The British Heart Foundation’s cloud journey - A digital future to help beat ‘heartbreak’

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood April 1, 2019
Summary:
The British Heart Foundation aims to raise half a billion pounds to fight circulatory diseases by 2020 - and says moving to cloud will be a big factor in getting there

Image of a heart

Heart and circulatory diseases kill 1 in 4 British people every year - and one of the main UK charities trying to change that is The British Heart Foundation (BHF).

In 2018, the Foundation funded over £108 million of research grants annually, to improve how society can prevent, diagnose and treat heart and circulatory disease. It has publicly committed to funding half a billion pounds of ground-breaking research by 2020 to deliver significant breakthroughs that will help change the lives of millions of people not just across the UK, but also globally.

It defines its ‘customers’ - as everyone from those directly affected by heart and circulatory diseases, to its supporters, shoppers in its high street charity stores, volunteers, researchers and health professionals. And now, it’s trying to improve the service it offers that wide range of customers with its first ever cloud project - a commitment to advanced technology it claims directly underpins its overall vision of “beating heartbreak forever”.

The cloud upgrade is the latest in a series of transformational steps the body has taken, starting with the launch of a new online presence, the bhf.org.uk digital platform, back in 2014.

Since then, BHS’s chosen partner in its move from on-premise to cloud is managed cloud computing company Rackspace, which it has been working with since July of last year, citing its professional and migration services expertise and Microsoft Azure and Sitecore integration knowledge.

On the pulse of change

Leading the technology transformation BHF wants to achieve is its Director of IT and Business Change, Ursula Dolton, explained:

“We want our supporters to have the best digital experience when dealing with the BHF by any means - be it face to face, over the phone or when collaborating digitally.”

In post since 2018, her remit covers the provision of technology, operational services and change initiatives for all BHF 740 retail stores and eight regional offices - which ties directly to the cloud work she’s overseeing, as the idea is to improve users’ technology experience, all the way from using the BHF eBay store (see below) to empowering their volunteers in stores to use technology for stock checks.

Why this matters: the Foundation gets the vast majority of its funding through people leaving it money in wills and through things like community fundraising activities, corporate partnerships, events, major gifts and mass participation events - but a very important chunk of its money comes from its retail activities: BHF shops across the UK generated £27.7m profit last year by collecting, sorting and selling 73,000 tons of goods, while its online activity saw 380,000 customers booking a furniture collection via its website, with £4.6m coming in just from its eBay and online sales.

Hence the interest in not just migrating its data centre back end to cloud, Dolton told us, but also the implementation of key new software, the Sitecore customer experience management platform, with Dolton telling diginomica/government:

“There is a lot of work taking place in the BHF around technology. We have started from the ground up, and have been working on getting the foundations good again - we’ve invested in new external networks, internal networks, our data centre hosting and many other initiatives, for example.

“We’ve also started to embark on Software as a Service and other cloud work, such as the website being hosted in Microsoft Azure.”

It’s important to be clear that all this work is definitely part of a wider digital transformation at the charity, she stresses:

“The BHF has a digital strategy, and as an organisation we recognise that any true organisation these days really needs to be digitally focused. It is very exciting for us as we really feel that becoming the digital organisation that we want to be will directly support and further enable our goal to beat heartbreak forever.”

Key initiatives to improve the code

What does delivering that vision look like in practice? In the next year, says Dolton, the charity wants to “really improve” the website now that it is being hosted on a solid platform - numerous improvements are planned, from version upgrades to new feature releases, she states. There are also key initiatives to improve the code to ensure the website runs as smooth and efficiently as possible, she adds.

So this is a big shift at the Foundation - a shift that can’t all be finished this quarter, she cautions:

“Alongside the website refresh, there is still plenty to do. We are no different to other companies in that we are trying to get all our corporate devices onto Windows 10, moving to cloud collaboration tools and improving our communications platforms.

“All of this is part of the overall BHF digital strategy, and we’re confident that we will deliver it all, and hopefully more.”