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CIO interview: Gerard McGovern, GOSH Charity

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Tinker Bell, one of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan characters and key to the GOSH revenues. Picture: Iconphotomedia

Peter Pan, the boy that would never grow up is one of the most important benefactors to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), but although JM Barrie’s fictional character refuses to grow up, running the charitable element of one of the UK’s most famous hospitals does require an ability to mature. 

Gerard McGovern is Head of Technology at GOSH Charity and has been helping GOSH mature since June 2015.  Author Barrie gifted the royalties and copyright of his mythical  story of fairies, pirates and friendship in 1929. Over 600 children a day enter Great Ormond Street Hospital for treatment and all of us with a child in our lives know the name of the hospital, are reassured it is there should we need it one day and in many ways hope we never need to make the trip to Russell Square, London. GOSH Charity aims to raise £100 million per annum on top of the NHS funding to keep pace with demand. The charity is therefore critical to the health of the hospital.

“Given what we do, if you have a child, it pulls at the heart strings,” father of young children McGovern says of his role. “It is a real privilege to work here and my job is about connecting people to information.”

McGovern and I meet in the late summer and the hospital has spent all summer in the headlines and at the top of social media as a result of being the hospital that Charlie Gard was treated at. The Gard story is one that demonstrates the emotional challenge of being involved in an organisation like GOSH Charity as well as, sadly, the technology challenge. When GOSH placed statements about the Gard case on its site the scalability of the technology McGovern is responsible for was tested.

“We are on AWS and saw a press release receive over a million visits,” he says of how emotion create spikes of technology demand.

McGovern and I are sat across the road from the famous hospital in the two floor office of the charitable trust. The meeting room on the second floor is a startup like collaboration zone that is all part of the programme of modernisation GOSH Charity is growing through.

“The CEO and the Director of Finance recognised that we were behind other charities and they wanted to make the most of digital opportunities,”  he says of the role he took two and a half years ago. “We had five lap tops and we were very stuck to silos and there was no access to mobile email with legacy in various comms rooms dotted around the place.

“So I have spent the last two years taking GOSH Charity to the next level and rolled out Salesforce and thinking about the way we want to work. In particular how do we turn information into knowledge and begin a journey so that we can know our supporters,” he says.  A first step was moving the bulk of technology used by GOSH Charity into the cloud.

“We are in the middle of five year programme that ends in 2020, digital was not a term in 2015 when we began. Digital is emerging as a number of technologies and solutions that will change our interactions, but it is always about people, tools and processes and combining these.

“The economic reality of a charity is that costs are going up in line with inflation and digital helps mitigate that,” McGovern says. The technology leader is seeing the demographic of those engaging with the charity change and it is far more technology savvy. And that means that the fund raisers for GOSH are becoming increasingly tech literate, but that can come with challenges too.

“Fund raisers are great, they will do whatever it takes to help the people they are raising for and they come up with solutions, but you can end up with a mess as you have all the raw data, but you need to turn that into information and then into knowledge.” McGovern is focusing his efforts into the information to help GOSH become a more tactical organisation.

“If we know that people like Formula One then lets make sure we show them the F1 information, if they have been to Snow and Rock then lets make them aware of the Kilimanjaro challenge, make it personalised for their interactions,” he says.

In the London headquarters McGovern has played a part in the development of a new mezzanine floor to encourage collaboration.

“It is about bringing people together and providing different areas. You need formal and informal work spaces. It is about showing the benefits and showing how people can work differently.

Charitable supply

Gerard McGovernThe decision to adopt Salesforce had already been taken when McGovern joined GOSH and the Head of Technology describes it as the right choice: “You can get 80% of what you need done from out to the box.

“We are very lucky that salesforce.org allows us to have the power of Salesforce but not at the same cost. Cloud gives us the economics of scale that we wouldn’t normally have. We are not experts a running datacentres and the pool of resources at Amazon is amazing,” he says.  McGovern (left) also works with Microsoft and Qlik for analytics, whilst storage company Nimble, now part of HPE, helped them move away from a legacy NetApp estate.

“We have tried to rationalise the number of suppliers to Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce. You have got to make sure that going outside of these three is made up for by the service an alternative  provides.”

Since joining the charitable sector from photography agency Getty in 2013 McGovern has found the Charity IT Leaders forum headed by Laura Dawson, CIO of the British Council and a speaker on a Horizon Live podcast, to be really useful. He says the camaraderie in the forum is incredible and has really benefited GOSH.

“It is why I enjoy my job, everyone feels they are part of making a difference,” he says.  Away from GOSH McGovern has two young children and he and his wife are loyal Tottenham Hotspur fans, they even met in Spain on an away game  in Seville.

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About Mark Chillingworth 217 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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