Imagine leading a 70-year-old organization through digital transformation. That’s exactly what Michael Duggan is focused on as the CIO of Oxfam International, a confederation of NGOs working in over 90 countries to end the injustices that cause poverty. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Michael and gleaned some compelling insights into his approach, and how Oxfam is responding to the trends he is seeing along their digital transformation path.
Over the last few decades, Oxfam has transformed to focus not only on the direct delivery of aid, but to tackle the root causes of injustice and poverty – inequality. They estimate 22.3 million people benefitted last year from their programs and humanitarian efforts. As their charter has expanded, so has the make-up of the organization. Oxfam has 19 affiliates, 10,000 employees, tens of thousands of volunteers and numerous external trustees.
With these kinds of numbers, the organization is inherently made up of many different backgrounds and different experience with technology stacks. As such, one of the first things Michael did was to utilize cloud technology to join the organization together and work to become more effective. For example, Oxfam utilizes Okta to give all employees a single identity, and Workplace by Facebook to connect everyone, even if they use different email systems. And their cross-federation platform approach has cloud content management at the core, utilizing Box.
In the field these technologies are extremely powerful as well. Oxfam is well-known for their responses to humanitarian crises. They are one of a few category one responders that can respond at scale. In these moments, time is critical to get up and running in a disaster area. Michael shares that utilizing Box has transformed their ability to scale and become vastly more efficient and effective. As responders arrive at their respective airports ready for deployment, all of them have access to the latest briefing materials, partner information and protocols. Michael emphasizes they have access “…to every bit of data and documentation that they need immediately -- on mobile devices, on tablets, and on laptops using Box Sync or Box offline capability if connectivity is poor.”
In fact, Michael has 41 terabytes of Oxfam documentation on his phone stored in Box. “And that’s data being gathered from over 90 countries!” Previously, this data sat on file servers that were only accessible in individual offices, much less individual countries; now this information is available globally. “There is literally nowhere that an Oxfam staffer cannot get access to that information, as long as we can deliver internet. And we're very good at delivering internet.”
We also chatted with Dianna Langley, Digital Workplace Manager, on Michael’s team. She emphasizes that when developing solutions for their volunteers, it's critical to keep in mind that these individuals are humanitarian response teams, not content or technology experts. Much to her relief, she found that utilizing Box technology doesn’t require significant technical skills. So their teams can understand the structure, and utilize the files safely and securely, setting up folders as needed. The processes have essentially become turnkey. “It doesn’t matter where the disaster happens – our solution [for content management] is now location-agnostic, global and cloud. And this is exactly what you need in an emergency situation – predictability and ease of use.”
Additionally, collaboration and partnership with other organizations on the ground is also critical. “The boundaries are porous when you’re engaging in a disaster, and you must work together,” says Dianna. The ability to share folders and information with the other NGOs working side by side with Oxfam has been extremely valuable, and because of the flexibility and controls around access levels, Dianna explains that it’s often Box that is the solution the parties on the ground utilize.
As we close our conversation, Michael reflects on the huge promise across the board with technology, and sees the trends and development around AI and big data continue to emerge. But Michael feels passionately that with these types of opportunities comes significant responsibility both from his organization and with the partners with whom they will work. “Oxfam is only interested in working with companies like Box that have demonstrated that they are thinking about the ethical implications of technology -- we need to know that we can have an open and honest conversation about the impact, and how we can leverage opportunities in an ethical and human way.” In fact, Michael predicts that the future actors to win in the technology space will be the ones that maintain trust -- not only with the organizations that consume the technology, but also with consumers, supporters and program participants.
We are inspired by the work and the impact Oxfam continues to drive. We'll share more of our conversation in the days ahead.
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