Terry Willis delivered a highly complex migration from a legacy CRM solution to MS Dynamics. It might sound straightforward, but it’s a database with over 11 million constituents, the single source of every interaction between the charity and its audience, so downtime was a huge challenge. He met it by building a transformation engine in AWS, with additional compute power automatically started, and then extracted, transformed, data quality-checked and ingested all those records using parallel data streams in the shortest possible time.

Job title
IT director

Company name
Age UK

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
My most valuable tool for influencing the customer journey is investing the time with all of my business partners, both internal and external, to challenge the current thinking of people in later life, and how we can use digital technology as a platform to inform and improve their situations. We use workshops with people in the community to understand real-life issues, along with encouraging our staff to volunteer in the front line, and the acquired knowledge as the challenges we should solve.

Working with a diverse audience which includes many vulnerable people for whom technology is a scary experience, we have re-engineered the customer experience across all channels to be as engaging while intuitive enough to be easy to use.

My influence extends across all business units, so internally this would be the adoption of change and innovation, which then leads to greater efficiencies or better services. Some changes are small, but ironically have the most positive effects on the user community.

For example, we redeployed our MS Exchange services from on-premise email to Office365. This then bought the option of BYOD for users to securely receive email and other services on their own devices. We also changed the way we gave secure access to our network as we moved from a token-based two-factor authentication system to one that used a telephone call-back. The feedback was very good. In fact, it surprised me that such a small change would be so radical, but for the users this directly improved their experience and meant they were more productive.

At the datacentre, we have moved our dev/UAT/pre-prod platforms to AWS. We don’t need or use these 24x7, so we now pay for these resources on a consume-only basis. And increasingly we are moving the MS Azure platform for our critical application hosting.

Individually, none of these changes is ground-breaking, but together this holistic view of how we manage and innovate IT services in a digital world means our users and therefore our customers enjoy better services.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
We delivered a highly complex migration from our legacy CRM solution to the MS Dynamics platform, which in itself sounds straightforward enough, but this database contained over 11 million constituents. It is the single source for every interaction between the charity and our audience, and is used by practically every department in the charity, so downtime was always going to be a challenge.

To make this happen in the shortest possible time, and therefore minimise business disruption, we built a complete transformation engine located in AWS. This allowed the data to be transferred using a dynamically scalable approach where additional compute power was automatically started, so that we could extract, transform, data quality-check and ingest millions of records using parallel data streams in the shortest possible time.

Building this platform in AWS meant we could use an agile approach to fine-tuning the solution prior to the actual ‘live’ migration.

This new (modern) CRM platform is also the catalyst for a new and upgraded telephony platform within our call centre, which offers information and advice to the public.

Moving our telephony platform from an on-premise solution to a cloud-hosted one brings additional functionality and resilience which we didn’t have before.

Together, the improved integration between these two core platforms will bring additional capabilities to the frontline support services we offer to people in later life, and allow us to increase the number of people using this valuable service.

For the technical-minded, we had a 700GB Raisers Edge database. When migrated to MS Dynamics it ‘grew’ to over 2.7TB. We used AWS to build custom server (ami) images, which self-provisioned additional compute power when the data throughput reached a limit that we set. Everything was secured to our network via a VPN, and data was encrypted during the transfer using a dedicated internet link.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
In the area of production and business model innovation, my role is that of trusted adviser offering a sounding board to the teams developing ideas and new services for those in later life. We build internal platforms that allow incubation of ideas in a rapid development forum. This can lead to a fully formed product or learning from the process, which is equally as valuable.

In technology innovation, I have embraced and leveraged the use of both AWS and Azure as mature and secure platforms for us to develop and deploy services and applications to our users and the public. Using a lean approach, this will mean we can simplify the provision of new platforms and pay on a consume-only basis, which is important when your funding is competing with frontline services.

We engage with colleagues and universities to bring fresh minds and thinking to all aspects of the organisation. It gives a new lens view of how we work and opportunities to provide better services.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I empower my team to make positive change, management by exception is the rule. This may sound like a cop-out, but I manage the team like a startup. Although each has a formal role, in reality they have cross-functional interests and this will ensure that tasks are completed.

As a direct consequence of this approach, the expectation of what IT can deliver has grown within the organisation. We are part of the solution now and not part of the problem.

Across the organisation, I write a blog on tech matters for the intranet and try to be as approachable as possible in whichever office I am visiting. We hold user forums to gain insight from the user community and have a management-level tech board to agree on organisational strategic objectives and investment.

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?
We have regular updates and explore where IT can bring fresh thinking to each of the business streams’ activities.

IT is now part of the business strategy as an ‘enabler’ rather than a cost centre. We review and rethink all areas of operations and see where we can add value in a digital world.

Digital by design is the clarion call.

Working with the senior management team, we use external mentors and coaches from partners such as Google and Microsoft, who visit and share their visions of the future.

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?
As one of the largest and most recognisable brands in the UK charity sector, we work with our IT vendors to explore how we can best use our benefactors’ investment in our organisation.

We encourage them to participate in our technology playbook by having a transparent approach to our business objectives and therefore our shared goals, and challenge our vendors on how they can deliver this.

We use this approach with vendors both large and small, and embrace a partnership relationship rather than the normal client/supplier scenario.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Perhaps this isn’t the right answer, but I have a small, but perfectly formed team. We have a highly flexible approach to working, which ensures that we don’t discourage the best candidates from applying for positions and contributing to their role.

Organically, there is great diversity and we always hired based on skills and personality, not against a scorecard.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
IT is organised on two distinct but perfectly aligned frameworks. One is the core infrastructure and service management; the other is data.

We use a mixture of business relationship managers and business analysts to act as a conduit between the various divisions and technology. This ensures that we maintain the business strategy and fully understand the business requirements along the journey.

Each complements the other, and we have aligned frameworks to maximise efficiencies when working across the organisation, or indeed with external partners.

Knowing that a new project can be initiated within this framework approach will mean that a great deal of the work has already been established, and saves both time and money for the charity.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We own part of a managed services company (Charityshare) so most of our services are covered by that relationship. But we have worked strategically with many partners to enhance the services in specialist niche areas – mostly security and data governance, and some consulting partners.

As an organisation, we are predominately on a Microsoft stack, so that is the direction we try to follow for critical applications, but we work other suppliers as strategic needs arise.

We have worked closely with Microsoft (and strategic partners) on the highly successful migration to MS Dynamics, and are currently bring our ERP MS NAV to Azure.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  • Data security.
  • The ownership of people’s data and the responsibility that comes with this are an increasing complex issue.
  • Unified communications.
  • We have already started on bringing this to a greater audience, and this will continue.
  • Flexible infrastructure.
  • We are embracing a ‘consume’ model so that we pay for what we use. This will lead to a different approach to how we finance technology.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Although we are a UK-centric organisation, we are not above the effects of Brexit, but expect changes to be more around pricing of services (we monitoring these closely) and, of course, the effects of data governance such as GDPR, which looms ever closer.

Naturally we are keeping a keen eye on the secure hosting of data within the EU as plans in both  Europe and the US evolve.

Of course, there are questions about the availability of skilled resources, but currently we are taking a pragmatic view on this.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
August 2012

What is your reporting line?
CFO

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Yes

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
Chief data officer

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Monthly in a formal forum, informally we meet most days.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
2,000

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£6.5m

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
60/40

CIO INFLUENCES

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

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

IT SECURITY

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Yes

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes, reports to me.

RECRUITMENT

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
45

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes

TECHNOLOGY

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • security
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop).

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

  • cloud
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Cognitive computing, IoT.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
No

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Yes

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?
No