Dialogue Series

How the RNLI Is Using Digital Transformation To Save Lives At Sea


The popular BBC series, “Saving Lives At Sea”, is a documentary that features ordinary men and women who volunteer with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). The majority of the organization is made up of everyday individuals who risk their lives, attending rescue calls around the clock and in any weather condition, in order to save others who are in danger.

Since 1824, the RNLI volunteers and staff have dedicated themselves to saving lives with world-leading emergency services. These efforts have only increased thanks to the advancement of technology, from renewable energy sources to high-tech lifeboat operating systems.

Many organizations often struggle with communicating the impact that their digital transformation has on the end consumer. RNLI revolutionizes the technical and IT industries by demonstrating that when people and technology work together, many lives can be saved.

My name is Paul Smith, and I am the Head of Digital Technology Futures at the RNLI, a charity dedicated to saving lives at sea. In this episode of the DevSecTalks series, I sat down with the host of DevSecTalks and fellow RNLI member, Ashley Ward, to discuss the value of digital transformation for RNLI and how we’re preparing for the next century.

What Is The Royal National Lifeboat Institution?

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), founded in 1824, is a charity of search and rescue services with a mission to save lives at sea. The charity is primarily powered by donations and has been saving lives for nearly 200 years. With volunteers making up 95% of the organization, the RNLI is rooted in our values of selflessness, courage, dependability, and trustworthiness.

I initially joined the organization as the Head of IT, which served to be a great challenge. As we restructured the way we lead with technology, I moved into a more forward-facing side of the organization. My current role involves the traditional side of digital marketing, such as our websites, digital income and fundraising, application development, and more.

As the current Head of Digital Technology Futures, my focus is on setting the digital architecture roadmaps of the organization. The goal is to really understand what the medium and long-term future will look like for the RNLI, and make sure that we align our technology investment to those needs.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is a process of using technology to meet changing business, consumer, and market requirements. In the IT industry, it is vital for businesses to understand the potential of their technologies in order to drive growth and provide more value for the consumers. The rise of cloud-based software and applications has prompted the IT industry to transition from outdated, legacy standards to adopting new technologies.

How Does Digital Transformation Impact IT?

In the evolving digital landscape, IT teams are faced with tremendous change. New technologies require teams to stay ahead of the changes, embrace innovation, and rely on data analytics to enable a successful digital transformation.

With an influx of data distribution, devices, and applications, IT leaders are challenged to mitigate risk while keeping up with business demands.

Due to the rapid and increasing pace of digital change, some companies are left struggling to adapt to the transformation. Companies that hesitate or refuse to progress along with their competitors are often left behind and unable to compete with the speed, efficiency, and access to the newly successful digital operations.

Some may hear the words ‘digital transformation’ and assume that it’s something only relevant to their IT team members. However, there are many organization-wide benefits to adapting and converting to modern systems. These benefits include:

  • More data-based insights, metrics, and analytics to better understand the consumer
  • An increase in sophisticated strategies to benefit the customer experience
  • Alignment in agility, innovation, and collaboration across all departments

The Role of Team Culture In Digital Transformation

With any major change in an organization, every team member plays an essential role in the contribution of the transformation. Team culture is influenced by what shape the team is in, making sure they have the right outlook, ensuring that they feel motivated, and guaranteeing that they are set up for success. In my department, I focused specifically on making sure that people were comfortable with speaking up, raising concern, and asking for help if they were having trouble with a new process or software.

Upwards of 30,000 volunteers give their time in service to our charity. It’s important to make sure that they can work well, collaborate with each other, and have a positive end user experience. Cross-team collaboration is an essential tool for any department that is undergoing a massive shift. With the increasing demands of the digital century, agile team culture is the answer to scaling a project team by collaborating with other departments.

My intention with RNLI was to get the team engine running before expecting any desired outcome. I had to look at the team realistically and make sure that they had the experience, skills, and empowerment they needed to perform at the highest level. I placed a heavy focus on creating a learning culture, where people felt encouraged to learn and move forward, especially in the era of digital transformation.

How To Support The Royal National Lifeboat Institution

The RNLI operates a 24/7 search and rescue lifeboat service, along with a seasonal lifeguard service. Their volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 143,000 lives since 1824.

In addition, the RNLI is helping save countless more lives through water safety education. This type of education is important because it teaches preventable measures regarding water activity and can keep people out of danger—before they even get in the water.

For more information about the charity and how to get involved, visit the RNLI website. You will find ways to support the charity, learn about job opportunities, and look into the work of lifeguards as they patrol 240 beaches around the UK and Ireland.

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