London Advice Services Alliance(Lasa) is a leading national charity offering services in welfare rights advice, information and training. The CEO tells about his role, IT and leadership.
Q. Where were you born?
A. In London.
Q. How many people work in your IT department?
A. Lasa is a medium sized charity which offers a number of free ICT support resources to not-for-profit organisations, many of whom couldn’t afford to get the information without our input. We also offer a consultancy service where not-for-profit organisations can get expert advice on, maintaining and developing their IT systems. Our service is highly valued in the community. In March, Lasa received a prestigious ICT award at the 2010 Non-profit Technology Conference in Atlanta, USA for it’s outstanding contribution to the community.
Q. What is the basic structure of your IT department?
A. We have one person in-house who deals with day to day issues and who works with other relevant lasa staff on our overall ICT stragegy. We outsource the rest of our IT functions to Appichar. We also have a team that runs capacity building projects with other organisations and provide a range of ICT development resources such as our ICT knowledgebase to raise awareness of how ICT can help voluntary organisations deliver services and manage their ICT effectively.
Q. Who are your key suppliers?
A. Our key suppliers are Appichar, and Very PC who supply energy-efficient PC’s. We have a freelancer who designs and develops the main Lasa website and some of Lasa’s other websites and another who deals with our internal database. We help others in the sector by providing resources such as the ‘Suppliers Directory’ which connects voluntary and community sector organisations and registered adult social care providers in England with vetted suppliers of ICT products and services.
Q. Do you believe in mentoring?
A. Yes, I firmly believe in the benefits of mentoring. I have both received, and given mentoring to a number of colleagues. At Lasa we are keen to share our expertise and do this via our ‘Circuit Riders’ programme, where ICT staff have the opportunity to learn from each other. Our circuit rider development programme and UK riders list provide opportunities for those supporting voluntary and community sector organisations to share their knowledge. Lasa also hosts the London ‘ICT Champion’ who provides expertise to external organisations. Our Building Bridges to ICT excellence project also provides free ICT advice and support to organisations applying to the City Bridge Trust, Cripplegate Foundation and Wates Foundation for funding.
Mentoring is a great way to bounce ideas, share best practice and guide the next generation in their careers. Internally we have mentoring opportunities for all staff where senior staff members will offer their time and expertise to support fellow staff members. It works well and we always have positive feedback from both the mentor and the person being mentored. It’s important to me that staff feel supported and able to use their initiative in the workplace.
Q. Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating up/down/across?
A. Excellent listening skills can give you a competitive advantage. This is particularly true for us at Lasa where we are offering problem-solving tools and are working with organisations that are strapped for cash. Our Information Systems Team helps organisations make sure that they get the specifications of the project just right and this can only be achieved by carefully listening to the clients needs before helping them decide on the best option.
Q. How do you keep up-to-date with the march of technology?
A. Because we provide ICT development and support resources to other organisations, we need to keep up-to-date with technological developments. We are passionate about enabling the sector to realise the benefits of ICT in delivering services more efficiently and effectively. For example we were quick to see how the internet could benefit advice organisations. Our Rightsnet website is now the leading welfare rights website for advisers with millions of hits per year. Similarly, ‘AIMS’ (Advice and Information Management System) our easy to use contact management database facilitates capturing and reporting on outcomes of advice agencies’ work with their clients.
We also advocate and share knowledge about how to use social media and other tools for communication. Lasa produces a range of free publications on ICT aimed at small to medium voluntary and community sector organisations covering topics such as ICT strategy, management and use. ‘Computanews’ offers straight forward information on the use of ICT, ‘Computanews’ guides give practical guidance on specific ICT issues and answer common queries. ‘London ICT e-bulletin’ keeps organisations up-to-date with the latest news for circuit riding, ICT events accessibility and more.
Q. How do you deal with stress?
A. Breath deeply!
Q. What profession would you least like to attempt?
A. Deep sea diving, it can’t be nice to be underwater for so long and having a restricted oxygen supply. Apart from that I am always keen to try out new activities and listen to new business ideas. As a forward looking charity Lasa is always on the look out for new opportunities, the changing economic climate makes this even more vital. The proposed cuts in public finances mean that we will be competing for decreasing funds so we need to make sure that we’re on the ball.
Q. Which word or phrase do you most use/overuse?
A. I tend to overuse the word ‘blimey!’ It seems appropriate in a lot of situations in the advice sector at the moment.
Q. Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career?
A. The Art of War by Sun Tzu, reviewed by CIO UK
Q. What else do you do outside work?
A: I enjoy listening to Jazz and world music. I also like to go for long walks, as exercise helps keep the mind active.