By Terry Bradwell
Chief Information Officer
As CIO of AARP, I have a responsibility not only to put in place the most efficient technology systems for our organization, but also to support AARP’s mission in a broader sense as well. That is why when we initiated a transformation of our IT department to build a stronger support function, we made a deliberate decision that our IT investments would not only support the business but would also be geared toward “being the business”.
Today, even though technology is an imperative, the empowerment made possible by instant access to seemingly limitless information and the improved quality of life made possible by tech connections to family, friends, and community remain beyond the reach of millions of older Americans. They are held back by barriers such as cost or feeling intimidated by technology.
At AARP, which represents nearly 38 million Americans who are 50-plus, we fight for and equip people to live their best lives. We help them achieve and sustain health security, financial resilience, and personal fulfillment. With our IT Department playing a key role, AARP is working to close the technology gap that leaves so many older adults at a disadvantage. Over the past year-and-half, AARP has come forward with two initiatives that help older Americans reap the benefits of technology.
One is AARP TEK, which stands for Technology Education Knowledge. AARP TEK is a comprehensive in-community national education program specifically geared to the 50-plus audience. We are adding a robust online learning program this year.
The men and women participating in AARP TEK want plain language, not incomprehensible jargon. They want one-on-one instruction that is patient and not condescending. They want user-friendly devices that are welcoming, not intimidating. With AARP TEK, that is exactly what they get through hands-on workshops and a customized curriculum.
We’re making the experience accommodating, not overwhelming. You might call it assisted adoption. We are giving older adults the skills and confidence they need to use technology and stay connected to their families, friends, and communities.
In 2014, we reached more than 13,000 people through more than 300 technology training workshops. The response has been tremendously positive, with consistently high ratings and heartfelt testimonials such as:
“More, more, more, please, please, please.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun learning something.”
“My daughter is going to be very impressed with me.”
The last comment reminds us of the intergenerational footprint of this program, a component very important to AARP. The training is often carried out by high school and college students, providing an opportunity for millennials and older adults to learn from each other and discover new ways to connect.
With AARP TEK, we have tapped into a great unmet need. We have seen up close that a sizable segment of the technology is not being served by the technology industry. To tackle that issue, we had to go beyond technology training.
That is why we have introduced a user-friendly tablet called RealPad, tailored to the needs and wants of older adults who have found personal technology anything but personal.
RealPad is the first-ever direct-to-consumer retail product from AARP. It offers a warm and welcoming experience for the technology-shy. It comes with pre-loaded apps, large graphics and icons, and it is Wi-Fi enabled. RealPad steers clear of impenetrable terminology and it offers a halo of support in the form of basic videos in clear language and 24-7 live customer service.
RealPad and AARP TEK are prime examples of how we can—as our CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins says, “disrupt aging.”
With these initiatives, we have helped to make a lasting difference in the lives of the people we serve.
Within IT, we are encouraging and rewarding an entrepreneurial spirit. We are combining the hunger and excitement of a start-up with the well-honed execution of an experienced brand.
I see AARP TEK and RealPad as compelling examples of what IT departments can accomplish by not only serving the business, but being the business. Labeling IT as a cost center and limiting our role in that fashion is increasingly out-of-date. It is time for IT to become a value center for the enterprise.