The first nine months in my role as chief technology officer at the British Heart Foundation have been a total whirlwind. I am lucky to be the first ever CTO hired by the charity, but with that comes a huge responsibility to get the role right.
In the current climate, every organisation depends on digital technology in one way or another. And with 4,500 employees in more than 750 locations across the United Kingdom (supported by 19,000 volunteers) it’s important to set a clear technology vision for the charity and provide the leadership to deliver great outcomes for both our staff and our beneficiaries.
The ways in which we use technology at the BHF are very complex. Tech helps us generate income through our retail estate online, it supports various fundraising initiatives, it’s central to our heart and circulatory disease healthcare campaigns, and technological innovations are becoming increasingly influential in our ground-breaking research.
It’s my directorate’s responsibility to assess and identify efficient ways to deliver our technology pipeline to support these multi-faceted teams and maximise our digital technology offering to help us grow as a charity.
Before I joined the BHF I worked in technology across a number of sectors, including confectionery (Cadbury’s), automotive (Jaguar and Land Rover) and financial services (the Citi Group).
My hunger to identify opportunities in this fast-moving world meant that when I joined the BHF nearly four years ago to head its technology programmes, I was immediately keen to introduce new ways of working. When the decision was made to bring all the technology teams together, I wanted to build on those foundations of innovative thinking.
One of the most important things I’ve learnt in my job, and continue to champion, is boosting adoption of new digital technology solutions for greater collaboration and an innovative mindset across the organisation. I have focused on finding industry partners, mentors or experts who can help support our work, because there are always things that organisations – or we as individuals – can’t do alone, whether they are iterative digital innovations, transformational change initiatives, cyber security or artificial intelligence.
We all need support sometimes to help us develop and expand. These partnerships not only enable us to co-create, but also help to support our own knowledge and development through training and mentoring. They also demonstrate what is possible if we think big, and support us to deliver on those big ideas.
Coming from a number of different sectors, what has impressed me about the charity sector is the desire to collaborate. Since joining the BHF, I have built relationships with other charity technology leaders to discuss how to maximise skills and expertise in our tech teams and deliver optimal tech on a minimal budget. In November last year we collaborated with Cancer Research UK to host a Tech Talent Charter session that focused on diversity and inclusion within our teams and recruitment processes.
Technology has the potential to enhance every area of our work, and I want my team to be consistently improving supporter experiences, making us a more efficient and effective organisation. And when we collaborate we can move forward as a sector, rather than in silos.
In 2020 the BHF’s focus will be building our skills internally to optimise the way we operate, enhancing our digital technology offering and identifying further opportunities for us to grow as a charity. Now is such an exciting time for technology, particularly in the charity sphere. I want to show that good tech is about coming together, sharing knowledge and constantly thinking outside the box.
Ursula Dolton is the first chief technology officer at the British Heart Foundation