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How IT Failed The Social Sector


Tuesday, 26th April 2016 at 11:26 am
Ian Patterson
This isn't easy to say but stop spending money on IT right now because you and your Not for Profit are wasting time and money, writes IT strategist Ian Patterson.

Tuesday, 26th April 2016
at 11:26 am
Ian Patterson


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How IT Failed The Social Sector
Tuesday, 26th April 2016 at 11:26 am

Hot Topic: This isn’t easy to say but stop spending money on IT right now because you and your Not for Profit are wasting time and money, writes IT strategist Ian Patterson.

The state of IT in the social sector is abysmal. It pains me to see already resource-starved organisations waste money on poorly thought-out and executed IT systems. If you do nothing else after reading this, please – stop spending money and take a very serious look at your IT infrastructure and strategy.

The typical NFP awkwardly and imperfectly morphs technology to suit their needs. And there’s little more than a superficial discussion on IT strategy. (We deep dive into crafting an NFP-focused IT strategy in our whitepaper The Hidden Potential of IT).

I’ve seen dozens of organisations implement costly software like CRM only to have it collect dust. Time and money is wasted because no one knows how to use it and, maybe, it wasn’t the right solution in the first place.

Solving problems one-by-one with IT is what leads organisations down the rabbit hole. IT is a big picture endeavor and needs to be treated as such.

So what is the answer? Put simply: You need to align your IT to your purpose. What does that mean? Let’s break it down.

There are eight core capabilities that cover all your IT operations. That’s it. No matter how big or small you are there are just  eight.

The trick is to look at each with a “purpose-first” mindset. IT can and should be aligned to your purpose. If it’s not, you either don’t need it or it’s being used incorrectly.

  1.  IT Governance – Ensuring IT Delivers and Continues to Deliver

If you think of IT as a human being, then IT governance would be the brain. With the right framework in place you can direct and control IT within your organisation.

IT governance becomes increasingly important as an organisation grows in size and complexity. It is vital to ensure technology is being used effectively and, most importantly, to provide accountability.

The structures and mechanisms used will vary however; there are three common objectives for any IT governance framework:

  • develop, confirm and monitor the implementation of IT strategy
  • manage the technology requirements of your operating model
  • measure and report on IT performance (operations, strategic projects, compliance and risk, financial).
  1. Integrated Reporting – Informing Good Decision Making

If governance is the brain, integrated reporting would be the nervous system. The function that carries the useful information up.

I’ve seen many organisations inadvertently silo their applications. A lack of integrated reporting makes it nigh-on-impossible to understand how the organisation is performing without manually compiling spreadsheets and reports. Time better spent delivering.

Management reports need to be available on demand, presented in a way that informs decision-making, and at a minimum include:

  • workforce performance
  • business sustainability – (service delivery, asset performance, financial performance)
  • client outcomes and impact
  • compliance and funding.
  1.  Application Alignment & Integration – An Efficient Back Office Means Greater Revenue for The More Important Things

I often see organisations growing organically over a number of years without following a clear IT strategy. The usual result is an architecture of duplicated systems, proliferated data and makeshift integration. Often there is no “one source of truth”.

This is where you need to align your backbone.

Streamline your back office operations to maximise the funds you can allocate to service delivery. How?

  • Ensure all of your applications are “fit-for-purpose” and used effectively.
  • Integrate your systems to reduce manual handling of data.
  • By continually monitoring and fine tuning your applications to keep them running like a well-oiled machine.
  1. Workforce Collaboration & Mobility – More Time Delivering, Less Time Wasting

Mobilising is the all the buzz right now. We’re talking about getting the applications your team uses and making them accessible remotely by tablet, phone or laptop so they can hit the ground running. These are the legs of your organisation.

Focus on providing your team with the tools they need from any location. For organisations working across multiple geographic locations this is a must.

  1. Workforce Support – Educating Your Team & Helping Them Stay Productive

Supporting your workforce is much more than fixing a technical issue when it occurs. It’s about helping your team use technology well. This is where the heart comes in.

By strategically on-boarding your users through a crafted approach to learning you won’t have to worry about technology being ignored internally. This takes careful consideration but with the right approach, you can get your workforce using technology with confidence.

  1. IT Management – Managing Your IT Platform & Mitigating Risk

If you’re a CFO reading this, you’re likely well across this one. This is where the majority of operational IT risk resides. This is the regular doctor’s check-up we all need.

The applications your team rely upon reside on your IT platform – where you see and use the applications. Whilst end users don’t care about the platform – management needs to. This platform secures those applications, your data, provides your virus and malware protection and your ability to recover when things go wrong. You need crystal clear visibility into how it’s performing.

  1. Service Delivery – Using Tech to Improve Service Delivery, Boost Engagement & Experience

For most, IT plays a supportive role designed to support service delivery. Having said that, there are a number of areas where technology can directly enhance the lives of those who we serve.

IT can be the hands that extend.

For example, Member Self Service (MSS) systems such as Portals enable clients to access their own service delivery plans/rosters/fees and make bookings at their own leisure. This decentralisation of “admin” allows clients to become more self-sufficient and enables the service provider to become client-centric, by providing 24/7 access to client information.

Consider what your beneficiaries could gain from technology that has been tailored to them.

  1. Digital & Social Media Marketing – Creating Awareness, Reach More People.

I don’t need to tell you the importance of being heard. While being popular on Twitter may not be directly relevant to your mission, the scope isn’t just limited to your direct audience. With the right strategy you can attract volunteers, staff, supporters and philanthropic organisations.

This is the mouth of the human, but organisations must remember to only speak when they have something to say. Marketing automation technology is great if used appropriately. Think about when and where­ your broadcasting could help you fulfil your social objectives.

And those are the eight  strategic capabilities of every IT system. Getting to grips with them is one thing. Executing them well is another. But I would encourage you to take a critical approach to every IT function and analyse how it directly benefits your mission. This is the first step to using IT strategically and maximising your impact.

About the author: Ian Patterson, is CEO of Human IT. With almost 20 years of experience in IT strategy and management, he  is passionate about helping  Not for Profit and for-purpose organisations create social value through IT. Human IT works to help the social sector organisations fix their internal operations and boost their social impact.


Ian Patterson  |   |  @ProBonoNews

Ian Patterson is CEO of Human IT and is passionate about helping Not for Profit and for-purpose organisations create social value.

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