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CIO interview: Sarah Flannigan EDF CIO on her time at the National Trust

Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomediaSarah Flannigan, CIO of The National Trust
Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomedia Sarah Flannigan reflects on her time as CIO with the National Trust

“There was never going to be a good time to move on,” Sarah Flannigan says in the last two weeks of her role as CIO of the National Trust. Flannigan, as this title reported during the summer, is moving into the energy sector as CIO of EDF, the French owned energy producer and retailer that is developing the Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset.

As Flannigan completes her tenure with the UK’s largest charity in terms of members she takes some time to reflect on restoring technology as a special place within the Trust. “We are coming to the end of the big transformation programme,” she says of the timing of her move. “I’ve had the best CIO role there was to have in the last six years. I feel so lucky and privileged and will always hold the National Trust close to my heart.

“Looking back at just what we achieved it was the whole organisation galvanised by opportunity.

It has been six and a half years in two phases; three years of fixing the basics and three years of transformation and it is now delivering and leaving the National Trust in a substantially better shape,” she says.

“The transformation has landed, we set out to increase revenue and decrease costs and we are 3.2% better than the benefit case we set out at the beginning of the transformation, so we are out performing ourselves and have made extra benefits from improved return on investment,” she says. Systems Simplification Programme (SSP) was the transformation project Flannigan dubbed “her baby” in our previous interview. SSP had a target of delivering £90 million in improvements, through areas such as automating marketing opportunities, improved access to information for customers and members and to improve back office process. Five programmes, all interrelated, focused on supporter loyalty, electronic point of sale (EPOS), digital, finance and information management.

“We have a single customer view and good analytics with Tableau, customer acquisition supporter communication is improved through our relationship with Adobe Campaign and we delivered a content rich new website and App. Tills have been rolled out to 68 properties and they are truly transformational as you can look up a customer on the till, for example you look up a member on the till if they have forgotten their membership card. Our retail and catering back office are now on Microsoft Navision for stock and inventory and we have a whole new set of financial and budgeting tools in place,” Flannigan says.

“We are shoring up the Trust for its core purpose and that needs money, because the Trust is there to preserve special places,” she says.

National challenge

“The transformation will keep going now,” Flannigan says of the change in culture and foundations that will see the National Trust able to continually develop its technology and strategy. “It has been exciting as a technology delivery programme and as a business transformation,” she says. Asked what was most rewarding Flannigan says getting 10,000people (staff and volunteers) to engage differently.

Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomediaSarah Flannigan, CIO of The National Trust

The CIO is not afraid to admit there were major obstacles during the programme. “There were dark moments when you were down in the reeds and testing the business case and the cost benefit, but we remained constantly focused and received so much support from the trustees.

“Making ourselves calculate all the benefits was one of the best time investments we made,” she adds that the partnership ethos of the National Trust and the service providers it worked with also helped, especially when tackling challenging terrain.

“It takes two for a relationship to end up not so brilliantly. But no supplier or relationship failed and it has been hard, we have had moments where a system was due to go live and didn’t and that erodes confidence,” she says with honesty. “But we told the trust there would be delays and that we have to hold our nerve and the Trust has done that.”

Flannigan began her new life as CIO of EDF in the UK in November 2016, her second CIO role.

“EDF is a great organisation and it is very committed to digital transformation for customer services and the opportunities digital offers to bring internal efficiency and drive cultural change to and reduce the cost to serve customers,” she says of her new challenge. As a fluent French speaker Flannigan is looking forward to using the gallic language again.

“My role is to join cultures and I’m looking forward to using my French again, but I am really excited as it is a great organisation, it will be hard, but I enjoy hard,” she says of the role that will see her not on the board, but reporting directly to the chief executive.

Alongside her EDF responsibilities Flannigan recently became a member of the board of trustees at the Royal Botanical Society and its famous landmark home, Kew Gardens, “it is a huge honour,” she says of the role. Her first challenge as a board member is to help Kew select a CIO for the digital challenge it finds growing.

Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomediaSarah Flannigan, CIO of The National Trust
Picture by Matt Gore iconphotomedia Sarah Flannigan, when CIO of The National Trust
About Mark Chillingworth 168 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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