Jude Sheeran: Beware the digital blind spot

Few charities combine their skills in the right way in order to understand the potential of digital technology to deliver on behalf of those they serve

Jude Sheeran
Jude Sheeran

In our recent report on the role of charity finance teams in driving digital development, we explored the convergence of business and digital technology and how charities are embracing and taking advantage of that convergence. Here, I consider one of the associated challenges: the infamous digital skills gap.

Countless recent and credible reports set out the scale of the digital skills shortage as well as its causes, effects and suggested solutions. However, the deficit does not wholly explain the lack of progress that most public and third sector organisations have made, relative to their potential, in the digitalisation of their business and operating models. In fact, at least in my experience, many do have most of the requisite skills (or access to the same) to make a meaningful start, but have yet to do so. Instead of focusing on the well-known reasons (excessive bureaucracy, recent investments in alternative initiatives and inexpert and/or fearful chief executives, for example), I will give a view on what most organisations can do, starting today.

First, ditch the broadly and deeply entrenched idea that IT merely "supports the business". IT is the business, as explained by Mark Raskino in his wonderful book Digital to the Core. Second, envision how your stakeholders might benefit from available digital technology. And, last, bring the vision to life. Then repeat steps two and three. Simple, right? Wrong. Why? Because most organisations suffer from a debilitating digital blind spot.

Few organisations have enough if any finance professionals who fully understand the potential of available digital technology to solve and deliver on behalf of those they serve. Equally, few have enough technologists who understand their businesses sufficiently to ensure that the organisation is taking full advantage of available technology. When the role of IT was merely to support the business, this inability to "see" the most valuable technology and put it to work on behalf of our customers was less obvious and far less critical than it is today.

This digital blind spot, sometimes neutralised by the more talented and pushy chief information officers or IT professionals, is a big deal. Put simply, without a clear idea of what digital means to your organisation and those it serves, in the short term you are merely missing out. However, sooner than might seem possible, you will be unable to compete or even operate.

Practical first steps might include regular meetings between the executive directors responsible for finance, operations and ICT that focus on sharing insight and fusing perspectives. A strong chief technology officer or similar should be able to facilitate discussions that will lead to exciting revelations about the value of artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, internet of things and so on in the context of your challenges and objectives, and, more importantly, those of your customers. If you don’t have a strong CTO or similar, hire or borrow one. Tomorrow!

Jude Sheeran is chief executive of Eduserv

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