Amber Burke is making an IS success of the biggest internal change that Oxfam has ever been through with the integration of 17 international affiliates into a single confederation. She has set up a global service desk that allows any of 10,000 new confederation staff to phone up IT support and walk into any Oxfam office around the world and access IT services. She has also delivered key enablers for better supporter engagement through new CRM technology and the re-engineering of the customer experience journeys.
Chief information officer
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The business is our number one priority. That’s why we are preparing them for cloud and other technologies, to enable a more agile and mobile workforce. I want my team to embed a mindset of continuous improvement, striving to move our services closer to our businesses needs and customers.
Since becoming CIO I have implemented a change programme. This includes boosting our business engagement, sitting with my management team as a functioning unit, restructuring our budgets to use resources more efficiently while keeping the core of operations safe and by building direct relationships with people in the business. Information systems (IS) is developing an agile workforce and promoting this way of working around the rest of the organisation to the benefit of other teams.
My approach to this change programme is a vocal and a visible one, which is why I work closely with my engagement and communications team. My objective is always to translate the work of my division into ‘plain English’ for the rest of the organisation, so they can understand our policies and processes, the services available to them, and the challenges of the environment we are working in.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
We are in the middle of the biggest internal change that Oxfam has ever been through. It affects every single member of staff in some way as Oxfam GB changes to support and deliver the One Oxfam (2020) vision (effectively integrating what has historically been 17 international affiliates into a single confederation).
These changes are having a huge impact on how we deliver IT services globally. We have responded to the business need in this new and complex environment with the establishment of a global service desk. It has been a major achievement for IS. The focus on the ‘one stop IT shop’ for customers in countries has received praise and recognition as a helpful approach that uses our resources in a more efficient way. The global service desk boasts a ‘follow the sun’ service, which means anyone (of 10,000 new confederation staff) can phone up for IT support and walk into any Oxfam office globally and access IT services.
From a business point of view our priority applications hosting project has also shifted us from a capex to an opex model, providing a more predictable base for forecasting core IT spend in an unpredictable resource environment. I have implemented more targeted engagement around our priority projects and stakeholders, which has also produced improved outcomes in the way IS supports the innovative use of technology in our international programmes (ICT4D) and our supporter engagement work through a digital steering group forum.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
As the confederation moves to the new operating model of One Oxfam I am establishing a robust new service delivery and business model which will provide simplified, reliable and cost-effective IT delivery for the next five years. This model will need to share and trade IT services at a confederation level to achieve business goals.
In terms of the technology, we have increased our collaboration with ICT for development teams to deliver their offerings and services. This includes developing a data hub to allow date pooling and better decision-making across currently isolated data environments. We have continued to promote mobile-first and digital-first approaches. We’ve supported the recent emergence of GIS mapping where staff are using mapping technology for accountability and resource mapping, and supported the roll-out of resource management, including digital registration, plus systems integration.
We aim to develop an ICT4D community of practice to streamline Oxfam’s approach to ICT4D integration. IS has delivered key enablers for better supporter engagement by developing new CRM technology and supporting the re-engineering of customer experience journeys. The increased adoption of cloud-based services is also improving flexibility, scalability and responsiveness, meeting demand and reducing costs. Innovation will continue to play a key part in transforming Oxfam into a dynamic, more globally balanced network as well as remaining relevant in the changing NGO market.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
This month we received the results of our annual Oxfam GB staff survey (approximately 5,000 staff). I was delighted to see that in terms of staff engagement, loyalty and pride felt in working for Oxfam in the last year, my team showed the highest positive turnaround compared with other divisions. Engagement is measured by people’s commitment to stay at Oxfam, pride in working for Oxfam and whether they would wholeheartedly recommend working for Oxfam to a friend. I feel I have contributed to this positive shift by focusing on service transformation and working with my management team to manage their own teams more effectively, including their direct reports’ professional development.
I have also endeavoured to communicate with the team more effectively so they can see how their role feeds into the broader corporate objectives and Oxfam’s frontline work and core values. This has been done through weekly vlogs outlining key priorities and achievements, regular divisional meetings, and through attending international events involving my staff. I have proactively sought to promote a professional, straight-talking, approachable style of leadership which demands respect and humility at every level.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
Since becoming CIO I have taken the deliberate decision not to present our IS strategy in the traditional dry format to the Oxfam GB leadership team. Instead I have opted for a more visual approach and one which is aligned to Oxfam’s core objectives and values.
I took the approach of ‘you said xyz and we delivered xyz’, playing back messages to reflect how we have integrated IT strategy into the broader business one. My approach is more about the experience – the ‘look and feel’ of our IT delivery – and has received positive responses from the leadership team, who are largely non-IT specialists.
In 2016 we carried out an organisation-wide survey to gauge current perceptions and realities around the IS division. This revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the department. We were able to break down the feedback per Oxfam division, enabling us to shape more bespoke communications with individual senior stakeholders and focus on what is most relevant to their department’s needs in terms of IT delivery.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
Over the last few years we have developed a much more structured approach to managing and influencing our IT suppliers, based on the measurement of the importance of the supplier to Oxfam, and the importance of Oxfam to the supplier. As an ethical company we demand high ethical standards from our suppliers; in return we do not manage SMEs and startups in the same way as established larger suppliers.
With larger suppliers, especially those who supply a number of products to different parts of Oxfam, we have adopted account management principles, not only to maximise our buying power but also, in the spirit of partnering, to minimise the points of contract that the supplier has to contend with. They know our nominated contact speaks for Oxfam and minimises the ‘ I was just wondering’ enquiries, helping to save time, avoid frustration and ultimately improve our vendor relationships.
For our SME and startup companies we look carefully at the product set, where it sits in the market and how important it will be to Oxfam in order to gain a true understanding of the risk in using or continuing to use a particular product. We also look at the importance of Oxfam to the SME and factor this into our risk evaluation – we do not want companies to be too dependent on us as a line of business.
We are on a journey and continually developing our approach. Our IS service management team works closely with IS procurement staff to manage our supplier base increasingly on the basis of risk. Large (by volume) suppliers or those where a significant business risk dependency exists, increasingly have monthly or six-weekly service reviews; for those with multiple services, these take the form of an account review. Smaller suppliers or those with less of a business dependency have a lighter touch, with quarterly or half-yearly reviews, and low-risk suppliers may get only an ‘as required’ but at least once a year review.
These guidelines presuppose there are no SLA breaches, when immediate action will always be taken. This approach allows Oxfam to focus scarce resource for maximum benefit, build our supplier relationships and concentrate on areas of poor performance or high business importance.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Oxfam values our individual journeys and sees diversity as the visible and invisible differences that exist between people, such as gender, race, sexual orientation, age and nationality. This includes the infinite range of variables that influence personal perspectives. As CIO I integrate these principles into my business plans, my operational structures, and how I recruit, retain and develop my staff.
I firmly believe we need to harness and capitalise on the richness of talents, experiences and backgrounds that diversity offers as part of robust global talent management. I build commitment to this within my management team and in my global operating model, and hold senior managers to account to meet diversity objectives through the performance management process. All new starters in my division must also complete a diversity course.
Overall, the technology sector is still struggling to advance gender equity; I am proud of my division’s track record in promoting this equity – almost 50% of my staff are female. In the past IS has spearheaded community networking events for experienced professionals looking for flexible working options. I have recruited to my own team from such events, as part of my favourable attitude to a variety of family-friendly ways of working.
Several of my staff have received mentoring opportunities through access to Oxfam’s active Women’s Leadership Network, and this year we are putting particular focus on encouraging more girls to consider a career in the ICT sector. We’re collaborating with Oxfam’s schools division in organising a special event to mark International Girls in ICT day. Secondary school girls will spend the day at our headquarters to learn how Oxfam is harnessing technology to do business better in our core areas of work. We’ll challenge stereotypes around what a career in tech means and celebrate the diversity of Oxfam’s own workforce by showcasing our own inspiring women whose roles have a particular focus on ICT.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The organisational model is designed to support the delivery of strategic initiatives. We run our services with a continuous improvement mindset, working with our customers to change and adapt to our business needs. And most importantly we empower our people to drive Oxfam’s values and culture in all our interactions. The following functions are in place to support the organisations needs: enterprise architecture, project and programme delivery, service delivery, vendor and service management, and information security; are all supported by the business engagement and change function.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Currently the Oxfam GB IS environment is supported by two main operational centres, with our website and online shop being hosted on a private cloud basis by a third party, and our traditional line of business systems within our headquarters computer room. To maximise our flexibility to response to humanitarian events without the need to have spare ‘just in case’ capacity and remove the need for capex hardware expenditure, we have adopted a strategic approach, using Microsoft Azure to host the bulk of our systems.
The move to Azure will remove the risk of technology refresh (in both our current private cloud and in-house computer room), improve our DR design and capabilities, and – crucially for a charity focused on the bottom line – provide a much more flexible ‘pay as you use it’ rather than ‘pay in case you need it’ approach to system sizing and burst capability. We are excited by the possibilities of this approach. Oxfam GB also recognises that it lacks experience with Azure and to minimise both the risk of transition and the ongoing support, we have employed Rackspace to assist our move to the cloud.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Oxfam is going through a period of change on a global scale. Therefore, one of our strategic aims is to deliver a service and people transformation programme, which allows us to further move our capabilities and services closer to our business needs. Underpinned by our business engagement and change function, we will continue to prepare the business for cloud technologies and a One Oxfam operating model.
An IT delivery model based on software as a service, pragmatic decision-making and agile delivery methodologies could significantly accelerate delivery of IT change and help reduce the overall risks in the IT landscape. Applications hosting (cloud), CRM and Office 365 remain key enablers of the One Oxfam vision. The IT strategy is to improve collaboration between global offices and affiliates by providing tools such as Office 365 and supporting cross-affiliate initiatives. IT will underpin more effective monitoring and evaluation, and the extension of work on accountability to beneficiaries (eg the data hub for data gathering and analysis and improving last-mile mobile solutions).
We aim to deliver key enablers for better supporter engagement: upgraded web platforms, digital integration platforms, tablet-based Gift Aid solutions in shops. It will underpin many aspects of innovation within the fundraising strategy. The strategy is to leverage Azure cloud and deploy a new integration platform to enable flexible, adaptive IT architecture. It will also increase adoption of rapid agile delivery methodology – most prominently within the rapid application development team and other project delivery work.
We’ll support simplification initiatives – eg R2P, the property database, etc – by delivering underlying systems changes. We’ll continue to use the enterprise architecture approach to minimise total cost of ownership of tech solutions across the organisation. To support this we’ll develop additional skills to support the new technologies
Finally, our security strategy aims to establish a strong ongoing partnership with our business in order to understand and contextualise risk. As IT becomes increasingly agile and bimodal, this will allow us to support our business in making reasoned judgments around risk, rather than simply handing them a rulebook. As our IT becomes increasingly cloud-based, we are aiming to make use of the security benefits offered by [the cloud/MS Azure] as well as addressing the existing and renewed compliance and regulatory challenges in the EU and the many other countries in which we work.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Oxfam has conducted comprehensive research into the impact of Brexit on our organization. Our understanding is that leave voters generally are more likely to believe that Oxfam values are not a force for good. However, supporters of Oxfam, particularly our regular givers and shoppers, are more likely to have voted to leave the EU. We know that there will be immediate impact on organisations that work on equality and diversity and on those that work with refugees and migrants. This may lead to a loss of income, and we envisage an increased role in bringing together communities.
We recognize that we will need to reframe the relationship with the disengaged and disillusioned, and there will be greater importance in providing a strong, independent and robust voice in protecting human rights. All of these factors will impact ways of working within teams right across Oxfam. Through my division’s effective business engagement we will ensure that channels of communications are kept open with these key stakeholders, ensuring that IS responds to and supports their requirements triggered by these changes in the most effective way.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Alison Hopkinson: chief financial officer, Oxfam GB.
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
Head of enterprise architecture, head of project portfolio, head of business engagement, head of information security, head of service delivery, head of vendor management. All these roles report directly to me as my management team.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£10m – 1.5% of the organisation’s revenue.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Operational spend 70%, other developments 30%.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
- CIO peers
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Head of information security – direct report
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Robotics and the internet of things.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?