21/11/2011 – Rising to the challenge
My mind has been spinning for the past week, digesting the wealth of opinion and information that came up at our European not-for-profit technology conference, held last Monday at the IBM Forum on the South Bank. From a breakfast meeting for CEO's with Gareth Thomas MP and Labour shadow for civil society, through the key note speakers, workshops and "Unconference" sessions at the end of the day, there was a buzz of energy that suffused the day. I was also pleased that Twitter was similarly active over the course of the day, as instant responses were shared on issues such as how (and indeed if) CEO's need to understand the potential of technology better.
There were a number of common themes that recurred through the day that I want to chew over a bit more. First, Stephen Leonard, Chief Executive of IBM, noted that the third sector shares the same challenges, but also the same opportunities, as the private and public sectors in using technology to achieve their missions and objectives. The increasing availability of data, as well as the mobility of deployment of technology, allows better analysis and more intelligent targeting of scant resources. He strongly believes that in addition to meeting the economic challenges faced worldwide, there are also opportunities to address wider societal and environmental issues in a more cohesive and interlocked fashion, pointing to their Smarter Planet programme as how they're working towards this goal.
Holly Ross of NTEN then gave us a very entertaining presentation on the efficiency versus effectiveness dilemma of Cloud technology, the potential for social media to connect with clients, and the power of collaborative data use. One key statistic that provoked much debate was that 60% of organisational technology spending is simply directed towards "keeping the lights on". As charities operating in tough times, it's clear that the need to move as much money up the chain as possible to make a real difference to the communities that we serve is of vital importance. Cloud certainly offers that potential and Holly's response to concerns over data security was brief and to the point - "Get over it!"
Our panel debate, chaired by Kim Catcheside, looked to explore whether chief executives need to "speak geek". Doug Jacquier of Connecting Up Australia offered some down-to-earth advice about CEO's needing to know the right questions to ask, in terms of delivering an organisation's strategy, rather than needing to understand the technology as such. He noted the responsibility on technology people to be able to explain themselves simply and clearly also, so that decisions can be made on a robust basis. In his own words, " if you can't explain it to me, you can't understand it yourself".
Another very pertinent issue raised was who is educating the smaller charities in using technology smarter, particularly those operating outside of the "London loop" as one delegate put it? This for me is probably one of the most important pieces of thinking to take from the day, as we are striving to improve the way that Lasa and our partners work to achieve this aim.
Indeed, our key note speaker in the afternoon, Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, challenged technology support organisations such as Lasa, Charity Technology Trust, and IT4Communities to work better together in joining up what we do. Her heart felt speech received a tremendous reaction from delegates, as she asked everyone present to think creatively as to how technology and the internet can be used to benefit organisations, but also crucially the clients and the people that they serve.
In times of economic austerity, initiatives that bring about savings are to be welcomed. It has been estimated that closer working could bring third sector organisations savings of upwards of £300million in their better use of technology. That's a lot of bang for your buck and I know that we at Lasa will be aiming to help to deliver that more integrated, more effective and more efficient level of support that we know you need.
Finally, I want to say thanks very much to everyone who helped make the conference a great day, delegates, presenters, sponsors and staff. I look forward to hearing your views on what we can do to help you in the future. Your input and your challenges help to fire our enthusiasm for what we do with technology and I'd love to hear from you if you think there are things we could be doing better.See you next year!
Posted by Terry Stokes