Amnesty International Australia needed to evolve rapidly to meet the demands of diverse stakeholders, who demanded a strong presence in the digital world, with a tight budget.
Most need to punch above their weight to deliver outcomes with limited assets. And when demand is high, but resources are finite, then clever, flexible approaches are required.
This was the case with Amnesty International Australia, an organisation that’s needed to evolve rapidly to meet the demands of diverse stakeholders, who want a strong presence in the digital world. It’s this demand that’s seen the organisation move to a value-first digital model to support its work.
Amnesty International Australia is the local arm of the international organisation that has representation in 150 countries. It’s focused on using research, advocacy, and lobbying to support the delivery of human rights for all individuals.
In Australia, the organisation orchestrates its services through seven state offices, plus a wider network of volunteers and supporters which span the country. The breadth of Amnesty’s human rights work and the demands on its funding have meant the organisation must operate with a laser focus to maximise delivery with a constrained budget that receives no government support.
“We’re an organisation which is totally focused on our outcomes, and every resource we have needs to be accountable in supporting these,” said Pete Thomas, Chief Operating Officer. “If they don’t contribute, they need to be questioned to determine if there is a better way.”
The discipline to focus on core organisational outcomes and not get bogged down in trying to be experts of everything has put us in a great position, said Pete. It allowed the organisation to drive a value-first strategy, using innovative approaches to ensure that technology was not a barrier to achieving the organisation’s goals.
Like many not-for-profits, though, it took Amnesty some time to arrive at this approach and refocus their investments to the areas that mattered.
"Not for profits don’t have the deep pockets of enterprises, so when it comes to looking for our service providers, we need to ensure that they understand our needs and bring the right skills and risk approach."
Pete Thomas, Chief Operating Officer
Amnesty International Australia
"In previous years, we were too caught up in a focus on bespoke, inhouse platforms and systems which required specialist skills. When you run lean, that specialist is one person. And when they leave, it leaves you exposed,” said Pete. “We have found that by moving to a value-added partner approach, we are able to rapidly scale, expand skills and knowledge, and decrease our business risk in the process.”
The value-first model that Pete oversees focuses on the holistic cost of adding new technology to Amnesty—not only the sticker price of an investment, but additional elements like data risks, security, and scalability to support the fast-moving nature of the organisation’s many projects.
The move to the new IT service model has been successful for the organisation. Amnesty’s workplace includes many younger employees and volunteers who are digitally adept. By supporting them with a more modern workplace, the employees and volunteers in the organisation have become increasingly engaged, empowered, and more productive. A digital-first approach also makes it easier to communicate with Amnesty’s many stakeholders.
“Walk around our office and you’ll find nearly everyone engaging in high-definition video conferencing from their desks. They’re working with stakeholders, suppliers, and colleagues who are in other states or working from home,” said Pete.
Additionally, the team’s approach to IT has seen the delivery of a more stable, high-capacity network, better positioning them to work more closely with the broader Amnesty International organisation.
The organisation is in a good place for its ICT systems. It’s more responsive and accountable for the services and platforms it needs to utilise. One major learning for Pete was introducing a robust contract and vendor management process into the business.
“Whilst we need agility in our services, we also can’t lose sight of the commercial benefits that come from working closely with partners, so our goals are mutually aligned,” he said. “Not for profits don’t have the deep pockets of enterprises, so when it comes to looking for our service providers, we need to ensure that they understand our needs and bring the right skills and risk approach.”
Pete’s technology model has also released people from working in the business to working on it. They’ve been able to move away from building and operating infrastructure and databases to concentrating on extracting value from the data and creating new ways for supporters to engage.
“We’re down to one support ticket in the queue for infrastructure issues. This means that the team are freed up to be able to work on value adding to the business, such as data analysis or database enhancements,” he said. “It’s a great position to be in.”
The move to cloud-based technologies has resulted in better scalability for the organisation to quickly respond when a program arises. These services are underpinned with Vocus enterprise-grade network, internet, and voice services.
“We’ve been able to redesign our workplace and move people around easily. If we have to bring in more people, we can get them up and running quickly. With cloud-based platforms and communications, all we need is a reliable, secure, and high-capacity internet connection,” said Pete. “We don’t have to worry about servers or cabling.”
When asked to reflect on the benefits of his approach, Pete has many. “It’s been really surprising to see the improvement the enhancements to our systems and platforms have delivered for our users,” he said.
“Our levels of user adoption have been significant due to better reliability, performance, and user experience. I’ve seen people happily take on additional tasks which wouldn’t have been their responsibility and they’ve been able to complete them in a fraction of the time, which adds considerable efficiency across the business.”
The performance of technology infrastructure has been another highlight. "We’re now able to support more flexible working arrangements for parents and for people who care for others at home. And that is hugely powerful as it aligns with our goals to ensure the value of all people, wherever they may be, is represented," said Pete.
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