Are you ready for the fourth industrial revolution?

  • AI, robotics, driverless cars and other technology are changing the way we live and work
  • Some charities, social enterprises and councils are embracing these technologies to deliver services and solve problems
  • Our risk consultant shares examples and questions to help trustees and senior managers think about new technology in a strategic way

Although you probably have more pressing challenges facing your organisation – such as funding, increased demand on your services and working through the possible implications of Brexit – the rise of digital technology should not be ignored.

Digital innovation brings opportunities to deliver services or reach audiences in new ways. Many tech companies are already creating digital solutions for people living with health conditions, and charitable organisations could benefit from other technical breakthroughs.

Do you have the skills within your organisation to ask the right questions? Do you see how digital could be used to deliver your mission or recognise how digital might put you out of business?

The fourth industrial revolution

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018, examines global trends and potential scenarios affecting the world. As well as analysing extreme weather and conflicts, the report views imminent technological change as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

Technologies such as robotics, AI, voice-search, biotechnology, big data, the Internet of Things, 3D printing and driverless cars are becoming mainstream. These developments together are characterised as a revolution because of the way they collectively blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological. Change is rapid and will fundamentally affect the way we all work and live.

Zurich’s strategic risk consultant, Matt Hardwick, spoke at NCVO’s Trustee Conference about how charities need to be aware of these developments, and their potential for both opportunities and challenges. Here he argues that doing nothing is not an option.

Tech solving problems

Charities, government, social enterprises and private companies are already exploring how technology can be used to solve social problems and connect with supporters. For example:

Hampshire County Council is using Amazon Echo as part of its adult social care work

City Hall in London created a chatbot to respond to common questions about New Year’s Eve fireworks

Andiamo is 3D printing orthoses (braces or splints) for children

The Wayback is a virtual reality film series designed for people living with Alzheimer’s and their carers

• Parkinson’s UK is the first charity to test, rate and promote digital devices and apps for people with Parkinson’s

• The British Heart Foundation is the first UK charity to accept donations via Amazon’s Alexa

You can find out more about how technology is addressing social challenges, by reading about this year’s Tech4Good award winners, or about the recipients of the Digital Agenda awards.

Key things to consider about new technology

So, what should your charity or not-for-profit be doing before it takes the plunge into the new technology pool?

1. Bring in the right skills, expertise and experience
• Be informed – take a personal interest. Read blogs, go to seminars, look at what other people are doing
• Get help from experts. Take a look at CAST or Charity Comms’ freelancers directory
• Consider the board make-up – do you have trustees with digital knowledge? Should you be looking to find some?
• Engage with senior leaders – understand what they are really looking to achieve
• Learn from peers and other sectors – find out where and how this is being done successfully
• Invest the time in recruiting and finding potential help

2. Research and plan
• Don’t just build tech for the sake of it; test that there is a need and a gap
• When considering what can be done, ensure you clearly know how this enables you to better deliver on your mission and whether it creates greater impact
• If it doesn’t, and you can’t, then should you be doing it?
• Are there existing solutions you can use, partner with or promote? (such as the Parkinson’s UK example above)

3. Have a 360-degree view on the impact of your decisions
• When considering what can be done, ensure you explore other potential implications or consequences. For example, if you were providing a technology and data-enabled care service (telecare) monitoring a dementia sufferer in their home, what do you do if you learn they have crossed the threshold of the property at 3am? Is that a dereliction of purpose, is that a neglect in the service you’re meant to be providing, and are you liable for anything?
• If you are using AI to inform decision making, who is overseeing the decisions the algorithm is making?
• Understand the ethics of tech
• Ensure legal compliance with DPA/GDPR principles when considering and developing AI and alternative delivery models for users data within the sector

4. Where appropriate, build your Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) process
• Enterprise Risk Management focusses on identifying, interpreting and preparing for risks that can impact on your objectives, disrupt business as usual, or even threaten the very survival of the organisation. It ensures risks are considered for their impact across the organisation not just in departmental silos
• If relevant for your charity, you should have an explicit focus on digital strategy, which should include analysis of the external environment. Do you know what peers within the sector, those outside it and companies in your own supply chain are considering?

Don’t wait

Digital isn’t going away. In 2018, it isn’t just about websites or apps or online fundraising. And it’s not just the remit of your digital team (if you have one). Digital should be the thread running through everything you do. Look to the future. Embrace the change. Digital could help your work have real impact.

See also:
IVAR’s Future for Communities report, which looks at the balances of power
• NCVO’s Road Ahead report