In an organisation as diverse as Save the Children, the IT response requires equal versatility and variety. Karl Hoods’ contributions have included delivering a tool that analyses typical families’ food and income sources as well as their expenditure and ways of coping when a crisis occurs, and a cost of diet project  to help understand the economic causes and barriers to improving child nutrition . His digital delivery has included support for such fundraising initiatives as Christmas Jumper Day and Den Day, and he has also implemented augmented reality and a 360-degree engagement experience for supporters, optimised SEO, streamlined the forms engine, and trialled contactless payments.

Job title
IT director

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I’m a member of our senior leadership team, which helps shape the future strategy. This provides a platform to input, challenge and offer ideas, as well as understand the broader aspects of the organisational strategy.

I’m also leading the delivery of our digital programme, the first phase of which is to deliver services which fundamentally change the way in which we communicate with our supporters. This platform, together with the right resources and ways of working, will be the bedrock of what we offer in terms of engagement, and one which we can hopefully leverage to have more of an impact on our programmes to provide better outcomes for children.

Over the last year we’ve strengthened our business partnering offering and are working much more closely with many more areas of the organisation. This happens at all levels of the business to ensure we’re really understanding what is being thought about and have time to influence decisions.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
2016 was another year of significant delivery for the IT team.

We’ve successfully completed a range operational projects which have directly impacted the organisation’s effectiveness, focusing on user self-service and reduction of operational activity. They include:

  • major upgrade of the core finance system
  • roll-out of Oracle HR system
  • ServiceNow as a platform for call logging across IT, finance, HR and facilities
  • infrastructure upgrades, including improved Wi-Fi and firewall implementation for our colleagues in Save the Children International
  • dev/ops across digital delivery
  • Windows 10 and Office 2016 to provide a better user experience.

In addition, we’ve successfully delivered a number of projects that directly impact our work on the ground or have been aimed at increasing our supporter engagement, insight and income. Highlights include:

  • household economy analysis (HEA) project, which analyses typical families’ food and income sources, as well as their expenditure and ways of coping when a crisis occurs; the tool provides a useful baseline picture, which can inform longer-term programming
  • cost of diet (CoD) project, which aims to help understand the economic causes and barriers to improving child nutrition and is part of our programme to reduce malnutrition; it has been developed for international use by the wider sector, not just Save the Children
  • digital delivery to support fundraising initiatives such as Christmas Jumper Day and Den Day; we also implemented augmented reality, and a 360-degree engagement experience for supporters
  • improvements to current digital journeys, optimising SEO and streamlining our forms engine, which have resulted in improved supporter acquisition and conversion
  • innovation projects – delivery that supported business innovation such as Save the Children Club, contactless payments trial, and mass participation events such as Phoneless Friday
  • migration of 20+ legacy websites to AWS, improving resilience.

Projects such as HEA and CoD can provide additional technical challenges, particularly when the solution has to operate in scenarios where there is little or no fixed connectivity, where data cannot be exported, encryption is illegal, etc.

We have also offered technical advice during events such as our decision to launch a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, which has to date rescued more than 2,600 people. Operating in an environment where action has to be taken extremely quickly to save lives means we need the ability to react and provide technical advice and solutions in the moment.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
As a department we work closely with various innovation teams across the organisation through our business partnering function, which enables us to embed technology in the thinking and process of product and business model innovation. Much of this is in the digital space, where we’re looking at new and different ways of engaging with our supporters and beneficiaries, making it easier and quicker for them to interact with us.

The organisation looks to us for technology innovation, and we’ve specifically created time for the team to do some research or pilot new technologies that we can apply to what we do. Innovation can come from anyone, so I’d rather encourage many than make it the preserve of a few. As a team we’ve been lucky enough to have worked on solutions using virtual and augmented reality, investigating different payment methods (eg Twitter payments) and gamification.

A particular interest of mine has been looking at potential use cases for blockchain. In collaboration with our child safeguarding director we will be developing a proof of concept we’re calling the humanitarian passport, which will enable us to respond quicker in deploying staff during emergency situations.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I’ve genuinely tried to create an open and honest culture where people feel their opinions are valued and they’re encouraged to contribute. I try to have some form of one-to-one conversation with as many people in the team as I can. That’s got harder as the team has grown and hotdesking has meant people are all over the building – it’s something I’m going to need to address in 2017.

The team is on a constant journey, and has to be. We are embracing and driving change and constantly looking to add value. This shift has meant fostering a culture which has had to let go of perfection and move at pace. The volume of work carried out has been immense and I’m extremely proud of what everyone in the team has achieved.

In 2016 we started to work in a more agile way across our digital development and are looking to take that further across the team and wider organisation during 2017. Moving to agile practices has meant greater involvement from our customers, which can be difficult at times. However, we’re seeing the benefit in closer working, better understanding and faster delivery. I’ve worked hard to make sure we’re not seen as blockers. It’s easy to say no to anything that diverges from architectural principles, but when it becomes just about a point of principle everyone loses out. We don’t have the resources to do everything, so rather than battling against shadow IT we try and work with it and achieve the right outcome for the organisation.

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?
As the lead director on our digital transformation programme I work with our sponsor to ensure the board understands both what is possible and what is relevant to us. Communication happens on a number of levels, from the programme team to the steering committee, which has a number of our executive directors as members, so they hear first-hand progress and updates. Regular formal updates are given to our finance committee on programme status, budget and benefits tracking. For the main board of trustees, we’ve carried out a mixture of formal updates and breakout sessions on the subject of digital, where we’ve provided more in-depth information on subjects such as:

  • virtual reality and how it could be applied to virtual field visits
  • analytics and how we use data to inform decisions around content and engagement
  • social media and how best to use it for campaigns.

We’re currently looking at the target operating model for when the new digital platform goes live in early 2017, and will be incorporating an internal digital academy as part of the change programme. The purpose is to provide some high-level training on a range of subjects including explaining ‘digital’, the theory behind dev/ops and what agile actually means. This will be rolled out to everyone in the organisation and hopefully made part of our induction programme!

Aside from these more formal mechanisms, I try to provide regular update notes for our board and senior colleagues on trends in the marketplace, particularly from other sectors which may be being disrupted (fintech and payments, for example).

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?
The relationships we have across our supplier base is generally very good. The word partnership is often used but I’d like to think we’ve got to that place with a number of them through investing time to be really clear to create understanding on both sides. The best relationships we have are based on the same culture of openness and trust I encourage across the team; without that it’s harder to overcome the inevitable difficult situations that crop up or to influence how services are delivered.

In building that relationship we’ve been able to work with a number of suppliers and get insight into their product roadmaps, access to thought leaders within their company or take part in training they’re offering their own staff.

We’re fortunate enough to work with some extremely knowledgeable and expert partners, which have brought an added dimension to the relationship. As a whole most have engaged with what we do as an organisation and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure we get the very best outcome possible.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Save the Children is an incredibly diverse organisation and through its values prides itself on being so. This diversity is reflected in the make-up of the technology team, which is varied in age, race and gender and we create an inclusive atmosphere for everyone.

While 35% of the IT team is female, the industry as a whole is still predominantly a male one. I’ve worked with one of our suppliers to develop a schools-based initiative to spark interest in STEM subjects at an earlier age. A lot of focus seems to be on degree subjects, but I can’t help feel we ought to be getting children excited about careers in technology at an earlier age.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The team is split into four practices:

  • service delivery
  • operations
  • solution delivery
  • data and development.

We operate a matrix management approach, with a core team utilising framework agreements where additional capacity for delivery is required.

Importantly, we have representation across the organisation’s key strategic boards to align with business strategy and operations.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
The majority of our major strategic deals were concluded towards the end of 2015, and we continue to work very closely with our partners such as Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, Unit4, SapientNitro and FDM to deliver our strategy.

We have also enjoyed partnering with a range of SMEs to deliver key services.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
The main aims for 2017 are to continue delivering against our platform strategy while moving to a much more ‘enterprise agile’ methodology across the board.

Innovation will continue to be at the forefront, and we need to make sure we can continue to explore new ideas while delivering an already packed agenda.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We’re seeking advice from legal and compliance colleagues, reviewing contracts that are likely to be in place during Brexit period, and establishing any course of action that needs to be taken.


When did you start your current role?
December 2013

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

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?

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?


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

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


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?
We have a CISO that reports into the risk team, whom we work very closely with on a day-to-day basis.


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
  • CRM
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence.

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

  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Technologies like AR/VR will benefit our supporter engagement, while machine learning/AI could be applied to decision-making and automation. Blockchain has the immediate potential to impact on a number of levels.


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?