In our increasingly connected world, technology has a profound ability to serve communities the world over. After Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, virtual portals were set up to hold sensitive data for disaster relief efforts, donate-by-text options supported recovery efforts in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and, most recently, Facebook's Safety Check feature enabled people in Paris to connect with friends and loved ones after terrorist attacks. It's no wonder that our nonprofit partners are so optimistic as they look ahead to the technology trends - and challenges - they expect to drive their organizations forward in 2016.
To kick off the year, we checked in with Oliver Hurst-Hiller (Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product, DonorsChoose.org), Mary Sobiechowski (VP of Information Technology, CIO, ASPCA), Jean-Louis Ecochard (VP & CIO at the Nature Conservancy) and Michael Duggan (CIO, Trócaire) to hear what they'll be focusing on for the next 12 months.
Leveraging technology to speak to constituents
For IT executives, so much time can be spent optimizing internal systems, but we heard from our partners that they expect the year ahead will bring even more external focus and collaboration. Hurst-Hiller expects even more direct interaction with businesses using technology to engage their customers in their philanthropy, while Duggan anticipates a blurring of lines between internal and external-facing systems and information, with a "continued opening up of internal systems to constituents and partners, driving greater engagement and synergy." Sobiechowski predicts in increasing reliance on mobile as a means for nonprofit enterprises to connect more directly with their constituents.
By making significant investments in technology, particularly cloud solutions around communications, productivity, and collaboration, organizations can not only streamline the internal operations of their workforce, but also inform the activities and initiatives it takes on and how it activates its membership. With backend workflows streamlined, an organization can bring more people, ideas and perspectives to the table that ultimately make the work that much more impactful and effective.
Making data work for good
Now squarely in an era of big data, we heard clearly from our technology leaders that they expect to be able to do more with their information in 2016. Both Sobiechowski and Hurst-Hiller forecast that the intersection of data science and corporate philanthropy will be a top trend in 2016. This year will be about analyzing the data captured to optimize for improved philanthropic outcomes and social impact.
Both Ecochard and Hurst-Hiller say their employees are overloaded with new technologies. Much like the apps that crowd our phone home screens, it seems that the abundance of tools available to us may be too overwhelming. Ecochard says, "We have the systems, they hold information elements, but relating them in a coherent way is still a challenge – and the bigger our data, the more apps we use, the bigger the challenge grows...It seems that the more apps I get, the more fragmented my information gets and the more time I spend defragmenting it instead of benefiting from it." It's time to streamline our communications and productivity tools and pull back from the areas that are creating friction.
Scale and resources
While the sheer numbers of tools may have reached a tipping point, scaling people, systems, and processes, or transforming an organization digitally continues to be a key challenge for the nonprofit sector. Global nonprofit organizations on average only spend 1%-2.5% of annual income on technology. Even then, funding can be limited to "sexy" program-side investments that are highly visible and more easily sold into donors. Scaling technology adoption, and finding the resources to do so, continues to be a top challenge for nonprofits. Duggan expressed his concern that "digital transformation and the investment required to fund it will require significant reallocation of organisational funds and resources."
On the changing role of the CIO
Where our technology and information executives diverged was around the evolving role of CIO and IT executive, a multi-faceted role that continues to defy a simple definition. Hurst-Hiller says the role will become more externally-facing, as he expects to interact more frequently and deeply with customers, tailoring DonorsChoose.org's technology to achieve their marketing goals. Sobiechowski and Ecochard, on the other hand, say their roles in 2016 will be about looking inside their organizations, and that the focus will be about driving a culture internally, whether it be data driven, or one of collaboration. Duggan, struck a balance, and suggested that his role would shift from that of an internal supplier to a broker.
These are all important shifts as we look at how the role of an IT leader, especially in the nonprofit sector, can be elevated to advocate for the technology needs that can advance an organization's capacity and mission. We are excited to see what trends and challenges 2016 brings, and Box is ready to help advance our partners' goals in the new year.