“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
– Benjamin Franklin
In the famed British fable, the little pig who built a house of straw soon lost his house to the Big Bad Wolf. (He also became a serving of bacon for his clever predator’s dinner.) The only pig smart enough to outwit the conniving old wolf built his house of bricks. (He enjoyed wolf stew for his evening meal.) Carefree short-term thinking creates costly risks. For school boards needing board management software, the free stuff is alluring, but the shrewd buyer builds a stronger foundation that stands the test of time.
A board may decide to live with the often-lackluster features of free software – not-quite-right mechanisms for group editing, say, or unsearchable records. What no school board can tolerate, though, are compromises on cybersecurity. Getting free board software creates the formidable risk of waking up one day to hear the three words that bring everything to a standstill: “You’ve been hacked.” Eight scenarios can create this dreaded outcome with free board management software:
The problem is not the directors; it’s the customary dearth of training. New board members may never get initial training on the software, and even experienced board members may be hunting and pecking without ever attaining mastery of the software’s capacities.
Free board management software does nothing to avert the crisis portended by this innocent ignorance. Training is simply not part of the package. The same goes for the low-cost option of out-of-the-box software installed on a hard drive.
Only full-service board portal software with a track record of training service addresses this need. BoardDocs provides continuous responsiveness to customers’ training needs, with webinars, videos and award-winning customer service that promises a live person on the other end of the line.
On this point, experts speak with a single voice. Netskope conducted a study of companies that stored their data on the cloud. A full 15% of them had been hacked. Storing data off the cloud is the only way to be safe from phishing attacks and hacked servers.
It is not only the cloud itself that multiplies risk. Data destined for the cloud makes numerous pit stops along the way. At any of these sites, it is wide open to attack by nefarious actors. Free board software leaves files open to these risks.
The solution is to store data on a secure private server safely off the cloud (even if its data host is “cloud based”). Only top-of-the-line, full-service board portal providers keep your confidential information under lock and key. They also conduct all data transmission over a secure connection.
Free board management software seldom rises to that standard. More often, it offers no encryption or low (128-bit) encryption. Full-service board portal software protects your confidential information with full encryption, the kind that sends hackers running the other way.
Using email for board communications is thus a risky business. Since school boards usually display board members’ email addresses on their public-facing websites, it is remarkably easy for a bad actor to send damaging click-bait to an entire board. If just one member falls for it and clicks, there goes the district data.
To dodge that bullet, school boards need management software that provides a secure portal through which board members can collaborate with one another. Free board software does not provide it; only full-service secure board portals do.
Free board management software has no developers keeping data protected from successive waves of criminal tactics. Safeguards provided at the time the software is downloaded remain at the front line of cyber defenses. When a hacker, say, perfects a decoy that fool victims’ systems into “recognizing” code as part of their own network, they would easily topple defenses designed for a less-subtle and precise decoy lure.
Free board management software stops “evolving” as soon as it’s downloaded, making data stored there a soft target for increasingly sophisticated assaults. Even low-cost software bought off the shelf and downloaded onto a hard drive does not update its protections. Larger districts might have IT staff write custom code for board management software. That strategy, too, poses risks: Small staff with multiple priorities cannot be expected to constantly monitor complex international scams and generate defenses for all of them.
Only a full-service board portal software company follows through with ongoing protection updates that keep pace with new threats. Large companies with designated departments have programmers constantly scanning the threat horizon and developing safeguards for the next generation of attacks.
Full-service secure board portal providers face no such conflict of interest, making their servers safe repositories for sensitive board data. Their “free” counterparts, by contrast, put data at risk as a routine matter of doing business.
Free software provides no safeguards against such human error. To keep board information consistently segregated from public readings, a school board needs to fully automate distribution channels. Only top-tier, full-service board portals provide role-based authorizations, which keep the right information before the right readers every single time.
Any of these draconian scenarios can throw budgets into a tailspin. Damage control costs much more than preventive measures, as the City of Atlanta learned the hard way. By skimping on cybersecurity, it paid over $2 million to restore their computer systems after a successful March 2018 attack. Doing it right the first time would have cost a third that amount and prevented the other types of chaos that the attack created.
For school boards, the sudden, spikey nature of these budget surprises is every bit as debilitating as the high dollar amounts that they call for. Public-sector boards do not tactically move reserve funds with the shifting concerns of executives who exercise discretion over accounts. Evenly paced, predictable expenses better suit their budgetary process.
“Free” software runs the risk of creating a future budget emergency in a system not designed to be responsive to crises. By contrast, yearly subscription fees for full-service board portal software providers keeps such damaging scenarios at bay, while they themselves constitute a consistent, manageable expense. In return for that fee, dedicated staff provides ongoing training, nimble customer service, security updates and first-class private server storage – while keeping board data off-limits to advertisers and prying public eyes.
Free board management software is hardly the bargain it appears to be. Security risks alone make them a fool’s paradise. Online data dwells in a forest where big bad wolves wait eagerly to pounce at every turn. Keep it safe with protection that does not “blow down” with a little huffing and puffing.
Cliff, Gerald. “Growing Impact of Cybercrime in Local Government Managers Face Uphill Battle.” Public Management 99:5 (June 2017).
Cloudfindhq.com, “How Secure is Google Drive? 10 Things You Need to Know about Cloud Security.”
IMD (International Institute of Management Development), “Board of Directors Training: Want to Optimize the Effectiveness of Your Board?”
Prinzlau, Mauricio, “Six Security Risks of Enterprises Using Cloud Storage and File Sharing Apps,” Data Insider March 22, 2016