ICT governance - how to better engage trustees
So what can you do to get your trustees on board? How can you get your management committee to get involved with one of the most fundamental aspects of your organisation?
Firstly, you’ll never sell technology to a technophobe so don’t waste your time trying.
Secondly, it’s not worth telling trustees how wonderful ICT could be if their combined experiences are dozens of projects which took twice as long as planned, cost far more than budgeted and never actually delivered what they promised. A lot of ICT projects are badly planned and never work - for very good reasons.
Thirdly, stop thinking about the ICT and start thinking about the governance. Introduce the concept of ICT risk management. If policies are their thing then that’s a good place to start. Make ICT a strategic issue rather than a technical or cost one.
Fourthly, sell the impact. What’s the return on investment of doing something and the return on investment of not doing it? Sure, ICT costs money but what are the costs of not doing it. Poor staff morale, frustration with key tasks taking longer, ineffective communications, missed opportunities and a higher burden of administration. How does this translate into the number of homeless people you help, the amount of advice you can give (and the times of day you can give it) or simply the quality of support your organisation can offer?
It’s not about the technology
Your ICT projects are never just ICT projects. They are systems, processes and projects within your organisation which use ICT as a supporting tool. The main reason ICT projects fail (overrun, overspend or don’t deliver as promised) is because no one ever really knew what they were supposed to achieve. You need to ask and be clear about what is the need; what benefit this willbring; and what activity and process will be used before you start planning or developing anything.
Why doesn’t ICT work?
ICT only has two goals, doing things better and doing better things. If you can’t use it for that, don’t use it. ICT can make an impact on services both internally (easier to do what you do) and externally (supporting more clients, providing better access to information).
When you decide what you want to do with ICT you must be able to answer:
- Will this help us achieve our goals? How? If not, why are we doing it?
- Does it save us time or money if we do this? How? If not, why are we doing it?
- Does it help us do new and more valuable things? How? If not, why are we doing it?
On many occasions, no one bothers to ask these questions. No one manages the process well and often people are unrealistic about how quickly something can be achieved. ICT projects do go wrong and many people have bad experiences because no one thought through the project in the first place.
Governance - leadership, planning and strategy
Leadership is about setting direction, offering support and being accountable for making things happen. No one expects trustees to be experts and they don’t need to understand everything but they do need to ask the ‘what if’ questions and understands the answers and consequences. Leadership is based on trust and accountability and ICT leadership is part of the board’s responsibility. How do your trustees want to lead and how can ICT fit into that?
- Offer ICT as a leadership opportunity, fulfilling a key part of the board’s role of governance. Make it a ‘big questions’ issue where you can consider all sorts of implications for the organisation. These could be about risk, finance or big picture ‘how do we do more for the children’ issues.
ICT will always cost money but organisations spend money faster when they don’t plan ICT and don’t have a clear strategy. Strategies don’t need to be time consuming, complicated or result in 100 page plans which no one will ever read. It’s about assessing what you do, how ICT can help and support and then making a clear, deliverable plan to make it happen.
Needs analysis helps you work out what you need. Your business plan and overall strategy are absolutely fundamental to making ICT fit what you need to do as an organisation. Bring the needs analysis and business plan together and you’re now in aposition to produce an ICT strategy. The ICT strategy should document your priorities and the reasons behind them, what you plan to invest, how you plan to manage and show a plan for the future. Trustees can be key in defining how ICT and overall mission might fit.
- It’s worth remembering that saving a fewhundred pounds on a new PC only to have staff members lose hours every week frustrated by slow running computers becomes very expensive in a short space of time. An ICT strategy will help show that, agree how resources can be made available and document what the board agreed.
Making an impact - working with trustees to raise theprofile and meaning of ICT on the board
We recognise many senior managers may have limited experience or interest in ICT. It may have promised much and delivered little or they may have had a bad experience on a previous project. So let’s forget ICT for the moment.
- What does your organisation need to do things better or do better things – how could you deliver better services?
- What will the benefits be?
- Where does it fit in your organisation and role?
Remember you’re not thinking about ICT, you’re thinking about what you need to do differently. It could be reporting, information management, communication or something else.
- What’s the impact of changing this/doing this?
- What’s the benefit?
- What’s the cost of not doing it?
- How big a priority is this?
Don’t gloss over these questions. They could be fundamental to the future of your organisation and help to highlight examples of what works well in other organisations.
You don’t need to love ICT to get the best of it. You simply need to acknowledge where it can make a difference and exploit that difference. Look for the impact, look for the tangible evidence of how other organisations have succeeded. Make it about the beneficiaries and the difference you make, not the technology.
Winning over the naysayers
Why would you do any project? Almost always because it’s in the interests of your beneficiaries. So how is ICT in the interests of YOUR beneficiaries? Afterall...
- Isn’t ICT expensive? Not compared to not having effective ICT. Think of how much time (and therefore money) is wasted in organisations that do not have effective ICT. Would you consider operating with ineffective systems and equipment? Good ICT can generate a significant return on investment for the organisation and generate more support.
- Won’t this take money away from front line services? Quite the opposite. Frontline staff are often engaged in time-consuming inefficient administration or communication that is hampered by inadequate systems, especially in relation to client records and monitoring. Freeing up this time allows more effective work with clients – and more effective records of this, for theagency and its funders.
- Isn’t paper good enough? Not if you want to quickly search for data, draw up reports at the touch of a button or publish detailed information that is available 24 hours aday.
Six simple ways to get trustees more interested
- Listen and respond to their concerns about ICT (and their hopes and plans for the organisation).
- Add ICT to your meeting agendas as a standard item - raise awareness of its potential not just the problems it causes and the money it costs.
- Work with others to identify how ICT can help you deliver better services, help more people, improve morale etc. Showcase this to the board.
- Provide interesting case studies of how innovative ICT makes a big difference.
- Identify how you could save them time and money or make them feel more involved. Maybe a new web project will keep them more up to date with hands-on services.
- Advocate ICT with enthusiasm - you’re all passionate about your beneficiaries. Some people are equally passionate about ICT for the right reasons (not purely technical ones).
Why trustees care about ICT
Trustees want the best for the beneficiaries and the best of the organisation. ICT, when planned and managed well, can deliver that. Show your trustees how and you’ll find passionate advocates to help you improve ICT for all the right reasons.
Advice and support
- Funding and finance
- Coping with cuts
- Addressing needs
- Managing change
- Planning for the future
- Involving people
- Public Service Delivery
- Governance and leadership
- Compact Advocacy programme
- Campaigning and influencing policy
- Collaborative working
- ICT (information and communication technology)
- Climate change
- People, HR and employment