'Anyone Who Thinks That We Live In A ‘Digital Only’ World Is Living With Blinkers On'

We sat down with Lara Burns, Head of Digital at Age UK


Lara Burns is an experienced head in the digital world. Her first job was with a publisher of full-text poetry databases on CD-ROM (pre-Windows). Her career has spanned working for a digital publishers, consultancies, charities, government and in the dotcom boom days, for one of London's biggest digital agencies, Agency.com. More recently, she led the digital team at the Royal Horticultural Society, where she directed their mobile publishing with development of the successful RHS Grow Your Own app. 

Lara is now Head of Digital at Age UK, leading a team of 30; their key strategy is to deliver digital content and innovations which ultimately enables everyone to make the most of later life. Ahead of her presentation at the  Chief Digital Officer Forum this April 27-28 in London, we sat down with Lara to talk all things digital. 

How did you get started in your career?

I worked as a Project Manager for a very innovative publishing company based in Cambridge. I worked on a project to create a searchable database of the complete works of published English poetry. So we took photocopies of books (some of which were buried in the vaults of the British Library), had them keyed in, coded them with SGML (precursor to HTML), and then created software which made them searchable. We called it ‘electronic publishing’ at the time – the software was pre-Windows and was published on CD-ROM - but that is what ‘digital’ was 25 years ago.

What, in your view, are the key digital trends to look out for in 2017?

I think voice recognition is going to be the next massive leap forwards where technology can really create a transformative user experience. It’s particularly interesting for us at Age UK, because nearly 5 million older people aren’t even online. It could change the way older people are able to interact with technology.

Are you personalising your customer engagement? If so, how? If not, why not?

It’s in our plans for this year. Our vision is to provide users with a personalised digital experience, which is similar to the way we deal with them in person or on the phone. The challenge for us is to integrate a lot of separate backend systems and processes to make this happen.

How do you maintain brand loyalty and meaningful engagement in the over-crowded digital space?

We are lucky in that our brand is very clear, we focus on helping anyone in later life. Our challenge is two-fold. The first is to help people who don’t even know they need help yet, or who don’t know how we can help them. The second challenge is that people often come to us in a time of real crisis, for immediate help, and converting that into a longer term relationship is hard. But we have really high levels of customer satisfaction, which is a great place to start.

Would you say that all new business ventures should be digital-first or even digital-only?

I agree that all new ventures should definitely be approached as ‘digital first’, especially when thinking about how a business operates and how it can create efficiencies by using digital tools and processes. But anyone who thinks that we live in a ‘digital only’ world is living with blinkers on! I refer back to my earlier point – 5 million older people are not online. If a venture concentrates first on what the user need is that they are seeking to address, they can then focus on the most appropriate channels.

What can the audience expect from your presentation at the Chief Digital Officer Forum?

Hear how Age UK is integrating new digital technologies such as chatbots and personalisation into our user journeys to transform user experience and engagement as well as to improve the way the organisation operates.

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