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January 6, 2017

Lack of in-house skills and the underutilisation of technology continue to hold back charity IT

But plans for implementation of cloud and mobile solutions in 2017 might point to renewed optimism.

By James Nunns

IT departments in the charity sector have always faced a real challenge when it comes to technology implementation, resource and budgets.

We have worked with organisations in this sector for many years and seen it gradually slip behind other sectors when it comes to implementing the latest technology and ensuring that the best IT talent is attracted in, and importantly, kept.

Anthony Peake, Managing Director, Software Solved.

It is perhaps somewhat ironic therefore that the charity sector is one that is likely to benefit the most from implementing some of the key innovations we have seen over the past couple of years. Given the competitive nature of the market, anything that enables an advantage could make a huge difference.

However, on the flipside, in an industry where every penny of outgoings takes away from the cause you are raising money for in the first place, it is understandable why things might not have moved as quickly as in other sectors.

We recently undertook some qualitative research in this area, speaking to a number of charities of all sizes, including some of the largest players in the market, to get an indication of what IT departments see as the key issues for them over the coming year. The results back up much of what we have been seeing over the past couple of years and highlight some of the key challenges that lie ahead.

Those we spoke to highlighted that the main barriers to the adoption of new technology are a lack of in-house skills and perhaps not surprisingly, budget. These two factors have been the core issues at the heart of charity IT for some time, but it’s interesting that the feedback we received also pointed to other ‘in-house inhibitors’ such as lack of buy in from the board/trustees, and a lack of training resource (which perhaps exacerbates the issue of a lack of in-house talent).

We also talked to charities about how technology was used in their organisations. A large majority of those we spoke to believe that the technology that is already in place is underutilised. This is a huge frustration, and points to technology that is either a poor fit for the business, or not intuitive enough to use. This underutilisation perhaps also points to why there is a lack of buy-in from trustees/board members, who see technology previously implemented but not seen the efficiencies, the collaboration (often due to data silos) and flexibility promised.

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There are however, some signs of progress and optimism, with many charities looking to implement new technology in 2017 and looking for a wide range of benefits. A large number of those we spoke to wanted to use new technology to improve their overall service delivery with many looking to migrate to cloud based solutions. Mobile and data are also being considered in a number of ways.

The charities we spoke to identified that connecting different data sources was the key technology innovation within the next 18 months, and certainly the need for charities to ensure that they are doing more with the swathes of data they hold is a crucial step for them over the coming months.

Ensuring that full-time staff and volunteers can effectively work remotely (on or offline) is another key aspect of their focus. Making systems user-friendly was also a key objective.

Undoubtedly the very nature of the charity sector means that IT investment comes under heavy scrutiny. The lack of buy-in from senior management, the underutilisation of the current technology and the continuing trends of a lack of talent and budget, all point to previous failings and a lack of perceived priority.

The last few years have been challenging for the charity sector; increased competition and reduced disposable incomes across their traditional donors have meant real pressures being placed on organisations.

None of these trends are likely to disappear any time soon either. However, mobile, data, cloud and software advances over the past few years have the potential to add real value for charities, and our conversations have certainly shown much of the sector recognise this.

Changing the perceptions of senior decision makers and over-coming a lack of man-power are the real challenges for charities in 2017. Many are looking to outside support to help with both of these issues, so they can begin to see the true benefit of implementing innovative technology that has a real impact on the way they can help those that rely upon them.

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