by Ross McCristal

CIO transformation in the third sector (non-profit and voluntary sector)

Nov 02, 2015

The third sector has been primed for transformation for some time, CIO's have led a paradigm shift of the sector through the repositioning of technology within their respective organizations. Culture and collaborative influencing has not only allowed new technology to be deployed but the true benefits of such technology to be realized through intelligent application.

The third sector arguably has been primed for transformation for some time, almost as if the transformational starting gun has been fired, several major borderless charities have undergone progressive modernization programs within relatively compact time frames. This wave of transformation has not been solely in the custody of only the borderless, but also many national and localized third sector organizations too. Interestingly, several themes have generated a change agenda and several common challenges have cut across the transformation of this sector. Technology and technology leaders have underpinned and driven the change, in many cases setting the vision, agenda and strategy.

Culture and collaborative influencing

Much of the third sector if not all I have had contact with are naturally passionate organizations with the core objectives of the organization forming the common agenda. Front line operations are considered paramount with technology investment being side-lined. The on boarding of commercial CIOs have at the minimum gained the trust of operations through to far reaching cultural change impacting the operational tier. Resistance to change has made a 360-degree turn to the on boarding and organization wide idea/concept generation. Innovating by deploying IT staff to front line secondments (including the CIO), technology roadshows, submission showcase, all encompassed with strong collaborative and influencing skills. These influencing skills have ultimately been used to gain the exec boards’ buy in for change and peer to peer collaborative influencing to on board operational peers to accept and understand the benefit realization of new technology.

Repositioning technology

The on boarding of commercial and progressive CIOs has driven the repositioning of technology is perceived by the executive board within their respective organizations. These appointments have been either by design or by default of the executive board and irrespective of the nature of the appointment, the underlining result has been significant organizational benefits. The repositioning of technology and perception of a historically underinvested function far removed from core operations has taken a paradigm shift. There are numerous paradigms of how technology sits within an organisation and these can clearly differ significantly. However, the third sector has seen a technology paradigm move into what may be considered a standard model for technology, that being the lines that connect the organizational boxes. This paradigm shift has been possible through a networked leadership model through peer to peer influencing.

Utilizing new technology

Just as in commercial organizations new technology and new suppliers have helped the CIO become operationally closer to their respective organization. By no longer having to sit in a role that revolves around pulling levers or managing professionals that polish tin, the CIO has been freed to get closer to the organization. Initial challenges for many CIOs in this sector after overcoming technology credibility have been a systems simplification process (SSP). With SSP delivering value in cost, time, process and adoption of new technology that in many cases have been game changing deployments. Mobile and cloud based technologies have allowed borderless organizations to make geography invisible. New supplier agreements have stripped costs, though this has led IT needing to reskill relationship and supplier management skillsets. Ultimately, despite the need to adapt new skills or transform process, the technology transformation has allowed this sector to get closer to core purpose, that of supporting the mission statement.

Big Data

Technology alone does not deliver the transformation but clever application of it does. Key transformation technologies allowing more robust digital and Big Data strategies. These strategies have had a major impact on advocacy, fundraising and the ability to provide data led services. Historically, the third sector like many industries has been data rich but information poor. Big Data and predictive analytics have transformed service making sure the right service is online at the right time, the output being operational excellence. The effective combined digital and data strategies have led to lower costs and increased revenues. Though for some organisations a digital divide will remain to present challenges potentially for some time to come, the technology challenges will often be met by tech solutions.

The third sector has moved from a technology CIO backwater to, in many respects, a landscape for true progressive transformational CIOs who carry skillsets way beyond the ownership of what may be considered traditionally in the CIO’s job description.