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The Vanguard: Online tool brings meetings to order

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“Herding cats” has long been an expression for trying to get some unruly situation, generally involving lots of people, under control.

Rainer Jozeps and his wife Kate Gould decided it was an apt description of the challenge many organisations faced in organising and managing regular events like board and committee meetings.

So when they created a system to manage meetings, the name of their program became self-evident.

“Our Cat Herder” is an innovative online meeting and people management tool launched a year ago by the well-known Adelaide couple who have featured prominently in the state’s artistic and cultural life.

The system could be likened to a digital executive assistant in that it helps prepare agendas and documents for board and committee meetings, manages the minutes, and ensures actions are followed up.

Our Cat Herder was originally designed for the not-for-profit sector with Jozeps reasoning that people working with small, often community-based, organisations had better ways to use their time that labouring over meeting arrangements and documentation.

Jozeps says Our Cat Herder is now being used by a diverse range of organisations and enterprises from private sector companies to not-for-profit charities, schools and churches.

The managing director of Our Cat Herder says there was a ‘lightbulb moment’ when the concept became apparent.

Jozeps said that in an organisation holding monthly board meetings, a chief executive might be spending up to three or four days a month with their executive assistant in writing, printing, photocopying, collating, binding and distributing board papers to directors.

“It’s a very manual system and you are spending a lot of time and money managing all of that paperwork and the board arrangements,” Jozeps told The Vanguard.

“It’s just the nature of it but there was a moment when I thought to myself: ‘Why am I doing all of this work when I could be spending this time doing a whole lot of other things?” he said.

“It’s interesting how, amongst all the professional managers up and down the business spectrum, no-one had really thought to systemise this work and save time and money.”

So he engaged a partner – the “architect of the site” – and several programmers, and created Our Cat Herder. Two years in development, refining and testing, Our Cat Herder is now attracting interest around Australia and overseas. And it continues to evolve.

Jozeps said the online tool deals with the essential elements of any meeting – an agenda, minutes, and follow up – with a few clicks of the mouse. However, the menu driven system has a much greater role. It can store key documents like constitutions and strategic plans which can be accessed during a meeting, facilitate post-meeting online decision-making, and monitor follow up actions with a function called ‘action tracker’.

Jozeps said some directors or committee members are prone to get very excited and engaged during meetings and say ‘Yes, I’ll get that done’ in heat of the moment.

“But at the end of the day when they have gone away, the energy dissipates. We can now capture that energy in the action tracker,” he said.

“And the action tracker never goes away, its stays there, and it brings accountability to the situation with an email follow up that is recorded.”

With its record keeping capacity, Jozeps said Our Cat Herder is also a very effective tool for monitoring and managing the key performance indicators (KPIs) of senior executives who have much of their performance reviewed at board level.

“At the end of the year that KPI list is still there and two buttons tell the story – it’s either ‘completed’ or ‘in progress’.”

With highly sensitive and confidential material considered at board level, Our Cat Herder has a strong commitment to security with the cloud-based system hosted by Rackspace, a major US company boasting 60 per cent of Fortune 500 companies amongst its 200,000 clients worldwide.

Our Cat Herder can be used on computers and on mobiles and tablets for directors and senior executives on the move.

Sold as a license, Our Cat Herder costs $590 (including GST) a year for organisations with a turnover under $1 million and for $950 (including GST) annually for enterprises with turnovers above that threshold.

While it’s not about to replace a chair saying ‘this meeting will come to order’, Our Cat Herder may ensure the meeting does run well.

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