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People, data key elements to nonprofit digital transformation

While people are the drivers of this transformation, data continues to be the engine.

February 6, 2019

Empowering nonprofits and humanitarian organizations to advance their mission through the use of digital technology is more than just the use of technology—and it’s not solely reliant upon just the tools. It’s really about the adoption of that technology against an organization’s mission.

Erik Arnold, CTO, Microsoft Tech for Social Impact

This is the basic tenant that drives the work of Erik Arnold, Chief Technology Officer for the Tech for Social Impact team at Microsoft Philanthropies. “It’s really about a shift in how you think about incorporating digital technology into your mission writ large and from there, you really see the creativity flow,” he notes.

Arnold sat down with NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman to discuss the challenges inherent in any process change. He joined the Tech for Social Impact team at Microsoft Philanthropies in 2017. Prior to Microsoft, Arnold served for eight years as the Chief Information Officer at PATH, an international NGO and NetHope member focused on global health, and he is active in local, national, and international technology communities.

His extensive experience working in the tech sphere with Microsoft and his tenure with the nonprofit sector at PATH have provided unique insights for Arnold who posits that “finding people where they are, finding those moments where you can help them put things together to solve a problem that drives their program impact, that’s the magic. Taking that and using them as the allies with you helps scale the transformation internally.”

While people are the drivers of this transformation, data continues to be the engine. The need to access and analyze data informs the decisions that are made. “You need to make decisions as an organization, not just for your programming, but for your business. You need to the data at hand to be smart about the investments and ways that you're spending the donor dollars. It's definitely changing. It's a hard ship to turn, particularly in some of the larger, more established nonprofits.”

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Despite the enormous hurdles, Arnold continues to be an optimist, seeing data-driven decisions, with the ever-increasing help of emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning, the internet of things, and a host of tech becoming more accessible and relevant to nonprofits.

“I really see a future over the next five years, where it's much more commonplace to see these data-based solutions, the cognitive services, the advanced analytics across multiple platforms in common use, and more cooperation between international nonprofits, donors, and the governments where they work…It’s building towards more sophisticated, meaningful analysis that solves or helps to solve really complex problems.”

Editor's Note: The Common Data Model referred to in this podcast was launched by Microsoft in November at the 2018 NetHope Global Summit. Click here to see the video announcement.

The Common Data Model is a simplified process providing a shared data language for business and analytical applications to use enabling consistency of data and its meaning across applications and business processes (such as PowerApps, Power BI, Dynamics 365, and Azure), which store data in conformance with the CDM.

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