Getting the Balance Right Key for Charities IT Use

13th April 2005

Getting the balance right between innovation and cost-effectiveness is key to closing the gap between charity organisations and the IT systems they are using. This is one of the key messages emerging from CFDG's IT Conference 2005, which was attended by over senior 120 delegates from large UK charities in London last week. A common tenor in most sessions during the day was how essential it is for charities to find the balance between embracing new technologies, which can add new value to their organisations, while being conservative about costs and expense for new IT and not following every new fashion, thus responsibly handling their IT budgets.

Keynote speaker Sir Peter Rigby, Chairman and CEO of IT company SCC pointed out that many factors, such as the Y2K problems, recession, user dissatisfaction as well as lack of end-to-end management information led to IT losing some of its appeal for many organisations. These days, IT constantly needs to demonstrate its value for the organisation, he explained. One key focus of organisations should be how IT can drive effectiveness through transforming services. To do this though, it is important for an organisation to understand its own business objectives, Sir Peter pointed out.

Other speakers on the day reflected the same mood. Peter Bodley-Scott from IT Services company the Premiere IT Partnership, introduced delegates to new technologies such as wireless, bluetooth, technology on demand and application servers. Instead of focusing on glowing reviews of new gadgets and tools, he pointed out that charities cannot afford to follow fashions when it comes to technology. Instead, he called for organisations to seriously evaluate the possible benefits of new solutions, but also not to miss the opportunity to learn what is out there.
Marco van den Berg, Head of the Information & Communications Technology Unit at Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, expressed his hopes that other charities' would follow Greenpeace's model and make better use of IT and software solutions they already have. Before investing heavily in new, often feature-heavy solutions, software used should be judged on effectiveness and necessity. Marco made clear that Greenpeace's use of Open Source software was not just a choice of platform, but represented a wide commitment throughout the organisation to aim for more transparency and not treat IT as a core activity, but as a means to an end. Wherever possible, Greenpeace's systems focus heavily on actual daily activities and project goals and IT systems are tailored to these aims.
 
David Clayden, Head of Strategic Information at The Salvation Army, and Chairman of the Charities Consortium IT Directors' Group (CCITDG), added another perspective by calling for charities to "get smart" in their relationships with suppliers, and to look for partnerships with other organisations where possible to improve their negotiating position.

Dr. Phil Harwood from IT Services company Touchstone Tate Bramald pointed out that with many new relatively easy-to-use technologies available charities should talk to their suppliers to learn how best to achieve a high level of integration between their internal systems, thus making end-to-end information flows easier and helping organisations in their daily operations and delivery of services.

David Membrey, Deputy Chief Executive of CFDG, says "This is where IT becomes central to charities' financial management. It is not only about processing donations and other income as quickly as possible. IT, if used in a smart way, can significantly improve the internal management information senior charity executives can gather and communicate to stakeholders. This year's CFDG IT Conference has shown that delegates are more and more aware of these issues and are developing IT in their organisations actively."

John Tate, CFDG IT Advisor concludes "CFDG is happy to see that IT is coming of age in the charity sector and a deeper understanding of the real issues is evolving. There was a real feeling of excitement about technology, but in an informed, aware way at the CFDG IT Conference and we hope as an organisation we can provide more services and training to the sector in the coming months to drive this positive development forward."


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Notes to the Editor:

1. The Charity Finance Directors' Group was set up in 1987 and is an umbrella group that specialises in helping charities to manage their finance-related functions. CFDG's over 1,000 members are responsible for the finances and IT of charities with a wide variety of income levels. Over 60% of the top 500 charities are members of the CFDG. Between them, our members manage some £10 Billion in charity income per year.

2. The CFDG IT Conference 2005 took place on 5 April 2005 at Cass Business School in London. Speakers at the event included Marco Van den Berg, Head of IT at Greenpeace International, Netherlands and David Clayden, Director of Strategic Information at the Salvation Army and Chairman of the Charities Consortium IT Directors Group, William Hoyle from the Charity Technology Trust, Wendy Thorley, Head of IT at RSPCA, Peter Bodley-Scott from Premiere IT as well as Dr. Phil Harwood from conference sponsors Touchstone Tate Bramald.

3. The CFDG IT conference is sponsored by IT Services company Touchstone Tate Bramald, a unit recently merged out of two of CFDG's earlier subscribers Touchstone and Tate Bramald. Touchstone Tate Bramald helps charities to improve financial control, fundraising effectiveness, member and donor management and operational efficiency, letting charities and not-for-profit organisations focus on providing maximum value to their beneficiaries.

4. Sir Peter Rigby is one of Europe's leading entrepreneurs, who was knighted in the Queen's Jubilee Honours for his contribution to information technology and business in 2002. An ambassador for technology for business advantage, Sir Peter presides over a highly adaptive group of companies under the SCC / SCH brand, transforming the way IT performs for thousands of commercial, government and non-profit organisations across Europe. Founded in 1975, SCH is Europe's largest privately owned technology group with over 5,000 skilled people operating from 60 offices in key cities across 7 main European countries.

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