The changing relationship between digital and IT and the importance of HR

The relationship between the two parties is still an emerging one, often with a lack of formal governance or a clear idea of where lines of responsibility should be drawn, writes John Simcock

John Simcock
John Simcock

In the last year there’s been strong evidence to suggest that IT departments are becoming much more aligned with the aims of digital departments. Rather than traditional IT concerns such as desktop delivery, IT professionals say their activity is now more skewed towards improving things such as online services or fundraising – in other words, the kind of thing a digital department does.

Conversely, I’ve seen plenty of examples recently in which digital has played a key role in what traditionally were IT projects, such as enabling remote working or deploying collaboration solutions.

To me this poses two questions. How is this changing relationship going to work in practice? And how can we be sure it’s going to be focused enough to enable the business transformation that many charities need to compete in a digital age?

In one sense it’s great that both digital and IT are broadening their aims. It shows that both are becoming less siloed and, in the case of IT in particular, much more business-focused rather than operations-focused.

However, it also shows that the relationship between the two parties is still an emerging one, often with a lack of formal governance or a clear idea of where lines of responsibility should be drawn.  

If not properly managed and organised, the danger is that this shifting landscape could lead to duplication, confusion over specification of new systems, or just a general lack of strategic direction that could ultimately result in poor user adoption of technology and return on investment.

To my mind, there’s an obvious (and often overlooked) way of solving this issue once and for all, and this is by getting HR much more involved.

Let me explain by providing an example of how this has worked in practice at one charity in particular, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. What’s really interesting about this case study is that the CFT chose to drive its digital transformation programme by effectively putting its HR, digital and IT functions together into one working unit.

In this set-up, HR was not simply looking at the roles of digital or IT and how they should work in a traditional HR manner. Rather, HR was heavily involved in considering how all people in the charity work, what the charity’s specific challenges are and how those challenges can be solved through technology.

It’s a really interesting idea. It meant that HR was not simply writing new job descriptions, but was helping to specify a new, smarter way of working and what digital transformation should really mean for the charity.

As a direct result of this approach, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has achieved amazing benefits, including a 450 per cent expansion of its volunteer base. I believe it’s an example that other charities should consider looking at and following. Sadly, it seems unlikely that many will because, as recent research found, most UK charities don’t currently have an HR strategy for digital at all.

I think that’s a shame, but as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has shown, it’s also a situation that could be resolved relatively easily and with excellent results. If other charities were to follow this lead, they might find their HR team playing a key role in guiding a new relationship between digital and IT that really works for the benefit of the organisation as a whole.

John Simcock is charity director at Eduserv

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