Emergency medical charity presses on with digital transformation in the COVID era, adopting new tools to improve efficiency, communication, fundraising and operations in an often-challenging physical environment.
Devon Air Ambulance Trust - an emergency critical care service run by and for the people of Devon - is dedicated to providing clinical care to sick and injured patients in and around the county, with two air ambulances at the heart of its operations. The COVID pandemic has presented operational challenges - but the crisis has also focussed minds on much-needed digital transformation.
DAAT chief executive Heléna Holt says the charity’s biggest challenges during the COVID pandemic have been operational. These have included securing supplies of PPE, keeping its pilots and paramedics safe, flexing service provision and scope of practice in support of its wider healthcare response to the pandemic. For a short period the service was delivered solely via critical care car whilst an innovative solution was developed in partnership with marine engineers to isolate the cockpit of the aircraft to protect all of the crew, including the pilots who cannot wear full level 3 PPE.
But changes to operational staff were just one part of the story. Lockdown in March also meant staff from its 19 charity shops were furloughed and HQ staff moved to home working. With the easing of restrictions, DAAT plans to continue home working and is “revolutionising” its retail operation to increase resilience in case of future waves and lockdowns.
Digital and the impact of COVID
Microsoft Teams is now the charity’s default workspace - and COVID-19 has accelerated its use. “We have now moved documents from the server into various teams,” says Holt. “We were already going to do this but the pandemic has enabled us to move things along more quickly as people realised remote desktopping to the server is inefficient and having documents in their Team channels means they can work together more collaboratively and effectively.”
DAAT uses operational management system Centrik to manage its air operations, safety reporting and training requirements - leading to safer and more efficient operations. SAGE200 and SAP Concur are used to run the charity’s finances and multi-factor authentication increases cyber security. MiFi mobile broadband overcomes poor connectivity for home-workers living in Devon’s more rural areas.
Holt says these digital tools have worked “brilliantly”, adding that “in many ways the pandemic situation has given us the opportunity to transform the way we work for good.”
The pandemic may have forced minds on to the new technology, but the biggest challenge has not been tech but culture. “We have faced reluctance from some people to make full use of the digital resources we had before COVID happened,” says Holt.
Reluctance to embrace digital tools led the charity to set up a team of digital champions from across the organisation who are more IT-savvy to support colleagues in exploring the capabilities of the digital resources available, and dedicated IT training.
Rolling out Teams as a social network and communication tool has been relatively straightforward, particularly when most of the team has been working from home during the pandemic. Harder, says Holt, is "establishing Teams across the whole organisation as a tool for collaborative working and innovation, as old habits die hard.”
“Generally we've seen improvements in efficiency, error catching and comms. Teams in particular is proving a really useful tool for comms,” she adds. “Eliminating paper processes reduces GDPR risks and ensures records are clear and auditable.
“The pace of change is exhilarating for some of us but frightening for many. It is a difficult balance to achieve but we have to try to balance the need to enable people to make the most of new opportunities opened up by technology with ensuring others don't get left behind or just left out.”
Overall, she says “I'm really proud of how our team is supporting one another through this.”
Advice to others
“Be human, not heroic! It's OK to have bad days and be honest about it - it gives other people licence to admit when they are having a bad time,” urges Holt. “And, make space for downtime if you find your entire day is spent in Teams or Zoom meetings - schedule lunch!”
Checklist - how to transform using digital for good
1. Think about the problem you are trying to solve and check your understanding widely before you start to think about solutions
2. To coin a topical phrase, test, test, test!
3. Create a team of digital champions who can solve many day-to-day challenges within their own teams and build resilience.
Devon Air Ambulance Trust - details
Charity type: Emergency service
Annual income: £8.5m
Full-time equivalent staff: 80
Devon Air Ambulance
5 Sandpiper Court, Harrington Lane
Exeter, EX4 8NS
+44 1392 466 666
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