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A manifesto for digital change in 2016

3 February 2016

If anyone is well positioned to evaluate the progress charities are making in their adoption of digital to improve the way they work, it’s the digital leaders from across the sector.

Earlier last year, we asked over 300 digital leads to rate how their organisations are doing. 

We wanted to know the measures charities are putting in place to bolster their digital capability, how well the different functional teams are supporting the digital agenda – and which teams are holding things back.

The research, which we publish today in our report Business Transformation and the Role of Heads of Digital, finds that only a few charities are making excellent headway on the digital agenda.

For the rest, our research and the current practice in leading charities contained in the report suggest four clear messages for heads of digital and charities who want to make headway on this issue about what they need to do differently.

1) The transformation message is still not getting through

Finance, operations and HR haven’t grasped that digital transformation means a fundamental shift in the way charities work. As a consequence, heads of digital are struggling to influence the bigger picture. This puts a real question mark over whether digital departments are able – in their current guise – to fill the strategic role of driving organisation-wide transformation.

2) Digital leads need to change the language they use

Heads of digital who want to help their organisations grasp the opportunities offered by technology need to start talking about business improvement first to help the organisation understand the impact on people and process. In effect, heads of digital need to stop talking about ‘digital’ altogether. 

3) Business partnering is critical to progress – particularly with HR

In charities where digital transformation has been successful, digital leads say “collaboration across teams” and “a culture which is supportive of digital change” are among the most important factors. 

They’re less concerned about digital strategies, which can date quickly. This is corroborated by a number of other business leaders we spoke to, who suggest that by partnering with HR, digital can play a more decisive role in making change happen.

4) The role of digital should be to act as a catalyst

Less than a third of digital leads think they are the right people to drive digital change. This is partly because they believe leadership needs to come from the top, but also because they are still too focused on delivery. 

If digital leads want to promote the value of their role and the extent of their influence in future, they need to have a firm plan for devolving responsibility for day-to-day delivery of digital to the rest of the organisation. This is something of a catch-22 situation, because it depends on the skills being available. Again, this is where a better relationship with HR, finance and other leaders will help.

Our findings show there are still major obstacles ahead for many digital leads who are committed to business transformation. Getting organisations to look with fresh eyes at how they can use technology to transform will be a hard ask. But for most heads of digital, that’s the defining challenge in the year ahead – one which we hope the combination of resources, such as our report, will help make easier.

Download our report, Business Transformation and the Role of Heads of Digital.

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Tim Cockle

head of digital services, Eduserv

Tim is an experienced technologist with a formal research background combined with practical hands on experience and commercial awareness. He has worked as a Solutions Architect across several sectors and a diverse mix of technologies including service oriented architecture, mobile computing, clustered and distributed systems, visualisation, cloud and artificial intelligence.