Extra - IT: Charity IT buyers find strength in numbers

Helen Barrett hears from David Clayden, IT director at the Salvation Army, on why pooling resources pays off.

Charities must share information and expertise on IT procurement or risk poor investment decisions, according to David Clayden, chair of the Charities Consortium IT Directors Group and IT director for the Salvation Army.

The group's web forum, where senior charity IT professionals share information such as best practice and their experiences of kit and suppliers, is an example of how charities are at their best when they come together. Some even pool their spending power.

The group was set up seven years ago to help charities secure favourable IT deals. It now has 92 members in its target market of charities that turn over £25m.

"CCitDG is a powerful group," says Clayden. "There's lots of new technology around that charities are having to understand quickly, and that's when they need advice."

Clayden says this "jungle network" of mutual support is the key to quick, impartial information and peer support. "With the pace of technological change, you can't possibly be up on everything," he says.

The popularity of personal digital assistants is one current headache. How do IT professionals know they are getting a good deal on bulk buys? How secure is information sent and received on PDAs? And what if staff use their own devices?

According to Clayden, whatever question is thrown at the collective, at least four or five CCitDG members can help.

Some IT questions are perennial, but the answers are always changing. "For example, there is not just the price of a product to consider, but also the 'total cost of ownership' - how much money will be spent on a product over its lifetime, which can be up to 10 times the original cost," says Clayden. But perhaps the biggest benefit of the collective is the ability to benchmark IT costs.

Clayden points out that it's not only charities that benefit from informal collaborations; suppliers are regularly invited to present to members of CCitDG. "Many make the mistake of feeling they have to pitch the price low, but cheap is no good to a charity if it's not fit for purpose. Technology must work, and for a reasonable price."

In fact, the group's support and goodwill extends to trustworthy suppliers, he says: "We want the supplier to still be in business, not the triumph of a low price that drives it into bankruptcy."

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