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Innovation on the cards

Innovation on the cards
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Innovation on the cards

IT | John Tate | 1 Apr 2007

John Tate challenges charities to embrace a culture of change to benefit from new technology.

On Mother’s day last month I was dispatched by my temporarily unwell daughter to buy a traditional Mother’s day card. Or so I thought. The Richmond branch of Clintons had hundreds of cards to choose from but one stood out. It allowed you to record a voice message for your mother, which is played back when the card is opened – all for under £5. My wife was suitably bemused when she opened the envelope.

That got me thinking. Here was an example of a computer chip with a microphone and speaker for personal use, the sort of thing that we have read about being attached to home devices such as fridges, freezers and washing machines. How is that going to affect our lives in the coming years? If a chip and mothers day card costs less than £5 presumably the device itself will be available for a few pence tomorrow. How long before this includes a simple screen?

This question was put into focus earlier in the month when I gave a lecture to postgraduate students at Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness. As always the group was lively, engaged and full of ideas. We held a breakout session for the students to look at and report back on the key technologies that will affect charities in the next few years. The feedback was fascinating. The dominant area of interest was new media including blogs, podcasts, Wikis and using the internet and email to communicate and work with stakeholders of their charity. Many of those present were already using this technology in interesting ways. Some to campaign, some for video conferencing, some to deliver new services to beneficiaries and some to improve the efficiency of their day-today jobs and transaction processing. Further examples included mobile working, with the ability to connect to an office and other staff wherever you are based, and the whole issue of collaboration, where different groups of people can work together on projects via the internet. All recognised that the web and new media is already having a huge impact on charities and this is going to grow over the coming years.

So what are the hot technologies that your organisation should be looking at and when is the right time to engage with this? Too early and the technology may not take off. Too late and you may fail to get the benefit of a new idea and lose competitive advantage to other organisations. When talking about new technologies the students at Cass highlighted that for many of them introducing the new technology was a voyage of discovery with many unexpected benefits and pitfalls along the path. Legislation adds to the complexity and challenge as it is often unclear what the rules are, for example, over monitoring content posted on discussion forums.

Innovation and regulation 

There has been much media coverage recently on television quiz shows that allow people to call/text their answers to a premium rate number and hope for a prize. The recent growth in this commercial activity has generated considerable revenue for the television companies but has also created much unease about the potential lack of regulation of what many regard as home gambling. Last month viewers discovered all sorts of underhand practices and the lack of transparency caused uproar. Even Blue Peter got embroiled in the scandal causing much loss of face and potential longer term damage to its brand.

So change is going to happen. Are we up for this and can we carefully manage the process to get maximum benefit? Again the Cass students provided an interesting insight. Most of the sixty or so people present at the lecture were keen to explore change. However, when asked how many of their colleagues below senior management level were also excited about change the answer was concerning. Only a few students put their hands up to this question, demonstrating that in their view charities have a long way to go to create a culture of change to get the benefit from new technology. If people are not keen on change they are likely to resist it. The chances of a project going well in this environment are limited. I await Father’s day in June with interest to see what card my children get me. If my wife has a hand in the choice I suspect it will be good old fashioned paper without a computer chip in sight. Some things are perhaps best left as they are.

John Tate is a leading IT analyst in the charity sector and chair of Citra

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John Tate

John Tate is a qualified accountant and has over 20 years working in the IT industry. He is also a columnist for Charity Finance, IT advisor to CFG and a lecturer at Cass.

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