ARC's IT Manager, Johnny Novy explains what place I.T. has in conservation and the many benefits it has to our work.

Information technology is a core function of almost every organisation in the world. Having once driven across the Kalahari, and given a lift to a Bushman carrying a mobile phone and wearing the unusual combination of loin cloth and Chelsea FC shirt, complete with Samsung logo on the front, I daresay I.T. may be a part of every organisation in the world today.

As soon as an organisation expands, beyond that single individual kneeling over the side of a dimly-lit pond, the people involved will inevitably have to deal with matters outside their fields of expertise. For example, who else but ARC’s Finance team could handle the complexities of HMRC’s annual Gift Aid claim process, ensuring that you get the maximum value for your donations?

But what’s the point of I.T.? What benefits does it deliver? And what place does I.T. have in conservation?

Support for staff

I.T., like Finance, H.R., Communications and Fundraising, are core functions that are there to help organisations make the most of their resources. In fact, it’s written into my job description: IT Manager - Overall Purpose of Role: “…to further ARC’s aim of conserving amphibians and reptiles and saving their disappearing habitats.”

ARC has world-leading experts in their field but conservationists will not always have had the opportunity to train in and study technology, at least, not the underlying infrastructure. So it’s unreasonable to expect conservationists to also be experts in I.T. (or finance, or employment law, etc.) which is where core support comes in.

But that support isn’t limited to advising colleagues to, “…try turning it off and on again…”!

Strategic planning

When I joined the Trust in 2018 one of my initial tasks was to ensure ARC was compliant with the new GDPR regulations, now part of the UK Data Protection Act (2018). Whilst carrying out a survey of ARC’s technology assets I noted the existing in-house email system was nearing the end of its life.

Rather than simply plan to purchase a replacement I recommended that we make use of Microsoft’s ‘365’ platform. Qualifying non-profit organisations can get Microsoft 365 for free, and get access to not only an email system but many other services, including document storage and the messaging and virtual-meeting platform, ‘Teams’.

That change was part of a roadmap of developments designed to improve how we worked together with our out-posted colleagues around Britain. When lockdown happened 18 months later, suddenly, we were all out-posted. Nevertheless, ARC was able to switch overnight to working entirely remotely, without interruption, part in thanks to that technology. Group activities such as volunteer task days might have been banned during lockdown but ARC was still able to plan for the resumption of survey season, carry out online training sessions, prepare socially-distanced habitat management tasks and all the other activities that contribute to our conservation objectives.

Is that all?

Effective conservation today inevitably involves technology. That could be people using our monitoring tools at the ARC Survey Hub that allow us to use fewer staff to process more data and make the outcomes of surveys available in shorter timeframes. Or staff using Story Maps to present complex processes or findings in a more accessible style. Or even staff using software to comb through months of audio recordings, looking for evidence of pool frogs or natterjack toads.

Whatever the task, the role of I.T. is not just to support staff in their use of that technology. It’s not even limited to identifying strategic opportunities for improvement and cost reduction. It’s also about using specialist knowledge to keep systems running smoothly, to proactively prepare for incidents – to reduce their likelihood and reduce the negative impacts caused when they happen – and to help minimise the disruption that inevitably comes with technological change.

But ultimately, the point of I.T. at ARC is to support our organisational objectives: conserving species, increasing knowledge and understanding, widening engagement, and sustaining impact.

Sorry… I’m going to have to go - apparently our Enquiries Officer’s phone’s not working… “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

Johnny Novy – IT Manager - PGC (TechMgmt) (Open)