I started my data career at the National Deaf Children’s Society as a database assistant back in the early 2000s. Over the next few years, I worked at a number of charities and as a Blackbaud consultant on some fascinating projects, including the merger of ChildLine and the NSPCC. But I kept finding myself always seeking the next new challenge, wanting the chance to not just advise on solutions but make them my own.
I took on the new role of head of database services at Shelter and relished building a department from scratch but once completed, I was again looking for the next step.
I joined the British Heart Foundation in 2011 to stabilise a tricky CRM implementation and have, since then, loved taking the team from strength to strength, expanding our remit, responsibilities and the way in which we support our multitude of users. With BHF’s new CEO, and newly launched strategy, I’m looking forward to seeing what opportunities the future will bring.
When I arrived at BHF in 2011 the CRM implementation had seriously stalled, and the team were under pressure from all angles. Having restructured the programme, I then had the privilege to lead the team to successful delivery, to both budget and schedule, despite a reluctant userbase, outdated hardware and a tricky external environment. Since the relaunch, the system has developed considerably and now holds almost 11 million supporter records, managing a myriad of business-critical processes and providing data and insight to hundreds of our users – and I have loved practically every minute of it.
Working in the charity sector, I’m very fortunate to be able to gather inspiration every day from all of the people we help. Millions of people are supported by UK charities each year through medical research, support and advice. Every one of those has an amazing story that, when you’re having a tough day, or are lost in the depths of a tricky challenge, can help to lift you, inspire the team and drive you all forward, reminding you of the vital importance of the work we do.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted the political position we’d be in, with the expected changes around Brexit still not having completed. The ongoing stalemates meant that while some plans and changes have remained in limbo, it has provided the time and opportunity to assess other work and consider what is needed. For BHF, part of that meant having the time to look at how to extend our supplier partnerships, working with organisations like Microsoft and Amazon, to build a programme of STEM days to help encourage the data professionals of the future; a truly inspiring project we hope to continue in 2020.
I think 2020 could potentially prove to be leaner as the year progresses. Across the industry we’ve seen a lot of investment in the last couple of years, with teams growing and new roles added – but should the economy start to shrink, as predicted, then I think we’ll need to really start proving our mettle and delivering on the benefits we’ve long been promising.
Greater understanding of our data, that automation will allow, will be some of the most transformative since the industrial revolution. The chance to use AI and learning algorithms not just to undertake basic tasks but to quickly and efficiently manage more and more, will be game-changing. But the ethical risk, and the unconscious bias of our existing datasets, must be addressed to help ensure a productive, safe and prosperous future for us all.
With the constantly changing legal environment such as the new e-privacy laws, the Information Commissioner’s Office’s more stringent approach to adtech and the potential changes following Brexit, it’s more challenging to determine a long-term strategy around the use of technologies. In the charity sector, I think our biggest challenge will be the transformation of our approach from the more traditional CapEx waterfall system implementations to a much more agile, dynamic use of cloud-based tools and systems to allow us to harness benefits at pace.