RSPCA IT chief sees cause to campaign

With the Commons vote to outlaw hunting with hounds, the RSPCA has recently been in the thick of media attention. I spoke to...

With the Commons vote to outlaw hunting with hounds, the RSPCA has recently been in the thick of media attention. I spoke to Wendy Thorley, head of IT at the animal charity.

Inside track

David Taylor

I spoke to Wendy Thorley, head of IT at the animal charity.

The RSPCA has a huge profile. Does this affect your IT service in terms of pressure and publicity?

We are fortunate in having a strong public profile, reaching millions of people with our animal welfare campaigns and education. The downside is the increasing demand for our services.

We receive one call every 20 seconds from the public. Answering them all is a challenge. Putting them into action puts us under pressure to get the right information to the right people at the right time, especially if an animal's life is in danger.

Our 450 inspectors and animal collection officers are crying out for a robust, efficient and comprehensive mobile data solution. But the right remedy and security has a high price tag and even higher cost of ownership.

It must be a real challenge to retain staff. How do you do this?

I have been doing this job for15 years! I live locally, so maintain a good work and life balance, and always have a fresh challenge.

I know I am making a difference. Seeing the RSPCA on television and doing a fantastic job with excellent people is a unique motivator. As you can guess, it is not the salary keeping me here!

I retain staff by giving them the same experiences. Some staff have been with me for five years or more. Two colleagues have left, gained knowledge of life and returned to help us address new challenges.

I promote from within, and take training seriously. I consider people's strengths above weaknesses and try to attract non-IT staff from the RSPCA to bring in new skills.

What would you say were the main leadership skills needed in the RSPCA?

You need to believe passionately in what you do and the contribution you are making. You need to communicate to people and to help them develop those feelings. Leading by example is key. People follow what you do, not what you say.

One must see the big picture - the whole organisation and its aims.

A good leader takes people with them through times of uncertainty and ambiguity. Focus and confidence is important, but humility and honesty are too.

You need to demonstrate you are human, making and learning from mistakes. You need to empathise with people's emotions and problems, but also to direct them appropriately when the chips are down. I believe in leading by respect, not by fear.

How is your IT strategy aligned with the charity's needs?

It is not IT that must be aligned to the business. Yes, it has to be fit for the purpose, affordable and reliable. But the challenge is aligning information strategy with business needs through identifying what information is critical to the key strategic objectives of the RSPCA and making that information flow better.

To develop a strategic approach to information management and IT, all directors meet every two months. The same forum steers the direction of our Internet activities.

We have a team of five people in the IS department to liaise with divisions and other departments and to listen to needs and make cases for them, while keeping an "holistic" view.

The RSPCA has devoted time, resources and money into the campaign to ban hunting with hounds. Has this deflected money from IT?

The RSPCA's purpose is to prevent cruelty to animals. The cruel sport of hunting is an anathema to modern society.

Preventing the abuse of animals is our overriding priority and we try to ensure that business processes get funding to enable us to carry out our animal welfare activities.

In weighing up IT budgets, the RSPCA considers the importance of its activities across the board.

David Taylor's Inside Track, a provocative insight into the world of IT in business, is published by Butterworth Heinemann, Tel: 01865-88180

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