Ravanti Halai, Walsingham Support

Convene Customer Success

Walsingham Support

We spoke to Ravanti Halai, Executive Manager – ELT & Board at Walsingham Support - to see what they were looking for in a meeting solution and how Convene aligned with that.

Image: Ravanti Halai

Walsingham Support are a charity that has been supporting people with learning disabilities, autism, brain injuries and complex needs across England and Wales since 1986.   
Please describe the situation before Convene

We always said that we wanted to move to digital. There was too much paperwork. We were sitting in a room with 17 Board packs, adding meeting papers one by one. If I spotted an error, it would be a case of me correcting it and going back to the photocopier. This was all down to me because I serve the Board and Trustees. I did have support available, but as is often the situation, it can often be quicker for one person to resolve an issue. If I did spot an error I had to escalate this, and wait for someone to come back to me, then it was back to the copier, before adding in the amended document and re-stapling it into 17 packs, so you can end up where you started essentially.

Ten to 15 years ago we would not have thought that software of this sort existed. They did exist but may not have taken the same form especially as far as the notion of paperless was concerned. Generally speaking, I don’t like being faced with new systems and the accompanying learning curve so I was a bit daunted at the idea of introducing a digital solution, especially since it was down to me to manage it and show people how to use it. Despite the difficulties we were facing with the paper based processes, I thought that it might be easier to stick to our traditional methods, however Convene has turned out to be a godsend, and I’ve used that exact word on several occasions!

Our meeting packs are quite extensive, being comprised of anything between 110-130 pages, although we are reducing this number bit by bit. It’s ironic, when we were still paper based, we didn’t have a full appreciation of the print volumes. But now that we’re using the system, we have full visibility. Of course, we knew that the packs were extensive, but we’d never sat down and counted the pages! When people realise how much they have to read through, questions have arisen as to the need to read through 130-150 papers.

What were Walsingham’s original reasons for making the move to digital?

Cost definitely came into it. Printing out 17 Board packs and the cost of posting them out was expensive, plus there was the odd occasion when a pack would become lost. If for example you have the finance and remuneration committee and you’re sending them a confidential pack containing information on people’s salaries, the envelope has confidential clearly marked on it, but the information remains confidential provided it actually reaches the intended recipient. If an envelope goes astray, then there is the risk of information being accessed by someone who is not authorised to do so. This obviously has serious implications especially now with GDPR, more so in the last two years. Security was therefore a second key motivation in our choice to move to digital. The other key advantage is that if there is ever an error in the report, now we can go in and change it when before you’d have to notify people and remedy the error. We send our packs out one week before the meeting, and to print out an amended paper two days before the meeting is just too late for people, whereas now corrections can be made in an instant.

How involved were IT in the Convene implementation?

When we first started, we had an IT manager who linked into our meetings to see how Convene worked. Our IT function is outsourced, so this probably didn’t work as well as would have been the case had we had an internal IT function. And then we had a change in our IT provision. The new IT function did not have direct involvement with Convene because it was an external environment, so this has meant that we have not received the required level of system support in all cases. If a user has difficulty logging on, we then need to come back and inform Convene that we don’t know why this is the case. With hindsight, it might have been better for our IT function and Convene to have had more involvement with each other so that if there were any difficulties IT would know how to resolve them. For example, when we have a new user, we are a bit unsure as to how they link in and get them set up.

What were your initial selection criteria for a new system?

For us, being a charity, cost was a factor that featured large. Plus, the year that we were looking at it was a year when we didn’t have a budget, so for us cost was definitely at the forefront. We would also have to ask whether or not we needed our trustees to have their own tablets and whether or not they were able to use their own ones or would there be a need for us to purchase new ones. As it turned out, we only had a need to purchase three tablets which are used for Convene and nothing else. As a result of our charity status, sustainability and the green agenda is also of considerable importance to us.

Did you consider any other solution providers, if so which ones?

We did look at Boardpacks at one point, but the cost was close to ten times higher than Convene, so the price was an immediate concern. Part of their package included a new iPad, but then that was not always something that was required. We didn’t consider any other providers over and above that. When we spoke to Boardpacks some years ago it was 500 pounds per user. Another concern was that Boardpacks didn’t have many charities on their books. This meant that it was difficult for us to form an opinion as to the value adds the system would offer for others in our sector, since we did not have any organisations to compare our situation with.

What was it about Convene that resulted in implementation?

We were surprised at the cost effectiveness of Convene when compared to Boardpacks. To be honest, we would probably not have gone digital had it not been for finding out about Convene. It was recommended to us by Fitzroy, another charity.

What was it about Convene that resulted in implementation?

There are ten Board members plus the Executive team that attend the meetings, and of course myself. We also have our Assurance and Finance committees. We have a subsidiary group – Walsingham Community Support Solutions. There is our Senior Leadership team, and all individuals in the categories listed are Convene users. In total we have 30 users, and this is slowly picking up.

Please describe your meeting structure

There are ten Board members plus the Executive team that attend the meetings, and of course myself. We also have our Assurance and Finance committees. We have a subsidiary group – Walsingham Community Support Solutions. There is our Senior Leadership team, and all individuals in the categories listed are Convene users. In total, we have 30 users, and this is slowly picking up.

How has Convene helped Walsingham as far as security is concerned?

We like the fact that we can securely store confidential information contained in a board pack. We are learning new things about what Convene can do all the time, and there are times when I wonder if I am aware of the full functionality, so a refresher session might be useful.

Are there any particular Convene features that you find particularly useful?

That’s an interesting question actually, because we have only recently begun to use the Document Library, but it’s come up recently so I would like to go back to Convene to find out more about what it can do, the confidentiality angle and information accessibility, especially in light of the fact that we have so many Convene users now. I use the system administration feature to check user activity. Being the administrator, I make use of the Document Library. We sometimes have guests so it’s useful to be able to add them in. Where we have participants at a meeting, we can also allow other members and committees access to meeting papers and the required information they are in need of even if they were not at the actual meeting. That’s another reason I like Convene, it’s very user friendly and you don’t need to be technical to make changes.

Do you use the Agenda feature?

We set the agenda and use the recurring option for our regular meetings. 

Did you use Convene as system for remote working?

We hadn’t used it for remote working prior to lockdown

Please tell me about the implementation process and the level of support and Account Management you received.

It was very good. The videos were really helpful, and it is good that someone is at the end of the phone. There are speedy responses to emailed queries, so it has been a very good experience.

Do you have any specific cost metrics you are able to share?

We conducted a cost comparison exercise a while ago, and when we added up the material costs of our previous working methods, it turned out that it was actually cheaper to use Convene. Another key point is that as a charity, cost is always a key concern, and we have really appreciated the fact that Convene have always been very willing to provide additional resources whenever we have requested them, especially during this time when financial concerns are prevalent.

How have your users taken to Convene?

One of our trustees loved Convene so much he requested details to take to another Board he sat on. In the case of our Board member with the learning difficulty it was really important for our trustees to hear how the system worked so well for him. That was key for us to know that he was able to read the papers. The annotations are user friendly for him to use so, Convene has been successful in that area.

Have you observed a difference in time saving?

We have noticed a massive difference in time saving! To be able to prepare a pack and then press publish has been lifesaving in terms of my role and how much of my time has been freed up. One of my administrators has just come back from maternity leave, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to remember how to use Convene having been away from the system for about a year. As it turned out, she was able to do so without any difficulties at all, and she is now doing the next meeting. It didn’t take her any time at all to re-familiarise herself with the solution.

Would you recommend Convene to other organisations in the charity sector?

Yes definitely. I’m part of a networking group for about 600 PA’s on for charities and when we meet, I always recommend Convene if the subject comes up of meetings management and others.

Please summarise Convene in a single sentence

"Cost-effective, user-friendly, easy to use." Ravanti Halai, Executive Manager – ELT & Board at Walsingham Support

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