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The Value of an Expert Sounding Board

Added: 03/10/2023

Voluntary Action Leeds

How a chance meeting with KPMG turbo-charged GIPSIL’s digital strategy

Roll back a year or so and Brad Keast, a Partner at accountancy firm KPMG, and Johnathan Morgan, Trustee at the Old Fire Station happen to be at the same business networking meeting. As the conversation progresses Brad and Johnathan come up with a plan. KPMG colleagues that want to give their time and build their skills in a different context to a large accountancy firm could work with third sector organisations in an informal way to support those organisations around business planning. After all, everybody would win…the third sector organisation would gain really useful insight about how different kinds of organisations work, and KPMG colleagues would develop their skills and know their energy had made a real difference for the communities of Leeds. 

Getting started 

After this initial conversation, the Old Fire Station shared the opportunity with the organisations that work out of the building. It just happened that GIPSIL was beginning a project to work through how they could make the best use of cloud-based computing like Office 365 and Teams to make their work more efficient and enable staff to collaborate more across GIPSIL’s many sites across Leeds. 

GIPSIL were already in the process of setting up a task/finish steering group drawn from across the GIPSIL team and saw an opportunity to get a wider perspective.  After a chat with KPMG the team were matched up with Simon Otter, a Principal Software Engineer. 

In their initial meetings, the team agreed that the relationship wouldn’t give advice but that Simon would act as a sounding board offering ideas and thoughts that would help the GIPSIL team take the lead in shaping the direction of the digital strategy.  

Developing the relationship 

Working with the GIPSIL team, Simon sat in as a ‘sounding board’ on conversations – about 5 days over 5 months – about the kind of work GIPSIL do and the strengths and areas for growth of their collaborative working.  

As this learning took place the team drew on Simon’s experience in tackling similar challenges. The aim was to answer some key questions;  

  • how to we make more use of MS Teams to collaborate better and improve our information flow? 


  •  how do we move our digital strategy towards more cloud-based products like teams and away from on-premise virtual desktop technologies? 

Simon’s feedback helped GIPSIL to map out a vision of, and method for, moving from ‘synchronous working’ (we all have to be in a meeting together in real-time to share a problem and agree to a way forward) to ‘asynchronous’ working (we work through a problem, for instance over several days using Teams to pass the ball from one person to another). 

The GIPSIL team looked at a range of platforms and decided that the best way to develop their work was to make better use of Microsoft Teams. Simon then advised on how to get the best balance of ‘channels’ (online spaces for co-working). Depending on the purpose some channels would be ‘top down’ (organized and managed by GIPSIL’s central team) and others would be more ‘bottom up’ (organized and managed by different projects/teams for their own purposes). 

The real value that Simon brought to this conversation was the experience of having been through this process many times before – he could share their knowledge of what worked (and didn’t) in different contexts. 

Joshua Imere, GIPSIL’s Deputy CEO said; 

That was the hidden gem; having someone who could say ‘After lots of years of experience, here’s what I would do differently’

Developing the right longer-term solutions 

Once the vision and key tools for the new way of working were in place the GIPSIL teams’ next step was to think about the medium to long-term. Simon supported the colleagues who designed ‘train the trainer’ work to roll out the model across the whole organisation. 

The team have also started thinking about how the various IT systems GIPSIL use might work better together. Simon supported them to think about ‘what good would look like’ which will help them to start the process of writing up a specification for renewing GIPSIL’s IT systems. 

When it’s time to step away 

At this point, the partners in the relationship felt that it was time for their ‘sounding board’ relationship to end. They discussed whether Simon might sit in on re-tendering of IT services but that felt too much like ‘advice’ for both parties. 

Why did this make a difference? 

It’s pretty clear that the relationship with KPMG has really helped GIPSIL to work through where they want to go with their digital strategy – having that expertise on hand supports non-specialists to really focus on what they want to get out of digital rather than looking at the tech first. 

From Simon’s point of view working with GIPSIL has been really rewarding and it has been a privilege to contribute to their digital evolution.  

He says: 

 ‘GIPSIL’s Digital Leadership group had already instinctively chosen the right direction to embrace more of what Teams could offer them, but just needed confidence that they were in good company before executing on their plans’. 

Voluntary Action Leeds

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