CEO’s blog | Digital Innovation Is Essential for our Future Success
It was five minutes after the announcement that I was to become Chief Executive of The Scout Association and I was running slightly late for my meeting with a Government education agency. I apologised for being a bit late and explained it had just been announced that I was leaving NUS to join The Scout Association. ‘Great’ said the official ‘in that case I want to talk to you about Compass.’ He was a Group Scout Leader.
Nearly 18 months later and the launch our new membership system, Compass, is nearly here – a significant investment that I believe will be a ‘game changer’ for Scouting. It’s being tested by 200 volunteer champions and will be rolled out to members between August and November.
It is well documented in the media that big IT projects rarely run smoothly. And it’s fair to say that in my travels across the UK over the past year volunteers have told me that Scouting’s relationship with Information Technology has historically not been the easiest.
There is a slight sense of déjà vu for me. I faced a very similar situation in my previous role when I arrived, but over the next six years we moved from a situation where we had a server that kept collapsing to investing in cutting-edge technology and developing an award-winning digital platform.
One of the key ways we achieved that turnaround was by investing in talent and identifying a senior lead for this work. So one of the first decisions I took as CEO of The Scout Association was to invest in a Chief Information Officer to lead our digital technology strategy. I am delighted to say we have now appointed Alexis Cheshire as CIO and he brings a wealth of IT and digital experience.
Digital technology will underpin our future success. Whilst we spend our time getting young people away from computer screens and gaming machines, young people today are digital natives who have grown up with technology influencing every aspect of their lives. See how a toddler will go up to a TV to try and change the pictures by swiping their finger across the screen – so influenced are they by smart phone technology and tablets. And when I visit Groups up and down the country I see young people using their phones at the same time as enjoying their Scouting.
First and foremost, digital technology needs to enhance the ‘business’ of Scouting – making life easier for volunteers to undertake their roles (and yes Compass has been designed to improve the lives of volunteers to replace a system that is at capacity and doesn’t work effectively).
But it can also improve the ‘game’ of Scouting by transforming the Scouting experience for youth members. Geocaching is a perfect example of where new technology meets traditional Scouting. I suspect there are hundreds of ideas out there where digital technology can enhance the Scouting experience – particularly with the advent of wearable technology like the Google Glass. I’m setting the challenge now for someone to reinvent the wide game for the 21st century using new technology.
Transforming Scouting through new technology
HQ does not need to come up with these ideas. Actually I’d go further than that and say HQ probably shouldn’t come up with such innovations. Rather, we should set the conditions where we can catalyse new thinking, creating a ‘marketplace’ for people involved in Scouting to develop apps and new ways of transforming Scouting through new technology.
But we do need to be able to acquire outstanding data on our members if we are to enhance their experiences. Our new UK Commissioner for Programme, Craig Turpie, who knows a thing or two about digital technology, describes data as ‘the new oil.’ That’s why Compass is so important, because any self-respecting membership organisation in the 21st century is investing in their membership systems to acquire top notch data to completely understand their members, and in doing so, improve services and particularly, in our case, the programme.
If we are serious about being shaped by young people it’s essential that we create a digital space for them to share their ideas on the future of Scouting (including polling and competitions,) as well as interacting with each other and sharing experiences. And other youth organisations are making major investments to find new ways for young people to upload the ‘good deeds’ or social action they have undertaken to communicate the difference they are making - to peers and future employers (linked to platforms like LinkedIn).
Clearly we can’t rely on digital technology as a panacea or a solution to all our communication needs. There exists a digital divide and large parts of the country don’t have good internet connections. But that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of volunteers, young people and their parents can’t be better serviced by an investment in this area – and indeed we’ve already seen ways in which that can happen.
Online Scout Manager (OSM)
Which finally brings me on to Online Scout Manager (OSM). For many months now we have engaged with OSM in order to find a solution so that OSM users can use Compass as easily as possible, without having to re-key information. We explored the possibility of ongoing synchronicity, whereby when one membership system is updated the other automatically gets updated also. But all the advice we have received (from multiple sources) is that ongoing synchronicity risks corrupting the data in Compass, would be costly and take a very long time to deliver. However, we have come up with an agreement with OSM whereby we will ensure OSM users can opt to import core membership data in to Compass in line with the County / country implementation timetable for entering youth data into the new Compass database. We believe this will enable OSM users to transfer data as easily as possible without having to re-key the data. We will share more about this development in the coming weeks and will be continuing our discussions with OSM to find ways of enhancing Scouting by working collaboratively on digital initiatives.
In fact, we will continue to work with a range of third parties who can enhance Scouting in the future, to deliver our strategic objectives, because digital innovation in essential to our future success.
Chief Executive, The Scout Association