Simply put, digital literacy was not on the AARP’s upcoming roadmap. But a convention in Vegas changed things for the social mission organization.
“We bring in thousands of our members on an annual basis to enjoy and consume the products and services we have… we can get 30,000 individuals to our event,” Terry Bradwell III, AARP’s CIO, told a packed keynote room at ITEXPO this afternoon. “We noticed we had lines at our 10-by-10 booth of members who were circulating around the building to have a question answered about how to use our digital offerings, how to turn on their smartphone, how to use technology. We realized that there was an extreme hunger for this type of knowledge and education among the 50-plus demographic.”
“Digital literacy was not in our strategic plan, but as we started to take a look at this concept that was happening here in Vegas, we realized we had caught lighting in a bottle,” he added.
So this May, the AARP announced it has launched AARP Technology Education and Knowledge (TEK), a comprehensive technology education program specifically geared towards the 50-plus audience. Boasting hands-on education sessions and a comprehensive online education platform, AARP TEK sets out to empower its members with technology. The organization is currently rolling out pilot education seminars in seven cities in 2014 —Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Jacksonville, New York, San Antonio and San Diego—with the goal of expanding significantly in 2015.
As Bradwell explained, if you begin to talk to CEOs and CFOs, you will notice that they are starting to realize that they can leverage IT for a strategic advantage for their organization. In fact, according to Gartner, over the last five years, 70 percent of all new revenue streams that have been created have been created as a result of technology.
“That’s staggering,” Bradwell said. “But think about what business we are in… what do we live, breathe and eat every day? It’s technology. But if you are a traditional IT organization, we look at technology through the lens of supporting an organization and not supporting an organization’s bottom line.”
So AARP set out to think differently—to challenge the traditional paradigm. It realized that it can continue chasing the types of resources and offerings needed to support the organization or it can start thinking like a business and find ways to connect its vast resources within IT that align with the bottom line of our business.
The idea behind TEK was an idea that originated from IT. AARP recognized that technology is an imperative now—not a nice-to-have—and that it was time for the organization to launch a national program that connects people and closes the digital divide. According to Bradwell, “with our members the digital divide is wide, so we set out on a journey.”
Since that very day in Vegas, AARP has set out on a journey to create an online educational platform that equips its members with the knowledge base and skill sets to navigate the great technology divide. And the press caught on, as Bradwell said, noting that every major publication expressed interest in this topic.
“That was important for us as an organization,” he said. “We are about social change and making an impact in society.”
Bradwell urged ITEXPO participants to understand that this fundamental shift of viewing IT as an entity that can help your bottom line, not just the bottom line of your customers is critical.
“What I am proposing is really not a flavor of the week,” he explained. “We get these catchphrases like ‘run IT like a business,’ ‘harness the power of IT,’ or ‘get business value.’ We hear these all the time, but what I am suggesting is this is more of paradigm shift. IT organizations need to begin to start thinking about the bottom line of your business.”
The keynoter argued that IT is in one of the best strategic places to benefit your organization today, because there is really not any part of your organization that IT does not already touch. So start holding company innovation sessions. Ask department heads what they are seeing. Take a moment to ask: What are our customers saying.
Dig deeper, Bradwell argued, as there’s often gold down there.
As you start to consider this fundamental shift when it comes to strategic planning, Bradwell advised the following:
- Understand your business and market
- Reassess your organization’s talent
- Identify opportunity and proof of concept
- Integrate back into business operations
“Our goal was never to build a broader IT,” Bradwell concluded. “It was to do our best work for the business and our best work up to that point was in supporting the business operations. Now we can say our best work is supporting the bottom line of our organization.”
Edited by Adam Brandt