'Focus on people as well as technology', IT experts told

27 Nov 2014 News

IT directors need to learn when to step back and allow others in their organisation to experiment with technology, but be there to pick up the pieces if it all goes wrong, a sector IT leader has said.

Ian Williamson, ICT director at Unicef UK, said that technology experts were facing changes in the job.

“We are in the most disrupted time for our profession,” he said. “The only thing I think you can do is make guesses because there isn’t a manual. Everything is changing under our feet, including the role of the IT department or the technology leader.”

Williamson told delegates yesterday’s Charity Technology Conference, organised by Civil Society Media, that this meant while it might not always be easy they need to make the relationship with digital teams work.

He was giving a joint presentation with Uncief’s former head of digital engagement, Laila Takeh, about how the two teams had worked to turn Unicef into a ‘digital by default’ organisation.

“It was challenging not because we had different corporate priorities but sometimes because we had been given separate clashing priorities from the organisation,” Williamson said, but added: “We got there because we kept talking debating and sometimes arguing.”  

Letting go of control

The IT team has learned the value stepping back when the digital team started using a Wiki to share knowledge.  

Takeh said: “When I joined it very quickly became apparent that we needed a Wiki for the team, or some kind of knowledge repository. We just got on and did it and over time other teams saw our Wiki and started to adopt it.”

Williamson explained that “it didn’t happen in the shadow IT or in secret” but that there was “a choice not to interfere”.

It is now being rolled out to other teams and the work the digital team did has saved the IT team work in product selection and testing.

“Turn a blind eye when the team goes off and does something wacky like buy a cloud-based Wiki,” he added.
"If it fails you can come in with a plan B and if it succeeds job done."

He urged IT directors not to panic about an apparent loss of control, and said: “The new game in town is influence, which is a lot more difficult than saying ‘it’s because I said so and I’m the expert’.”

Williamson outlined three new ‘rules’ for IT leaders:

  1. Start being people centric
  2. Be pragmatic – accept that there is no perfect solution
  3. Collaborate – don’t just think about bring your own devices, but bring your own ideas as people really understand what works for them


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