Taking preservation into the digital age: An interview with National Trust CIO Sarah Flannigan

National Trust CIO Sarah Flannigan says creative mobile solutions can help organisations overcome the challenges associated with customer engagement.

Sarah Flannigan, CIO at the National Trust, recognises creativity and innovation are crucial elements when using technology to successfully meet business objectives.

The former sales and marketing director for manufacturing specialist David Salisbury became IT leader at the conservation charity in 2010. She says her business background makes her fully aware of the need to engage with customers in innovative ways.

“We need to make the most of consumer and mobile technology,” says Flannigan. “Cost is important because we’re a charity but the business benefits associated with new forms of technology can help produce a quick return on investment.”

The Trust already employs digital media specialists who deal with social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. The creation of real-time content is devolved to Trust properties and employees engage with the wider community. Rangers, for example, are encouraged to write blogs about anything ranging from plant health to coastal footpath maintenance.

“Communicating about nature has to be real time,” says Flannigan. “We want to let our members know that the bluebells are out or a cow is in calf. We’ve realised our website is our biggest property. Joined-up communications presents a huge opportunity.”

Flannigan’s proactive approach includes allowing users to bring their own technology (BYOT) to work. While other CIOs have chosen to shy away from consumerisation, the Trust was an early adopter of employee-led choice.

“We tell workers that we’ll support their technology if they want to use it,” she says, recognising that some individuals chose to use their own iPhones and iPad. “We’re happy because iOS is carefully locked down. We only support Apple devices for BYOT because of the in-built security options.”

Flannigan’s BYOT strategy includes clear guidelines for employees, such as instructions on how to receive work email, signed forms for personal liability and systems for remote data wiping. By allowing employees to use their own technology, Flannigan can repurpose previously allocated mobile technology, saving costs and increasing flexibility for other individuals in the Trust.

Some iPad devices have already been deployed in Trust properties. Volunteer room guides armed with the mobile device can give additional information to visitors, or can allow individuals to interact with the technology themselves. An example includes the Long Gallery at Montacute House in Somerset. The collaboration with the National Gallery allows visitors to use iPad and see more information about paintings.

“The technology brings properties to life,” says Flannigan. The Trust has embraced mobile development and created its first iPhone app for visitors more than two years ago. The GPS-based app allows customers to view nearby properties and see opening times, historical information and events. “It helps us to show that we’re not the stuffy organisation people used to think we were and it can breathe new life into a return property visit, ” she says.

The Trust has also launched a gardens app that allows visitors to obtain rich information about gardens at Trust properties. The app includes an augmented reality experience of the garden, which identifies and tags shrubs and trees. “Mobile development is helping us to reach a non-traditional audience,” says Flannigan.

Further mobile developments are being considered. The Trust is keen to investigate how tablets can help rangers conduct tree surveys at sites. Flannigan says challenges abound, such as battery life, device fragility and screen glare. One possible avenue is via the implementation of iPad mini.

Tablet devices will also be used to help recruit members at sites. Visitors are currently signed up through a manual process. Flannigan says automation through iPad would be more intuitive and help speed up the enrolment process. She hopes to have tablets on site from summer 2013 but must first overcome challenges surrounding access to power and network connectivity in remote locations.

“Whatever device we use will have to meet our criteria and we’re currently wrestling with the challenges,” she says. “But the digital age is definitely allowing us to think about engagement in terms that would have been impossible ten years ago.”

National Trust CIO Sarah Flannigan on digital media

Sarah Flannigan, CIO at National Trust

Working with a trusted IT partner

The National Trust runs an in-house publishing division that produces magazines and marketing collateral. On joining the charity in 2010, CIO Sarah Flannigan discovered workers in the department were using various versions of the Apple Mac computer, which tends to be the default choice for workers involved in publishing.

The rest of the organisation was running Microsoft Windows-based PC technology. There was a misguided belief among in-house IT support workers that the publishing team should simply fend for themselves because the strategy then was not to support Apple technology. Flannigan, with the help of Jigsaw24, established a support mechanism for the publishing department.

“I want IT to be under our control and I want to be responsible for end user support. We need our publishing team to be producing great content, not worrying about problematic IT issues. We had to find a way to deal with this specialist need. Jigsaw24 genuinely slotted in and supported our way of working,” she says.

Interested in finding out how Jigsaw24 can help your organisation? Call us on 03332 409 234 or email CIO@Jigsaw24.com. You can also find out how Stuart Page of Bauer Media and Chris Taylor of News International have used mobility and Apple to revolutionise operations.

Call us: 03332 409 306

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