Managing Shadow IT in unions

Shadow IT is the use of technology in an organisation without formal approval or oversight. It particularly refers to online, Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. That could mean reps using private Google accounts for union email, organisers setting up WhatsApp groups for member communication, or staff setting up new tools like Survey Monkey to gather information from members.

These unofficial solutions often get used due to their effectiveness and ease of setup, coupled with the sometimes slow modernisation of official IT tools provided by the union.

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Union tech survey 2024 – some thoughts on the results

At the TUC Digital Lab, we get most of our good ideas from the unions we collaborate with. One such need we found recently was for unions to know more about the various IT tools that other unions were using.

The ideas was that by compiling a shared list of tools, unions could see where there were union colleagues that they could network with around best practice with specific tools, or ask for references for systems they might be considering. And they could see how their own tools and IT capacity measured up against the rest of the movement.

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What could AI do for unions? And where should we start?

On 7th March, the TUC Digital Lab held our first workshop on generative AI for unions at the NUJ’s offices in King’s Cross. Over 40 colleagues attended from across TUC affiliated unions, showing the deep interest in a topic that’s causing so much hype, but also concern, for both union members, and unions as organisations.

It’s this latter area – whether AI might help or affect unions as organisations – that this Digital Lab session focused on. We had a long day, hearing from expert speakers, grappling with the complex questions and trade-offs that AI poses for us, and finishing with an opportunity to directly experiment with some of the most popular generative AI tools to see how they might solve specific problems.

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Cyber security for unions

Cyber security underpins everything we do in unions to build up our digital systems and create a better digital experience for our members. Without the trust that our data is safe from attack any union would be severely compromised.

As data storage has moved online, this has seen an increase in the scope of digital threats. This has resulted in a new phase in the ‘arms race’ between cyber security and malicious actors, with innovation in both the threats and the responding security technologies.

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Why recent email authentication changes matter to unions, and what we should do about it 

In recent months, technical standards for all bulk email have been tightened. It’s started as a response to changes in the US, but as of this month will be affecting everyone. At the TUC, we’re seeing some cases of union email not getting through to the members and stakeholders we want to communicate with.  

That’s a big risk to unions if we could lose the ability to communicate with members when we need to. There are ways to put it right though, and prompt action in union IT teams will hopefully avoid damage. 

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Migrating your union’s data to a new CRM

A TUC Digital Lab practical guide

Your CRM contains the heart of your union’s data. It manages your key interactions with members and your intelligence about what’s happening to the union over time. As such, migrating your data from one CRM to another absolutely must succeed in a way that keeps the integrity of that data, and that keeps it usable for the union’s core processes.

If you’ve been using your existing membership database for a long while, as many unions have, then you’ll likely have built up a huge number of workarounds and parallel processes. These can take a long time to unpick in order to bring them into the new system.

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Moving to Dynamics at CWU: a case study from discovery to delivery 

Back around April 2022, our Senior Deputy General Secretary kicked off a big review of IT at CWU. It was a chance to look across the union at what we needed to do, including our core membership tools.

I thought the challenge of our old membership system contract coming to an end in 18 months could also be an opportunity to move to a more modern infrastructure that could better support innovation.  

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Four tech trends for unions in 2024

2024 marks the fifth year of our shared journey into digital change for unions, with the TUC’s Digital Lab programme.

Since we started, we’ve tackled best practice on digital in many areas of union activity, and worked directly with many unions to test new ways of working. And unions have done some brilliant work – Our case studies page just passed 50 great examples from across our affiliates, and more are coming in all the time.

We’ve tried to respond to affiliates’ changing needs as well. 2023 was busy with work around union core membership systems change, and supporting strike ballot campaigns, where we’ve seen real impact for unions using peer-to-peer tools to involve activists in turning out some historic votes.

As we turn towards 2024, we’re expecting to see more work on four broad areas for digital unions. Here’s a bit more about where we’re planning to take the programme over the next 12 months.

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