If digital transformation means agile working, what are the implications for finance?

February 10, 2016 at 13:41

This guest blog is by Nevil Durrant, Finance Director at Eduserv. Eduserv are delivering two workshops at CFG’s IT and Data Insight conference on 2 March, 2016. Find out more and book your place on the CFG website.

Right now, we hear a lot about digital technology and how it’s going to fundamentally change the way the charity sector operates. What’s really interesting is that enlightened charities aren’t just talking about digital in terms websites, smartphones or social media. Instead, they’re talking about wholesale digital transformation and how they want to develop new working cultures that enable continuous, focused change.

Quite rightly too. Digital transformation should be about much more than simply using new tools to enhance and support fundraising. It’s about building an adaptive organisation that focuses on the fundamental needs of beneficiaries, fundraisers, volunteers and staff.

In the vast majority of cases where charities embrace this approach, this also means shifting from the old waterfall style of project management towards agile working.

In my opinion, this has the potential to be a very positive move. For one thing, agile can be very effective at getting cross-functional teams to focus on real user needs and be more responsive to the fast pace of change in today’s digital world.

Just look at the way it’s worked for the award winning Government Digital Service, which has helped government move on from the era of ‘big bang’ IT failures and is now successfully using agile to launch new user-focused digital services quickly, iteratively and seamlessly.

So we should all be ready to adopt agile with open arms, right?
Unfortunately, there is a hurdle to overcome from a finance perspective – or at least a mental hurdle — because I know for a fact that many FDs in charities believe agile working can be very difficult to budget for.

Part of the reason why this perception has come about is that agile demands involvement from multiple stakeholders across the business, so it can be easy for FDs to feel like projects are running out of control with lack of clear ownership.
By its very nature, agile product development is also all about evolution, keeping thinking fluid and adapting to change quickly.

That’s fine, and absolute in keeping with charities need in the modern age, but you need to make sure things remain constant – especially your overall business objective. If you don’t, and you let your strategic objectives evolve and change in the same way the agile development process does, it can be a recipe for financial disaster and a complete loss of control over spend. If you manage things carefully however and keep lines of communication open across the business, it’s perfectly possible to exploit all the benefits that agile has to offer.

There are also positives that come with agile that FDs can take advantage of with the right approach.

To my mind one of the biggest of those positives – which is perhaps counter intuitive for some – is the fact that agile methods dictate that projects don’t end with launch. This can be a real benefit from a finance perspective because you don’t have to fear failure in the same way you might have done with IT projects in the past. Indeed, with agile, the launch is only just the beginning of continual iterations that will improve the service over time.

To make the most of this, however, I think it’s advisable to have robust testing and support services in place. Once you’ve invested in a transformational digital project it’s essential to make sure your services don’t deteriorate once it goes live. Think always about the lifetime of your digital service, it’s performance and continual improvement.
Do that, and you will not only provide a better service, but also save money in the long run.

If you would like to find out more about digital transformation and agile working then join us at this year’s CFG Annual Data and Insight Conference on 2 March where we’ll be hosting workshops on:

Digital risk and reward: the need to invest vs the organisation risk
A look at how digital transformation can improve service delivery to make cost savings and reduce the security risks involved.

The ‘how’ of digital transformation
This workshop will take a comprehensive look at digital structures, the impact of agile on budgets, skills, risk, reward and opportunity.