by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Veronica Frost, Australian Red Cross

Nov 24, 2016
Technology Industry

Veronica Frost was promoted to CIO at the Australian Red Cross in April 2014. Since then, Frost has transformed an IT department that was verging on dysfunctional to a capable, highly regarded delivery organisation.

Frost addressed a long legacy of inadequate investment and cost cutting, resulting in outdated and high risk technology.

“How we delivered IT services and the IT culture all needed to change,” says Frost. “We also needed to hire the right people with the right level of experience in service delivery and customer focus – I didn’t want just pure technologists. 70 per cent of the IT staff were not part of the organisation two years ago.”

Frost says she also needed to ensure that IT was an enabler, not a constraint.

Her goal was to empower people in the organisation to look to IT as an advisor or service broker but run their own projects without having to wait in line.

Australian Red Cross is at the start of the second year of its transformation strategy and over the past year, Frost has led a disparate set of IT projects across multiple programs of work into a single portfolio that has significantly decreased operating overheads for the not-for-profit organisation and better aligned IT with the organisation’s strategy.

Frost instigated an enterprise architecture project which despite initially being met with scepticism, resulted in a fully engaged board and executive team, delivering a three-year application roadmap for IT.

She implemented a ‘cloud-first’ strategy to remove the constraints of a legacy environment. The organisation moved to software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service architectures, primarily using Office 365 and Amazon Web Services (AWS) environments.

The move to an AWS environment delivered a 30 per cent application performance improvement in four months.

The cloud strategy – along with WiFi and remote access implementations – has enabled the organisation to deploy a more mobile workforce and engage volunteers and members by providing better access to resources.

The Office 365 environment – which replaces a wiki and intranet – provides a single source of truth to workers and has introduced Twitter to the home page, which has become a meeting point for internal information and attracted staff to the website.

The IT group is supporting business teams rather than owning their initiatives. The operational teams have introduced new people and processes that have changed the IT department from legacy thinking and behaviours.

“We’ve achieved stability – IT is not visible like it used to be, in a bad way,” says Frost. “We can get on with the job and make the most of our tight budget and resource constraints to move forward.”

A key influencer

The Australian Red Cross’ leadership team recognises that the use of new technology will be vital if the organisation is to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive not-for-profit sector.

Frost spent a great deal of time gaining the buy-in and trust of the organisation’s executive team and board. She is part of the national executive team and a key influencer not just in technology matters but across the entire organisation.

Digitally connecting members and volunteers

Over the next 18 months, the organisation will use its newly acquired technology tools to allow its 30,000 supporters in the community to self-organise humanitarian action through digitally-led peer-to-peer activities.

“That could be through creating a connected movement – allowing our volunteers to share stories, collaborate on ideas and engage with Red Cross staff,” Frost says.

“At the moment, we don’t have the ability connect volunteers together or connect them with members and supporters. It’s always ‘workforce to volunteer’ or ‘workforce to member’. This way the whole strategy or direction is to not just have a face to face connected movement but an online connected movement.

“We want to provide a platform where there’s volunteering opportunities that people can sign up to or communities in need where voluntary action can be initiated through the platform. That’s our next stage.”

Byron Connolly