasked with plotting the strategic direction for business who are impacted by the various technological revolutions that are occurring (mobile, cloud, internet etc)
- Boards of directors have an ever-increasing level of compliance that they need to meet – transparency is arguably more important for directors than for everyone else
Seeing these facts, and recognizing that there is something of a hole in the market for well executed, highly secure and easy to use solutions for boards documentation needs comes Seneca. Seneca is a UK based startup with an international team that has a background disrupting other traditional industries – co-founder Adam Burmister is a former Xero developer. Interestingly around the same time that Xero was founded, one of the few competitors for Seneca, Diligent Board Books, was also getting started That company has a good product but the business has been damaged by a succession of governance blunders (which in itself is ironic).
Anyway – the idea of Seneca is to smooth the process for general board reporting – the company does so via a cloud-based solution that has four main functional areas:
- The creation of board reports that are easily digested and accessible online
- The archival of board reports all in one place
- The distribution of board reports to board members and other parties
- The management of multiple boards whereby directors who sit on a number of boards have a central location for all their board papers
There are a few sides to these sort of products, they need to be easy enough for executives to build their board reports quickly and easily – since reporting is important but isn’t core to their day to day job. They need to be sufficiently user-friendly that board members, often not the most tech savvy of folks, can access them and annotate them where required. Finally they need to make life easier for company secretaries and the like who actually have to wrangle this information between the various parties. On top of that there are the obvious non-negotiable aspects like security of data, accessibility and the like.
This is a hard market to crack – my experience as a board member is that this is one area where people tend to shy away from bleeding edge technology. That company executive that everyone tells the apocryphal tale about him printing out his emails and hand writing replies for his secretary to send off? Well that story was from a few years ago and likely that chap now sits on a number of different Boards of Directors. And he’s not alone, directors tend to be a little… ahem, fusty. Add to that the fact that many boards will be very reluctant to store their crown jewels, the highest level reporting and information they have, in the public cloud and you have a few big issues that Seneca needs to crack.
That said, the Seneca solution is really nice – the fact that directors can comment, highlight and even draw on electronic board papers. The fact that minutes can be recorded easily and kept in order and in one place. The fact that action points can be tracked. Those are all really valuable features. The issue here isn’t whether Seneca has built a nice product (they have). The issue isn’t about whether Seneca’s hosting is secure (I’ve no doubt it is). The question here is how long does it take to drag a traditional group such as corporate directors, kicking and screaming into the modern world – on that question, the jury is still out.