Calgary DI’s Helen Wetherely Knight | A 2019 CanadianCIO of the Year finalist

This is one in a series of profiles of tech leaders named as a finalist for the 2019 ITAC CanadianCIO of Year Award. Knight was part of a Nov. 14 Town Hall discussion for finalists focused on the changing role of the CIO. The ITAC CanadianCIO of the Year winners will be announced Nov. 27 at the Ingenious Awards.

Cloud computing is the furthest thing from hype. Canada’s small businesses and large enterprises have realized the opportunities available through the adoption of cloud architectures, and nonprofits have followed suit.

These modernization efforts are fueled by donors’ increasing demands to see their donations make a measurable difference through outcome- and efficiency-related data. Many cloud-based systems are highly customizable and easily integrated with other tools and technologies, an attractive option for nonprofits running outdated legacy systems.

The Calgary Drop-In Centre is a large emergency shelter with the capacity to sleep 1,000 people per night, and before Helen Wetherley Knight helmed the DI’s modernization efforts, only 70 of the 270 staff members had email addresses.

Exaggerating the problem were the dated, donated computers, forcing the organization to invest thousands of hours into manually managing a database. The system was in disarray, and in turn, the stress rippled down to the 1,400 people it needed to serve daily.

“The resource constraints in the nonprofit sector are enormous,” says Knight.

With the help of solution providers, the DI set itself up with an Azure-based Microsoft Dynamics 365 system with some biometrics layered on top.

Since shifting to the better system, the agency has been functioning as a more cohesive, more efficient unit. Its digital transformation strategy has returned 20 hours per week to staff members. In addition, the front-line leadership team has reaped back 1,460 hours annually.

But for dozens of other nonprofits across the country, these types of results are difficult to obtain. Understanding where to inject digital innovations and making the most of those tools is an enormous challenge for nonprofits, says Knight.

“One of the most surprising things I found when I started at the DI was that I was driving the overall strategy,” she says. “Operational efficiency is a significant part of my work because nonprofits have such noble visions … but the cost savings, the increase of quality and the increase of oversight across the organization, all comes from increased efficiencies.

Knight says she plans on returning to a consulting role, something she had done for several years prior to joining the DI. Her first-hand experience driving a transformation in a nonprofit environment has encouraged her to be much more vocal about the need for CIOs to get involved in the nonprofit sector.

“I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy with fellow CIOs to get them onto nonprofit boards because frankly. Most nonprofit boards are made up of CEOs and CFOs and we need way more CIOs to bridge this digital divide between technical efficiency and effectiveness,” says Knight.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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