2019 Winner Profile

Age UK

Lara Burns



Lara Burns, chief digital and technology officer at Age UK, has shown how to get the very most – and more – out of a constrained IT budget. Burns has overseen a transformation of technology infrastructure and support, and also found a way to bring in data science expertise at no cost to the organisation.

A shared IT services company set up a decade before with two other charities was no longer a viable model, with Age UK unable to keep investing enough in the technology and resources needed to keep the service up to date. Burns led the resulting complex transition process, finding a new supplier to take on the aged infrastructure, negotiating a new tripartite agreement with the other charity partners, and then overseeing the transition of all infrastructure and applications to a cloud-based platform. Cost-effective, stable and flexible, the new model allows the charity to manage costs and technical needs much more easily.

And when Credit Suisse chose Age UK as its charity of the year and offered the otherwise unaffordable expert help of its data science team, Burns and her team cannily identified the toughest of problems for them to crack. A two-day hackathon delivered a working machine learning solution that turns voice call recordings from the charity's phone befriending service into text, analysing over 100 calls a minute (for a service that gets 25,000 hours' worth of calls a year) for trigger words and phrases that could indicate a potential safeguarding issue. The Age UK team can then dive into each call at the particular segment where the potential problem has been flagged, and determine the next steps in the friendship match. It's a fast, low-cost solution that will reduce cost to serve and improve safeguarding on all calls.

Another triumph has been the completion of a two-year project to upgrade the core CMS templates of the 130 separate local websites the national organisation hosts and supports. In rolling out the local templates, Burns and her department ensured support for local partners to update their content, focusing on upskilling their staff, rather than doing it for them, so they are now able to maintain their websites themselves.

[Also read: CIO UK podcast episode 8 - Tech for Good with Lara Burns, Laura Dawson and the RNIB]

LOCATION: London, United Kingdom

INDUSTRY: Nonprofit