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Laying down tracks for technology investments

Consultant presents the A Corp Board with a technology plan and a roadmap to get there

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Nycholas Benaia via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began nearly 2½ years ago, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board heard a report Thursday on the denomination’s technology needs.

The bottom line, according to Build Consulting, the firm hired to perform the study: it’ll take about five years and cost between an estimated $5.3 million and $8.8 million to change and enhance the national office by improving and unifying the technology that helps power everything from the denomination’s website to its phone system.

The Washington, D.C.-based consultant has worked with national staff for months to compile its report, which has five recommended tracks, a roadmap Build Consulting laid out for board members meeting in the conference facility in the Presbyterian Center. The process continued in closed session Thursday afternoon so the consultant could discuss potential security issues with board members without disclosing them publicly.

To help develop the recommendations, Build Consulting’s groundwork included:

  • Conducting 20 group and individual interviews with 65 staff representing more than 15 teams or business functions
  • PC(USA) staff led 15 walkthroughs of the systems they use, highlighting what worked well and where they faced challenges
  • The consultant investigated the infrastructure of the Administrative Services Group’s network infrastructure and Information Technology staffing model
  • 187 staff contributed survey responses
  • Build reviewed 274 documents provided by PC(USA).

Build’s David Price summarized the findings this way:

  • There’s a widely shared vision for technology innovation and data. “We hope this project will be the catalyst for that,” Price said.
  • Change management requires muscles. Change is resisted across the PC(USA) “perhaps more than in other organizations,” Price said, quoting some of statements provided by anonymous staffers: “Presbyterians do not like to be told what to do” and “The culture isn’t ready for collaboration.”
  • The functional capacity and authority of the A Corp’s IT department can be expanded. As the PC(USA) has made cuts to positions, “the IT organization as it stands doesn’t have a deep bag of resources it can tap into,” Price said. With no recognized leader, Build recommends the A Corp hire a chief information officer.
  • Information security is an issue with nearly every organization Build consults with. Over the last six years, the IT Department has made “great progress” improving intrusion detection systems and incident response processes and offering security awareness training, according to Price.
  • The engagement strategy is undefined, the most prominent of which is the PC(USA)’s website, pcusa.org. Price said constituents want the same great experience they have on websites including Amazon’s and those of the major airlines. “This is a big change effort. It may be the biggest hurdle in the roadmap, getting everyone on the same page,” Price said.
  • There’s a “shadow” IT infrastructure in which agencies and entities are mostly “left to do what they want to on their own. As a result, there are a lot of options to do fairly simple things,” such as sending out an email blast, Price said. “There are hidden costs to having that many flavors.”
  • There’s a need to enact cross-agency application leverage. “For your core systems, try where possible to have one solution everyone can leverage,” Price said. “PC(USA) doesn’t need to standardize everything — just the important things.”
  • Finally, improve on the delivery of managed technology services, which Price said IT wants to deliver to its client partners, who need and want those services. Well-thought-out agreements on service levels and the cost of delivering services are key, Price said.

The five tracks included as part of the roadmap are:

  1. Strengthen IT technology services function by, among other things, establishing a technology steering committee and hiring a chief information officer.
  2. Enhance core technology services, including moving the telephone system to one that’s cloud based, addressing security findings and developing training programs.
  3. Migrate to shared core business applications. This track includes building and relaunching the website, mapping constituent data and optimizing Constituent Relationship Management “This is transformational change. It cannot be just an IT project,” said Build’s Lydia Alvarez.
  4. Leverage data with analytics. This three-step process includes identifying performance and impact indicators and implementing both interim and long-term analytics strategies.
  5. Exercise change management muscles. Steps include conducting a change readiness assessment, training staff on a change management framework and launching the framework. “The big question that kept coming up was how,” said Build’s Debbie Cameron. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.”

 

The board made no decision on the report during Thursday’s meeting. A Corp President Kathy Lueckert told board members that the costs cited in the report are estimates and ranges. The board reported taking no action following its closed session late Thursday afternoon.

“Technology is a game-changer in the way we deliver services,” said Board Member Bridget-Anne Hampden. “As a board we need to begin to understand that this organization has to make a heavy investment in technology if we are going to be able to support this vision.”

The board is set to meet Friday from 8:30 a.m. through noon, with one more closed session scheduled. During open session, the board will approve committee assignments, hear reports from its committees — Nominating, Governance and Personnel; Audit, Legal and Risk Management; Finance, Operations and Budget; and the Coordinating Committee — and hear a report from Lueckert.


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