by Laurie Clarke

How UK CIOs are creating social good through tech

Apr 05, 2019

LSE CIO Laura Dawson

“Loneliness and isolation is one of the biggest problems that the UK faces and we don’t hear enough about it,” LSE CIO Laura Dawson told CIO UK. “What can we as charities, either from a technology point of view or just because we have a charitable network, do to solve that problem and make it better?”

Dawson also called on CIOs, particularly in the charity and non-profit sector, to work together more to lead to the best outcomes for their beneficiaries.

“We’ve been talking about this for years and we need to start doing it,” she said.

Nominet CTO Simon McCalla

Nominet CTO Simon McCalla

Nominet CTO Simon McCalla’s focus is on protecting .uk domains and ensuring that it’s one of the world’s leading country codes on the internet, but he also has to ensure that the company produces a public benefit.

“We’re a profit with a purpose business in that we don’t distribute any earnings or shares to shareholders,” he says. “Every penny of what we make as a surplus is either reinvested in R&D work, to protect things like .uk or it’s invested in public benefit activities.”

These activities include working with the Prince’s Trust to help young people create digital businesses and with youth-led creative network Livity to provide digital training to 175 people, and then partners them with a local SME for a paid work placement.

“It’s a really nice exchange of ideas,” says McCalla. “The young people gain a collection of skills and experience for their CV, and the businesses gain digital skills from the young people. And it builds a case of kind of local communities around technology.”

Age UK Chief Digital and Technology Officer Lara Burns

Age UK Chief Digital and Technology Officer Lara Burns

“I want people to talk to me about the services they get and how they would like to reshape them. And I think also getting communities involved and helping them to help each other will also play a big part,” Age UK Chief Digital and Technology Officer Lara Burns told CIO UK.

“Everything we do is tech for good, it’s key to everything my team does,” she added.

“My team is the IT, the tech, the pipes and electricity side of tech – but it’s also I guess what people see as the digital side. Doing things differently, trying to innovate by using technology in different ways which is what we’ve really been focusing on in the last couple of years.

“We won Digital Charity of the Year just recently and I think part of the reason we won that is because we’ve really been focusing on using technology to do good for our beneficiaries.”

Burns added: “We’re starting to talk about how can we develop technologies that we can share. How can we start to work together and share a solution? That’s not quite as easy as it sounds for but me that whole kind of Tech for Good discussion could be really interesting in the way we start making things happen a lot faster by pooling our money.”

NHS Trust ICT Director Balvinder Heran

NHS Trust ICT Director Balvinder Heran

In her role as NHS Trust ICT Director, Balvinder Heran advocates against merely providing the minimum level of care. “Quite often we forget that caring is not about making sure somebody’s washed and cleaned and has got their medication or has had their meal,” she said. “It’s actually, if you’re living on your own, that’s the only person you see, and they only come in and do the clinical stuff because that’s all the time they’ve got.”

“For me, I would like, through the use of digital and advanced IT developments, to be able to release that capacity for the front line staff to be able to spend that time, because isolation and loneliness I think are big contributing factors to the health and wellbeing of our population.”

Heran looks forward to involving every element of the community in her plans for better healthcare. “One of my first tasks is to bring together a joint strategy,” she said. “But I want that strategy to be a living, breathing document that tells every stakeholder what it will mean for them. So it won’t be written in a technical way. It will be something that says, you’re a stakeholder. You have a part to play in this.”

Good Energy Chief Technology Officer David Ivell

Good Energy Chief Technology Officer David Ivell

Good Energy Chief Technology Officer David Ivell is delivering a digital strategy that harnesses innovations in renewable energies to tackle climate change.

Technology will play a key role in the growth. Ivell is currently implementing a digital strategy that aims to drive investment into emerging technologies that will improve the company’s digital products, operating systems and customer experience, with the ultimate aim of changing consumption habits.

“What we’re going to do is use our opportunities in technology to deliver a better environment for our feed-in tariffs,” says Ivell. “We see that there’s a lot of organisations and individuals that want to sell their information back to us.”

Amnesty International CIO John Gillespie

Amnesty International CIO John Gillespie

Outgoing Amnesty International CIO John Gillespie challenged his fellow CIOs to take a leading role when it comes to AI ethics.

“The geeks are not going to inherit the earth – but our algorithms might,” he said. “Frankly, the only people who understand it are going to be CIOs in this room, who built out these algorithms, who built up the systems to take advantage of this technology, and it’s up to us to take that leadership and that responsibility.”

“The CEO is worrying about shareholder value, products, cash flow, the sales teams are all about hitting targets,” he explained, “but when it comes to personal responsibility it should be CIOs taking it on.”*

Ordnance Survey Chief Data Officer Caroline Bellamy

Ordnance Survey Chief Data Officer Caroline Bellamy

In 2007, OS founded the Geovation accelerator to help startup harness the power of location data to solve real-world problems. Members are given £20,000 in funding and the opportunity to speak to developers and have the resources that are at our disposal.

It has since helped 72 GeoTech and PropTech businesses create 189 new jobs and raise £19.5 million in investment funding.

The Clerkenwell-based accelerator receives funding from OS a year to support startups such as Skyroom, which helps landlords to help turn their disused rooftops into homes, and ProxyAddress, which uses empty addresses to connect those facing homelessness with the support

“We make sure that startups and entrepreneurs who want to leverage geospatial data are supported to do that,” said Bellamy. “We do that at no cost whilst they’re still not operating on a commercial scale. We give them access to data and skill sets and partner with them.”