Earlier this year, Smartdesc conducted a survey of Charity Technology Leaders to ask what their strategic technology priorities are for the year ahead. We received responses from senior stakeholders from a range of large UK charities, with an average organisation income size of £30m.
We shared our findings in our Charity Technology Leaders Report 2023, splitting the report into 4 key trends:
In this article, we summarise our thoughts on the emerging themes and what the key takeaways are for charities. You can also watch a LinkedIn Live webinar about the same topic, hosted by Charity IT Leaders, here.
Our results showed that 90% of charity IT teams are focussed on consolidation and optimisation. Charity IT teams are putting a lot of effort into making better use of existing tools instead of buying new technologies right now.
Consolidation is a big theme and we’re seeing a lot of charities reducing the plethora of IT tools available down into 1 or 2 platforms, such as Microsoft 365 E5 for mail filtering, endpoint security and mobile device management.
Others are working on centralizing procurement to reduce shadow IT which exploded during the pandemic; auditing existing product licenses to ensure they are being used to their fullest capacity and the charity is not using different licenses for the same product in different departments.
Curiously, 75% of charity leaders answered that AI and Machine Learning are not priorities for them in 2023. How quickly things change – the survey was done in February/March but with all the media coverage of ChatGPT, OpenAI, and the announcement of Microsoft Copilot, that will absolutely no longer be the case.
We’ll be putting our thoughts on AI together on a future article but for now, charities should at the very least issue guidance to staff, if not Policy, on what is acceptable use of these tools for work. On the positive side, it also brings massive opportunity – imagine training AI on your organisation’s huge historical data set, then creating a natural language chat bot for colleagues, volunteers or beneficiaries to use for training or service delivery?!
From a security perspective, there was an interesting juxtaposition in the results: only 24% of respondents felt they were ‘very well positioned’ to deal with cyber attacks, yet only 30% are actively considering using a partner to implement a Security Operations Centre (SOC).
Exploring more sophisticated security measures should be an increasing area of focus for large charities, also considering that Cyber Insurers are now more proactive in setting standards and are starting to demand things like SOCs and Privileged Access Management (PAM) systems as part of renewals where they never did before.
Defining what a “good” cyber security posture looks like is a question that a lot of charities have struggled to articulate. At Smartdesc, we have a 3-tiered model along the lines of Good, Better, Best to clarify this. Good includes things like MFA and Cyber Essentials, Better may add controls like ISO27001, and Best would include the fully managed SOC and more. All charities should at least get to the “good” standard, then it will depend on your budget, but this model can help reassure Trustees that this area is under control. Speak to us if you’d like to know more about the Good, Better, Best controls.
Our results showed that 81% of charity leaders have already delivered cloud infrastructure which is an encouraging statistic. However, this doesn’t mean that the work is finished!
Technology leaders are now looking to address processes such as Procurement Policy, Audits, App Selection Criteria, speed of implementation and SSO, promotion and training of the App Hub.
Cloud Cost Control is also becoming a discipline in its own right, and will remain a key area of focus. Subscriptions need to be managed very rigorously; business cases for moving to Azure or 365 can very quickly become void if subscriptions balloon and costs end up higher than before. Our Azure Cost Optimisation service, along with manging Azure and 365 tenancies for charities as Cloud Solution Providers (CSP) is increasingly popular as it can be a very demanding area for IT teams to keep on top of.
Shadow IT is another risk area and more prevalent than ever, as IT devolves responsibility to business owners. 80% of respondents also answered they are considering Data Classification. Many charities lack defined R&Rs such as Product Owners for apps or services. M365 Defender for Cloud Apps can be a useful low-cost tool to audit use of 3rd party apps and then bring procurement under more central control.
The IT talent shortage remains a constant challenge for recruiting and retaining IT talent at charities. Wage inflation is compounding this; the cause of the charity can only go so far when a corporate is offering IT staff twice the salary. This is especially acute for senior or specialist roles which can simply be unaffordable for many – InfoSec being at the top of this list.
A lot of charities reported using outsourcing in a hybrid way to help solve this. For example, using in-house IT Support for 1st/2nd line but a partner for 3rd line, and have specialist roles “as a service”, such as Virtual Cyber Security Officer (vCSO) or Service Delivery Manager.
Over half of charity leaders that took part are also considering outsourcing via a partner to deliver IT training and digital upskilling.
Indeed, there is a general trend for outsourcing the lower level IT operations and infrastructure management day to day, which allows internal IT staff to focus on personal development working closely with business teams – sometimes even embedded alongside them – which aids in employee retention. As a result, co-managed IT teams, with a hybrid in-house and outsourced blend, is a growing trend.
- Organisations are focusing on maximising the existing toolset rather than investing in new technologies
- We believe AI will play an increasingly important role this year and in future, despite this not being a priority for leaders at the time of the survey earlier this year – Copilot deserves a lot of attention as it could really help with productivity
- 81% of respondents have already delivered cloud infrastructure – which has resulted in a focus on optimising, consolidating and governing now – including maintaining cloud costs – and a changing role of the IT team
- Resourcing/recruitment and retention continues to be a challenge for charities as it has been for a number of years now – outsourcing parts of your IT function in a co-managed model can help alleviate pressure on IT teams and aids staff retention/personal development opportunities
If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered in our report in more depth, or how we can help you improve IT at your organisation – including IT support, cybersecurity, outsourcing, M365, Azure, or anything else, please get in touch.
To watch the LinkedIn Live video where we discuss the above with Tree Hall of Charity IT Leaders, click here.