Save the Children UK's Karl Hoods describes the charity's digital transformation as its biggest programme of work at the moment, but the CIO believes as a larger non-profit it could have a broader role across the sector helping other organisations.

CIO Hoods also feels a duty to promote digital and technology skills in schools, particularly among girls and young women entering the sector and STEM roles.

Hoods has been overseeing technology at Save the Children UK since December 2013 and sees a link between the challenges of digital transformation at a charity that will soon celebrate its 98th birthday, how it embeds digital skills across the organisation, and his role as a Chair of the Governors at Harris Academy Beckenham in south London and desire to introduce technology to children as early as possible.

Digital transformation

"The digital transformation is a big programme of work," Hoods said. "The first phase is very much about support, how do we attract more people to our digital presence and channels?

"How do we engage with Millennials more, do they want to fill out a form or use cardless, Twitter-based payments?"

Crucially for Hoods, digital transformation means a shift from current ways of working which the CIO is keen to embed across the organisation, establishing an internal digital academy to share knowledge and expertise.

Hoods explained setting up IT apprenticeship programme had proven difficult for Save the Children, with the organisation's commitment to the London Living Wage and government schemes and grants paying below this, although he hopes mixing it up with a graduate-style training scheme and working with a partner like FDM where Save the Children could provide their trainees as an external service where they will also gain experience.

With lots of graduates from Oxford and Cambridge University at Save the Children, Hoods has been able to arrange mentoring schemes with some of the students across the Harris Federation who might previously have been put off or not encouraged to apply to university.

STEM leadership

As well as his role as Chair at Harris Beckenham, Hoods also sits on the team of governors at two local primary schools.

"Part of what I am trying to do is open it up," he said. "It is a male-dominated industry that younger girls look at aged 10-14; but I want to open up their horizons and take it beyond the spreadsheet qualifications."

Appreciating that schools are under a lot of pressure, Hoods said that he was keen to do more with diversity schemes to get young women involved in technology earlier, and see whether it was possible to remove the focus on results and see if there was more schools could do with code clubs, opportunities around STEM areas and generally raising awareness around what the technology sector really is.

Back at Save the Children, CIO Hoods is keen to develop the organisation's innovation agenda and create space for the team to "play around with new technology" and find tools which will eventually be a good fit for the business. Hoods described these programmes and this exploratory thinking and researching space as the sort of things that often get missed out of annual strategic plans.

Save the Children is also liaising with innovation specialists and accelerator programmes about how it can tap into the SME and startup markets and not have to necessarily rely on the larger and more traditional consulting organisations. With lots of discussion about disruption in the third sector, Hoods said that it is important to keep an up with what is disrupting other industries like banking and retail, which could be used by charities.

"We don't want to end up doing just what everyone else in the sector is doing," Hoods said. "And we are not looking for inspiration necessarily from other charity sector CIOs or we end up focusing on the same set of problems."

Emerging technologies

There is a big opportunity to use some more emerging technologies at Save the Children and across the NPO ecosystem, Hoods explained, the CIO having recently sent notes to the organisation's board about blockchain and the sort of use cases which could benefit charities particularly with regard to the transfer of cash.

He said: "The whole blockchain area, and humanitarian blockchain, is really interesting for me - how do we harness that across a global movement?"

Aside from ledger technologies, Hoods said that chatbots, machine learning and smarter data collection are being looked at. He also said that smart labelling, the Internet of Things, wearables and sensoring could provide Save the Children with improved responses in disaster zones, although with some of the countries they were operating in it was important to make sure security was robust and the technology was not something that could put the organisation's staff, or those it was trying to help, in more danger.

Save the Children UK is finishing off an infrastructure and applications refresh, moving over to Windows 10 and Office 2016, as well as moving to a more mobile hotdesking setup with documents stored in the cloud and end-user computing secured through mobile device management. Having deployed a new Oracle HR system in the UK to move away from a burning platform, Hoods will also oversee rolling the system out globally starting with Italy and then Sweden.

It is with these implementations where Hoods believes CIOs in the sector have a broader responsibility to use their experience and influence with vendors to help other organisations. As well as working with universities looking at data science, machine learning and IP they can open source across the sector, Hoods believes it is in their experience in things like Microsoft implementations, and perhaps one day with the help of their apprentice-cum-graduates, they will have the resources as well as the expertise to help more in the sector.