Digital is not owned by ICT at Unicef. Rather, Ian Williamson advises peers on how to create value from investments in change. Achieving greater business agility to respond to the challenges of a digital world is his key focus. That has involved moving infrastructure from an ‘own’ to ‘buy’ approach to reduce infrastructure management overhead and focus internal resource on solving business problems.

Job title
Director, ICT

Company name
Unicef UK

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
At Unicef UK, the ICT department is a lean hub, with significant technology management devolved to business units to integrate IT directly where our products and services are developed. I advise peers on how to create value from investments in change.

I chair our cross-organisation investment board, and am a member of keystone project boards including CRM and website redevelopment projects. I am a member of the international Finance and Operations Think Tank with a focus on IT effectiveness. This is building a knowledge and insight sharing network. I have led a framing of its purpose towards core business issues such as technology-enabled customer strategy.

I spend time directly involved in business development outside the IT department. I recently coached a member of our fundraising team who was building an innovation pipeline dashboard. This gives me invaluable insight into the workings of our business.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Achieving greater business agility to respond to the challenges of a digital world is a key focus.

I am moving infrastructure from an 'own' to 'buy' approach, to deliver a number of benefits: Reduced infrastructure management overhead so we can focus internal resource to solving business problems; increased scalability with reduced friction; and reducing risks, chiefly business disruption and information security.

We have moved file management from on premise servers to This avoided a significant cost for new infrastructure, enabled better collaboration internally and with our business ecosystem, and gave our colleagues any where, any device access. Box rates us as their number one, non-profit customer worldwide according to their customer sophistication score.

We have adopted Amazon AWS as our next-generation data centre. We’ve used this to meet growing analytics demand, and support the migration and warehousing needs of a CRM change programme, at pace and without investing in new infrastructure.

I have assumed leadership responsibility for the workplace, in the run up to the end of our lease in 2018. We’ve changed IT provision to untether employees from their desks and the office, to support better working internationally and with partners, and the flexible working aspect of our people and culture framework. I am developing a property and culture strategy to optimise capacity, costs, and reduce internal silos.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
I support business, product and technology innovation in two main ways.

The ICT department does not own all information technology. Digital supporter engagement is led by a partner team. ICT and Digital teams are located side by side to build trust, mutual support and skills exchange. In ICT we have borrowed digital approaches such as a focus on the user experience, iterative delivery and minimal viable product. I introduced the idea of data integration as a service to our CRM programme to address manual or hard-coded integrations. We are implementing such a platform to automate data integration and through that, enable new supporter experiences. ERP and CRM are similarly led outside the ICT function.

We also have an approach of 'not having all the answers or ideas'. We treat 'shadow IT' as intel for what our colleagues need and source of successful experiments for mainstreaming. One 'not invented here' is a wiki established by another team. We have steered other teams with knowledgebase requirements towards this. It is now used across several teams.

The IT profession’s agile movement in IT has inspired me to champion agile approaches to other business areas. I am extending that into the workplace and working practices with my responsibility for the workplace.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I have helped what was a traditional, tech, engineering and risk focussed department to adopt a more business and customer ethos, with more 'yes we can' and more face to face engagement. One outcome is ending the ban on use of personal devices which is now common. I worked with our outsourcing partner to add interpersonal skills as a requirement equal to technical skill. I’ve introduced non-engineering roles including a business change projects role and an administration specialist.

I have created different roles to bring in different types of talent, from outside the sector and from outside the IT profession. We also have more gender and ethnic diversity as a result.

Outside the ICT department, untethering colleagues from desks has had a profound impact. There is increased working across teams and working in informal settings. People take notes 'in the moment' in meetings, and sometimes work from partners’ offices. It supports our family and wellbeing friendly practices such as home working.

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?
Digital is not owned by ICT at Unicef UK. Though CIO leadership is one valid model, I see digital as affecting all parts of our business and my role as one key stakeholder. However, the IT leadership role does have unique insight, to help our business functions become digital.

I favour small moments of influence. The elevator pitch I repeat when the opportunity arises is digital as business strategy. At other times digital does not need mentioning specifically, instead I champion underlying digital capabilities, like a more rigorous approach to customer data, and helping IT out of the boxes and wires business.

With influencers and leaders such our Executive Team I discourage a focus on digital channels or a separate digital strategy, in favour of making digital part of our DNA. Advising on topics such as information security provides moments for discussing the digital business approach. The information security framework I authored addresses digital business issues. And our top level corporate strategy has moved from digital as a separate strategy to the approach I championed: an integrated theme.

I also join up seemingly separate or underappreciated aspects of digital. For one, I see GDPR and increased privacy concerns as a part of digital change and am framing it as that to stakeholders.

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?
Our main relationship is a long-term one with a boutique supplier of outsourced infrastructure and operations services. When I took up the role, this relationship was functional but had unrealised value. I have worked closely with their owner to influence the talent they provide. Colleagues are often unaware that some of the team is not directly employed and positive feedback about individuals is routine and spontaneous.

I have also diversified our supply portfolio. This has given us a broader set of capabilities without the disruption of a rip and replace approach to supply or the risks that I believe come with a 'do everything' mega-vendor.

I have changed our approach to supplier selection from one that tended to favour Microsoft and big name vendors towards a focus on business outcomes; the solution that best delivers the business outcomes, with preference for cloud and services. The result is a more agnostic mindset that takes into account the ongoing shifts and disruptions in the technology market. Most recently we selected Office 365, but did evaluate Google’s G Suite as part of the process.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Diversity is something I have in mind in the sense of gender, ethnicity, disability, and so on, and in terms of personalities, skill sets, mind sets and capabilities.

I've created new roles that address the needs of the business more broadly than technical roles. This has opened the door to people with different backgrounds, experience and mindsets. I've worked with our lead supplier for a greater emphasis on interpersonal skills. This has brought different personality types to the team. The team has included team members with individual challenging lifetime conditions in a positive and inclusive way.

At recruitment we still assess people's track record, but also place emphasis on business culture fit and potential. Without striving for this particularly, we have ended up recruiting much more from outside the charity sector and on occasions from outside the profession.

The team has a good gender and ethnic mix; important in an international organisation that champions child rights.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
At Unicef UK, the ICT department is a compact function and I have worked to make our leanness a virtue.

Alongside myself, there are three employed roles: One that leads change projects; another provides business support to the team. A third role is a junior change/projects role currently seconded to a cross-organisation CRM project. The business-as-usual IT services such as helpdesk are delivered by four outsourced, but onsite, roles providing infrastructure and operations. We sit together and work as a single unit, which is one of the benefits of a smaller team.

A separate Facilities Team reports into me.

In terms of the wider organisation, a lot of what would be part of the traditional IT function is embedded with the responsible business unit.

Joining all this up is more challenging than with a centralised function. I chair a board of senior stakeholders to give one place for orchestrating the whole.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We have a long-term partnership with our infrastructure and operations service provider; other suppliers/partners are Cloudreach, which gives us expertise and operational capability to use Amazon AWS. Box is also a significant player, as it now provides our file management platform, at non-profit pricing. Datrix provides a managed network service that provides connectivity and security services, while enabling us to focus on delivering increased business value.

Microsoft is still a significant vendor for us in terms of desktop, productivity suite and others, mostly through its resellers.

The most significant strategic deals in the last 12 months have been Salesforce, Jitterbit and with GiveClarity, a Salesforce implementation partner. These are enabling us to change our CRM from an aged, on-premise infrastructure to a modern, digital platform.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Our plan for 2017 has three strategic aims:

  1. Work effectively wherever you are: This is further development of our employee-facing services to support people to work more flexibly and collaborate with each other regardless of team and location.
  2. Knowledge assets are easy to find: This is developing the ways we curate knowledge assets and content across Unicef UK, with emphasis on ways of working as much as platforms.
  3. Work together to create value: This is continued capability building, developing the approaches to distributed but still joined-up IT management, change management and realisation of business value.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
On a practical level we are closely monitoring supplier pricing, as this is already changing as a result of Brexit.

My primary aim is to provide the capabilities our colleagues need to deliver our business objectives for children, whether fundraising or campaigning, as well and as easily as possible despite changes in the political landscape. This includes the ability to change direction easily if external factors require it.

My secondary aim is to ensure our portfolio of contracts, services and suppliers is adaptable enough to be re prioritised or even, should the worst happen, be scaled back to ensure financial sustainability.


When did you start your current role?

What is your reporting line?
Chief Operating Officer

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 Digital Engagement – peer, different reporting line
  • Head of Innovation – peer, same reporting line
  • Head of Supporter Data – different reporting line

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
Approximately 350 employees and other workers


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Analyst houses
  2. CIO peers
  3. Industry bodies
  4. Consultants
  5. Media


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?


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?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • enterprise applications
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop).

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop).

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Cognitive computing and AI, cloud, internet of things, fintech.


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?