How the British Heart Foundation is scaling digital

The British Heart Foundation does vitally important work funding research into heart and circulatory diseases, aiming to spend around £100 million a year.

A large chunk of that money comes from its retail division. Last year its 732 shops, including 160 furniture and electrical outlets, generated £22.9 million in profit in the UK. “While our shops and stores remain vibrant community hubs, our growing online activity saw us sell 143,000 items on eBay, helping us to bring in £5.4 million across eBay and online sales,” it added in its annual report. 

However, the charity realised it needed to modernise its IT infrastructure and scale its website – an increasingly important channel for driving fundraising, stakeholder engagement, and growing online retail.

“The website was previously hosted by a small company on a platform no longer able to suit its growth plans”, says Mary O’Callaghan, director of technology engagement at the British Heart Foundation.

“So we took the decision to move to the Azure platform, because we thought that would be the best place for us to grow for scalability. We recognised we needed a good partner, as we had limited expertise in Azure. We wanted to work with somebody who wouldn’t do [the technology] to us, but with us and help us and our teams learn.” 

Working with Rackspace, the charity was able to relaunch the site without any downtime – despite a couple of hiccups along the way and the charity simultaneously launching a brand redesign. “It was a busy time!” 

“Now the site has become a lot more reliable and we’re no longer anxious when we’re planning really big campaigns. The website is on a stable platform, security has been improved and we’re able to see what’s going on and react to any issues in real time. We just feel more confident in what it is doing.” 

Heavy lifting

The site has also allowed the charity to introduce a number of operational changes, not least in its retail business. 

“We’re on a bit of a transformational journey,” says Gareth Campbell Julian, head of retail change and central operations at BHF.

One such change has been the move from people having to find the individual number of shops in order to arrange the collection of large items. Now they can interact with the charity online. “In the past when we had less reliable infrastructure, we weren’t confident we could keep people digital.”

Having a digital overview of what items are coming is fundamentally changing the way the charity manages its stock – allowing it to better allocate items to appropriate stores, matching supply and demand, as well as plan driver routes more efficiently and take miles off the road. “Now it’s much more joined up,” says Campbell Julian.

O’Callaghan believes the charity’s digital journey has drastically changed the way it operates. “In the last couple of years, we’ve been able to get much closer working with colleagues in retail to make sure technology really understands what they want to do.. and make sure the website, digital platforms are [meeting those needs] efficiently and effectively.

“That is only going to grow with some of our ambitions,” she adds.

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