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CIO interview: Shaun Le Geyt, CIO, Parkinson’s UK

A major shift from Microsoft Office 365 to Google's G Suite, the implementation of Salesforce and better use of data are combining to help the charity enhance its support for people with Parkinson’s

Shaun Le Geyt, CIO at Parkinson’s UK, says great IT is all about putting people first. It’s a mantra that permeates the entire organisation, reaching far beyond the technology team, out across the charity and into the community it serves.

Every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson’s. As many as 145,000 people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK, which is about one in every 350 adults. Le Geyt’s focus is on the individuals his charity serves, rather than the tech he implements – and he believes too many digital leaders are still seduced by supplier hype.

His personal stance on the role of enterprise technology has been shaped via a non-traditional career path to the role of CIO. Le Geyt became CIO last November after joining the charity the previous September in a consultancy position. It was not just a big shift in terms of appointment – it was also a big call in his career direction.

Le Geyt had spent 20 years in consultancy and this was his first full-time CIO post, having previously fulfilled interim IT leadership roles at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and non-profit the Whiteley Homes Trust. He says a move to the sharp end of IT leadership in the permanent CIO role at Parkinson’s UK has been really enjoyable.

“The fact that I was prepared to make that shift says a lot about the organisation and where they’re heading,” he says. “They’re trying to do so much to help people with Parkinson’s and they believe technology can help, and it really fascinates me.”

Agenda for change

Le Geyt reports to chief digital and communication officer Julie Dodd. In her combined role, Dodd oversees both IT and marketing at Parkinson’s UK, making it easier to ensure cross-organisation collaboration.

“She’s really supportive as a boss,” he says. “Julie’s done some great things when it comes to digital transformation. But she’s always open to new ideas and new ways of working, so it makes a difference to have a leader like that who’s pushing the agenda. In fact, my experience would suggest that kind of leadership is often quite rare in IT.”

Le Geyt says one of the keys for the IT department is that Dodd reports directly to the chief executive, rather than the finance director, which usually tends to be the common chain of command facing CIOs. It’s a refreshing change that Le Geyt believes pays big dividends when it comes to the respect IT commands across the organisation.

“When you report to the CFO, it can sometimes mean you’re seen as simply providing a service to the business and, for that, there’s a cost,” he says. “I’ve worked in organisations where the finance director sees IT procurement in that light and the result is a constant battle.

“Reporting to the CEO means technology spending is related much more closely to business case. That makes a big difference, although I should also point out that we’re lucky enough to have a really great finance chief at Parkinson’s UK. She really does understand the potential game-changing role of technology.”

“Our procurement process is driven by needs. We wanted it to be a business-led project, not an IT project”

Shaun Le Geyt, Parkinson’s UK

One of Le Geyt’s big recent projects has involved a move from Microsoft Office 365 to Google’s G Suite for cloud-based productivity applications. The decision was about supporting a change in the way employees work.

“We’re looking at how the organisation collaborates as a whole,” he says. “And in terms of total cost of ownership for a charity – and that includes Android devices, Chromebooks and everything – you have to look at where you can spend your money wisely. I felt that moving to Google provided that kind of opportunity for us.”

Up to 250 Parkinson’s UK employees work at home permanently, and providing IT support to these individuals requires a lot of effort, says Le Geyt. Moving to G Suite – and making use of simpler, browser-based operating systems and hardware – should cut some of that administrative effort, which represents another potential cost saving.

“We intend to roll out Chromebooks in the future as well,” he says. “That removes a lot of concern for users, as there’s no operating system – everything’s on the browser. The total cost of the hardware is a lot cheaper as well.

“I’m driven by delivering first-class customer support because the better-supported our users are, the more efficient their IT is, and then the more time they can spend doing their jobs and doing what they need to do to help people with Parkinson’s.”

Providing great service

Le Geyt is also adopting the cloud to boost staff productivity. Parkinson’s UK has an annual income of about £40m and employs more than 450 staff. The charity draws on a dynamic network of experts, health and social care professionals, volunteers and researchers. 

The charity was formed in 1969 and Le Geyt was aware of the need for the organisation to embrace modern systems and services, particularly when it came to helping its disparate staff to communicate, to collaborate and to break their reliance on paper-based records.

Le Geyt was eager to work to his guiding principle and to roll out people-based services. He didn’t want digital services to be a cultural impediment to the broad church of individuals who provide care to people with Parkinson’s.

After speaking with consultancy Bluewolf, Le Geyt decided to introduce Salesforce’s cloud-based customer service technology. The charity uses Salesforce’s Service Cloud platform, about 90% of which has been implemented out of the box with minimal customisation.

“There was a tendency in the past in the organisation to rush in and buy shiny things. We made sure people were focused on looking at that minimal viable product,” says Le Geyt of the Salesforce implementation. “Our procurement process is driven by needs. We wanted it to be a business-led project, not an IT project – and that was a big change.”

Parkinson’s UK advisers now have access to a console that provides a broad picture of all the enquiries that are coming in. Staff can track and trace these enquiries and consider where additional support resources might be required. The charity is using Chatter to add cross-organisation collaboration.

“It’s gone really well,” says Le Geyt. “From a service management point of view, there’s visibility of what our teams are doing and how people with Parkinson’s are benefiting. The call comes in and the information is instantly passed to the local adviser in real time. We also know exactly what advice has been given. When people ring up, they feel like they’re known to us and it’s much more personal.”

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Le Geyt is taking the next steps in the charity’s implementation of Salesforce technology, including using the chat system Live Agent. As part of this continual improvement process, the IT team is doing “a lot of work” around data, says Le Geyt, whose main responsibilities cover three core areas – IT, infrastructure and data.

“The key for me is ensuring that people have the right tools,” he says. “I want to give people access to the technology that can help them support people with Parkinson’s. I want to help change the perception of IT across the organisation, from being a support function to being seen as a strategic component for change.”

The organisation implemented a new Snowflake data warehouse last year and is using the platform to create a “single version of the truth” that will help sponsor data-led working across the charity. Service work around that implementation, which was initiated in March 2018, continues.

As part of his three-pronged remit, Le Geyt manages ongoing changes to business services. He says some of the recent operational changes he has helped to initiate are related to the Salesforce implementation – and these business service improvements are having an impact.

“It’s all about a change in mindset,” he says. “We had a helpline before – we don’t have a helpline any more; instead, we have a service desk. Having put the service desk in, other areas of the business see the benefits and want similar approaches to support in their functional areas. I think there are a lot more opportunities to build on what we’ve done as a team. It’s really exciting.”

Using insight to create benefits

Le Geyt refers back to the organisation’s implementation of Snowflake’s data warehouse technology and suggests it provides an example of pioneering work that Parkinson’s UK is attempting to undertake. He believes many other charities would struggle to make a similar leap in implementing data-led working.

“At the same time, other things are going to come along,” he says. “So, what we’re doing now is putting the foundations in place and then, when these new things appear, we can think of being innovative and be early adopters, if that’s appropriate. Technology shouldn’t be a barrier to us doing what we think is right.”

Eighteen months from now, Le Geyt believes the charity will be a lot more collaborative and strategic in its thinking when it comes to the use of technology. He wants Parkinson’s UK to become even more insight-driven.

“That’s the key to our future success,” he says. “The organisation is really supportive and the senior leadership team are, too – they’ve really bought into the concept of digital transformation and that makes a huge difference. The decision-making is really fast and that’s what enables as us an IT team to drive change through technology on behalf of the charity, its donors and people with the disease.”

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