Digital is evolving and the rate of change is accelerating. We must evolve with it or become digital dinosaurs awaiting our own extinction…
It’s now almost three years since I left Age UK, and We Are MC2 – a concept I had mulled for a while – sprang into life. My baby is now a lively toddler and, without wishing to murder the analogy, it’s developed a will of its own and doesn’t keep me up so often at nights!
Three years is a long time in digital. The other day I heard a chap from IBM saying that they wouldn’t forecast technology trends beyond that point – wise I think! When I left Age UK, the work we were doing of ‘putting digital at the heart of the organisation’ made us quite cutting-edge. Now it seems that everywhere I go, people want to talk about how they can integrate digital into the core of their organisation.
And it is no longer just Heads of Digital talking to each other about it whilst struggling to get a wider audience internally. Many organisations have recognised that we are in an era where you must understand how digitization can support your objectives and the talk is all ‘digital first’ or ‘digital transformation’.
Senior charity thinkers have witnessed the evolution and revolution in the high street and now, with an ever growing number of sites looking to aggregate or disintermediate the charity marketplace, the change is starting to impact the sector in far more noticeable ways.
Personally, I think it has been impacting for a while but it has been hard to spot. Unlike the changes we saw on the High Street, few charities have disappeared in the way the book shops, insurance brokers or the much-loved Woolies did; and few job losses have been directly attributable to advances in digital technology.
For the past few years, however, some of the main issues faced across the sector have been an ageing donor base and a stagnation in online donations. But not all charities have faced these issues, those born in the last decade have digital baked into their bones and their supporter base is often younger.
To tackle those problems and connect with a wider audience, there has been a wave of rebrands and refreshes, as organisations have looked around and seen that the kids wear different clothes these days. The question, of course, is whether those changes have been fundamental or just a change of clothes.
There’s no criticism in that, delivering meaningful change is truly challenging. The biggest of the UK’s charities are venerable organisations: many have existed since Victorian times and built physical infrastructures to enable them to leverage large networks of local services, volunteers and campaigners. That infrastructure holds enormous value – my time at Age UK taught me that the local is often the heart of the organisation – it also means that delivering transformation within our sector will offer unique challenges.
Just as our organisations must change to ensure survival and success in a digital age, those of us who work in digital must evolve too.
Back in the day, when I built my first website for a corner of The Independent Newspaper’s empire, my team consisted of two and we could both do everything from fixing the pages to FTPing the site via the modem. Now Heads of Digital are expected to be capable of engaging their organisations in cultural change programmes and dealing with the resistance and cultural barriers that throws up! And, as the sophistication of what is required grows, so the roles within the teams that deliver it become increasingly specialised.
Change enabled by digital will continue to accelerate: we can anticipate significant impact on the sector from the major trends of mhealth, wearables, cloud computing and the internet of things . I spent much of last week working on a mHealth strategy and it’s hard not to see a totally revolutionised health system coming or miss the impact it will have on the major health charities (a blog post for another time!).
The challenge for us all is to continue to evolve. We must be willing to reinvent ourselves, our teams and our ways of working; and stay open to the opportunities that can transform the organisations we work for.
The evolution undergone by We Are MC2, my lively toddler, was sparked by seeing the benefit we could add to our client’s projects by extending our strategy work into user experience, visual design and content strategy.
This is not a big expansion. What I always wanted was a team of people I respect, admire and believe to be experts. Some advice I read early on was that, if you want consultancy life to go well, you shouldn’t work with <insert offensive expression here> as either clients or colleagues. It’s wise advice and so I have chosen carefully from people I have worked with over the last decade and have personally asked Tamsin, Kate, Madge and Mel to join We Are MC2. I am – and there’s no way to say this without sounding like a cheeseball – genuinely surprised and thrilled that such a talented, respected team of experts agreed.
So that’s the company’s evolution and like all such steps, it has a risk attached to it – which, for me, translates to a personal evolution. Kate pointed me to an article this week about the differing ways you can operate in the Creative Services industry (check it out, it’s a great read) as either a Cave Dweller or a Crow.
“Cave Dwellers fall into the Eat What You Can Kill camp. You will know them by their wild revenue swings and general distaste for the business aspects of the profession. You’ll also spot intense focus and skill and would probably find many of the most recognized and well-regarded individuals in our field among its ranks.
“It takes a crow only a small part of the day to gather what it needs to survive. The crow’s resourcefulness and adaptability allow it to do more than simply survive. Crows are able to make tools and solve complex problems and puzzles. Here’s a crow fishing with breadcrumbs. Most birds would just eat those breadcrumbs and spend the rest of the day looking for more.”
For me, a part of the evolution must surely be to become a bit more Crow and a little less Cavey! I’m working on it.