Northern Irish charities lagging behind in digital transformation

A new report shows that charities in Northern Ireland are lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to digital transformation, but highlighted the organisations leading the way.

Chrissy Chiu | 31st May 19

Charities in Northern Ireland were found to be lagging compared to other areas in the UK when it comes to digital transformation, despite notable examples of success. This is according to a new survey of directors and CEOs of organisations such as charities and social enterprises by Ulster Bank and CO3 – the Third Sector Index.

The report noted that there is a strong belief that digitisation is important – in fact, 62% of surveyed participated felt that digitisation would help make the business more sustainable and resilient. 40% of those surveyed also felt that technology would make a significant impact on the organisation in the next five years.

But 94% of participating third sector leaders found that their organisation faced challenges to fully unlocking technology due to prohibitive costs and lack of appropriate expertise. Only 28% thought that the company’s technology had changed their organisation over the last five years.

Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist, NI, at Ulster Bank said: “Third sector organisations have shown themselves to be resilient in recent years in the face of a range of challenges. But many organisations are finding themselves having to run faster just to stand still. It would appear that finding new and better ways to do things through technology so that they can increase productivity has to be at least part of the solution.”

“A major challenge though is the skills to implement and utilise such technology. With a tight labour market in Northern Ireland, demand for technology-related skills is high. The third sector perhaps needs to focus on both outsourcing some expertise and investing where possible in reskilling existing employees.”

 

Winning examples

One exemplary organisation was found to be introducing new technology to improve and develop its service offerings. Angel Eyes NI, a Belfast-based charity developed a virtual reality training tool for parents and professionals who support visually impaired children.

“Technology has a really important role to play in the third sector, with the potential to allow organisations to do more with less and to further increase the positive impact they make in society,” said Nora Smith, Chief Executive of CO3.

“Angel Eyes NI is just one example of an organisation doing this to great effect. The latest report shows that demand for the services third sector organisations in Northern Ireland offer continues to increase at the same time as funding pressures mount. Organisations recognise that technology can help them deal with this difficult situation and it is extremely important that digital transformation continues in the third sector over the years ahead.”

The survey conducted by Ulster Bank and CO3 3rd Sector Index is a key indicator of the health of Northern Ireland’s voluntary sector. The survey participants included individuals from organisations providing care, to counselling and support, training and development.