Are IT teams in charities evolving from gatekeepers to digital enablers?

March 25, 2014 at 10:19

John Simcock, Charities Director at eduserv, tells us about their latest research into Digital transformation in UK charities.

This week we’ll be attending the CFG annual IT conference and thought it would be a good opportunity for charity leaders to consider the future role of the IT team within their organisation.

We recently conducted research in partnership with CharityComms with 100 digital and IT charity leaders. The full findings are included in our report ‘Delivering Digital Transformation in UK Charities’ but some of the key findings may appear as cause for concern for charity leaders.

It found that 73% thought their organisation would raise less money if they did not fully embrace digital channels. A further 71% said their reputation would suffer and 59% said they did not think their services would keep pace with the needs of those they support. Although budget was cited as the biggest barrier to digital transformation among 70% of charities, two thirds (66%) said a lack of knowledge of what digital could do for the organisation was a major issue for those surveyed.

So, embracing digital transformation is essential – but where do IT leaders see their role in this journey?

Contrary to what many digital leads believe, we found that many IT teams are more than willing to evolve the way they work to support digital. Far from being the ‘gatekeepers’ of old, some even see this evolution as necessary to their survival and are remodelling themselves as digital enablers.

Take this quote from a report by UNICEF UK: “When you think about it digital teams have already become a kind of second IT department,” said Ian Williamson, the ICT Director. “That’s a real challenge and a wake-up call to IT: it says, if you just carry on doing desktop and don’t learn about how to support digital working then pretty soon you’re going to be out of a job.”

Which led us to wonder, what does this mean in reality? Does it mean IT teams are actually going to start reporting to digital in some cases? Well not exactly. As Ian Williamson also points out, although his digital colleagues now technically lead some projects that might have previously been in the IT team (hosting, for example), the reality is that they work collaboratively and on equal footing to achieve the right result for the organisation. This is a sensible approach. As others point out in the report, digital teams are unlikely to be able to carry out a watertight procurement and technology strategy on their own.

With this in mind, we also provide an analysis in the report that points to how IT and digital can start to put this team work into practice. This advice includes:

• Building the relationship – how building a common understanding of workloads, priorities and future areas of focus is an investment which pays off when it comes to scoping a project.
• Making sure the relationship works both ways – how seeking the expertise of digital teams for IT led projects, for example asking them to help develop interfaces for internal systems, can help to further foster relationships and build a greater understanding of each other’s needs.
• Getting good governance that doesn’t bog anyone down – we also discuss how seeking formal governance to help manage the IT and digital relationship can be a good thing, just so long as it doesn’t impede ‘agile’ processes and frequent release schedules.

Perhaps the main conclusion of interest to IT teams and charity leaders that we draw from the research is that the progress digital teams want to make will definitely require support and backing from IT teams. IT will need to play a critical part in shaping and executing digital projects and will prove essential to any charity that wants to successfully deliver its digital vision. If that’s a proposition that excites you, I recommend you read the report in full.