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A vector of a pencil, wifi icon, a person and mobile interface, all interconnected with a cog to represent digital ecosystems.

Digital Ecosystems: an Interview with Allen O’Leary

Macmillan’s Digital Strategist, Allen O’Leary, unpacks why digital ecosystem projects are needed and what digital transformation means for user experiences now and in the future. An interview by Tracey Murigi, Digital Assistant. 

At Macmillan, our Digital Experience team are dedicated to supporting, connecting and inspiring people affected by cancer and their loved ones through great digital experiences. And we’ve been busy, behind the scenes, working to streamline and improve our audiences’ online experiences by ensuring digital platforms are helping us to meet our strategic objectives.

What is a digital ecosystem?

Every website, micro-site, social media account, fundraising platform and blog set up by a single organisation. In a larger sense it’s about how these all work together to help people.

Why was this project needed?

Our current digital ecosystem is made up of many different websites and web properties, most created tactically, over the last 5-6 years. But now we want to take a step back and ensure we have a digital ecosystem that delivers a single, conscious strategy. One which enables us to provide our users with a meaningful experience whether that is helping them with their needs as a person living with cancer or someone running a marathon for us.

Macmillan staff are hugely innovative when it comes to using digital platforms to meet the needs of our supporters. So it’s also really important that we involve staff in the project, to make sure the new digital ecosystem enables them to continue that work.

To do these things we need to take a longer view and move beyond fixing what we have.

What steps have you taken to build a digital ecosystem that’s true to Macmillan?

We are using a solid innovation method called ‘Double Diamond’ which has been around for many years. There are four distinct steps to this process:

  • Discover: research is essential for understanding the digital needs of people living with cancer, the type of cancer they have, the type of care they need and the way they need it.
  • Define: at this stage, we have to define the future offer, there are four core factors –
    • What are we here to do?
    • How are we going to do it?
    • What do our users actually want?
    • Is what we are doing relevant/necessary for who we are trying to help?
  • Design: we have to ensure that we’re creating solutions that are delivering against those four core factors and that the end result is not just ‘a website’. We need to implement a systematic programme of smaller projects that will create parts of the Ecosystem; each one should go through a design, test and redesign process.
  • Deliver: this is where the improved digital ecosystem is rolled out. We’re trying to align the big picture of organisational strategies whilst taking into account what we think people will need now – and in ten years’ time.

How are you future-proofing the ecosystems work you’re doing now for Macmillan?

One of the underlying principles about transformational ecosystems is that you’re building for the future.

We not only need to look at how to solve digital right now, but we need to also look at what type of experience users will expect in 5-10 years’ time and how to strengthen our digital ecosystem to meet those demands.

Look at new tech – like voice-controlled personal assistants (Google Home or Alexa) and wearable tech (Fitbits or Apple Watch). How will they fit into our work in the future? What do we need to do now, to be ready to deliver the right kind of customer experience for people living with cancer in 2030? By then, there will be 4 million people living with cancer, up from 2.5 million in 2015. Furthermore, what’s the role of a mobile app versus a website, and is there going to be any difference in the two things in the near future?

These are the kinds of things we are currently considering as we move through this project.

What are the long-term consequences for organisations who don’t hone their digital ecosystems?

Organisations need to have a digital ecosystem that they can manage to a high standard. People’s expectations of digital ecosystems are set by Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon so if you can’t keep up, then it’s very difficult to convince your supporters to stay with you.

A good example of this is when the mobile web took over; organisations lost out on donations because their donations systems were hard to use on a mobile platform. Organisations need to be ahead of the user by constantly updating their digital offer.

Will the upcoming GDPR legislation affect how the ecosystem is built and executed?

Very much, though the details are still being worked through. As we work through this project, we continue to understand the implications about what information we can hold about a person and our responsibilities to the person who has given us that information.

Aside from the legal implications one of the key things to understand about this is that access to people’s data must be earned through demonstrating a value of return on it. In this way data is like a donation, you have to show the value of it to the donor by showing impact– there’s no difference with personal data.


Digital Strategist, Allen O'Leary is leading Macmillan's Digital Ecosystems projectAllen has been leading Macmillan Cancer Support’s Digital Ecosystem Project since October 2017. He has been working for charities and agencies since 1997. 

Our aim is to strengthen our digital ecosystem to enable us to provide sector-leading experiences to people living with cancer and those who support us in this activity. 

Find out more about Macmillan Cancer Support, get cancer information and support, and find out ways to support our work on our website www.macmillan.org.uk.

Follow us on Twitter @Mac_Digital for the latest on charity and digital trends.

Inside UX: An Interview with Bruce Waskett

Curious about UX? Bruce Waskett, former Head of UX and UI at Macmillan explains what it is, and how it fits in at Macmillan.

What is UX and why is it important?

User experience (UX) has become a very over-used and misunderstood term in our industry for a few years now. It has always been a broad-ranging skill and discipline but certain terms are often picked up on and become the ‘must have’ thing for organisations and people.

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Mailbox with envelopes flying out of it, representing email

Using automation to personalise email campaigns

This week, Bryony Ashcroft, Digital Editor at Macmillan, spoke to our Email Marketing Officer, Fearn Sandison about how she is using automation to personalise our email campaigns.

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Digital trends in 2016

With January behind us, Hamilton Jones is considering some of the digital trends set to come our way this year.

2016 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for digital, and we in the digital team are always keeping an eye out for new trends, looking at what they mean for Macmillan and how we can respond to them. Here are our top five digital trends to watch out for this year and the work everybody here in the team is doing in-line with them:

1) Unifying the online and offline user experience

As digital continues to work its way into everyone’s day-to-day lives, we are coming to expect seamless integration between online and offline. With many users’ journeys seeing them hit several touch points across both of these mediums, 2016 will bring more technologies that help organisations make their user experiences unified.

Macmillan users could see a great benefit from technologies that allow us to unify how we support people across their journey, and we are already starting to implement them: The My Macmillan area of our website has been designed to help users to feel more supported by giving them easier access to information relevant to their existing journey. When someone logs in they are able to save pages on a dashboard that they can access later, which also displays pages they’ve recently viewed. To further unify the dashboard with other parts of the website, we have developed single sign-on with our be.Macmillan domain and allow users to input their postcode to find out what’s in their area.

2) 24-hour technology that doesn’t sleep

Anytime. Anywhere. That’s the internet, and it doesn’t go to sleep. 2015 saw many organisations respond to the rise in user generated demand of always on services, but in 2016 we’ll see mass adoption of in-house and external social to be the main point of contact for out-of-hours services.

We know that cancer can be a scary place, that’s why we’re trying to make sure that nobody faces it alone. Because of this we are already offering several services for users outside of office hours. Our social media accounts and Online Community are manned on weekday evenings and for several hours over the weekend. Our website has information standard approved content that people can access at all times of the day and night, while the online community also offers peer-to-peer support that is accessed by users around the clock.

3) The year of connected devices

The internet of things is quickly becoming the internet of everything as new connected devices are starting to appear almost daily. With the advent of wearable technology and a rise in healthcare orientated apps, patients and healthcare professionals are being given the chance to diagnose and treat certain illnesses like never before. The scope for how this could impact people’s health is huge – from contact lenses that can read blood glucose levels to games that improve emotional wellbeing.

In the UK however, it might take longer than until the end of 2016 to see these really impact people affected by cancer. Without a data standard in place for apps, healthcare professionals and organisations are unable to fully utilise their potential, but we are excited to be working with organisations like the NHS on the opportunities for standards and accreditation in areas like apps.

4) Personalised data gets more personal

We are already growing used to being connected in every way, and we’re producing huge amounts of data about ourselves. Using this to create personalised experiences isn’t something new, but 2016 will become more dynamic, creating experiences that reflect people’s changing needs and preferences over time.

We want to help everyone affected by cancer to take control of their journey and access the support and information they need at a time they need it. By helping people express preferences, they enable us to provide them with personalised information that’s relevant to them and their location, while also making recommendations on where to go next. This has the potential to empower people to navigate the system, make decisions about treatment and take control over their healthcare journey.

5) Virtual assistance

Most smartphone operating systems now have personal assistants: Siri, Cortana, Google Now (this one’s tragically lacking a space-age name), and they’re starting to learn like humans. A lot of work over the past few years has been put into virtual personal assistance, with the ultimate goal of making them so slick that the user can be completely conversational and still achieve their desired outcome.

Somewhere down the line we could be using technology like this to offer support to people affected by cancer, but where we see the most benefit for this tech in the near future is to enable our healthcare professionals to have even more information at their fingertips, helping them be even more amazing for people affected by cancer.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

Image of various devices. Mobile, laptop, tablet and desktop.

Scrolling beyond the fold

How have UX trends shaped website design and why have some of our favourite homepages changed this year? As 2015 draws to a close, Hamilton Jones gives us some last-minute answers.

For many years, website page design has been dominated by above the fold design, a trend deriving from traditional print media. More recently, with the overwhelming uptake of mobile technology and higher resolution displays, scrolling has become king and the fold is being considered obsolete by many digital marketers.

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, as the first part of a website that a user is going to see, above the fold is still a key consideration in website design, particularly for information hierarchy. Good hierarchy doesn’t mean cramming all of your best and most important content at the top of the page, instead it should see information displayed strategically throughout the page to be served to the user at the most appropriate time and in the most accessible way.

Now that reams of information aren’t being put into the first 700 pixels of a page, we are starting to see some beautiful website designs that have a cleaner and simpler aesthetic. Some of the most popular trends of 2015 have been the long scroll pages, tile/card layouts, interactive storytelling, hero images and large typefaces. But different pages call for different approaches to layout and design.

Take for example our homepage. People that land on our homepage could be looking for any of our services, so we need to ensure that we create a story where they can understand our brand, discover what we offer and navigate quickly and easily to the section of the site they need. By introducing a long scroll web page with hero images we are able to serve content about each section of our website as the user moves down the page, providing them with enough information to understand what the section offers, but without giving them so much that they won’t want to read it.

When a user enters one of the landing pages within Information & Support, the layout changes to be much shorter and focuses on click interaction and pagination. Instead of being general like our homepage, these pages are more specific but don’t contain in-depth content, therefore act as signposts to guide the users to specific pages.

Moving down to article level and the pages become very specific. These pages are much longer and often contain a large amount of information. Here we have bigger type-face at the top of the page so the user knows immediately if it is the right content for their needs. These pages also focus on scrolling due to their length, so the user can take in the information without distraction as that is the main purpose of the pages.

Now that 2015 is coming to a close however, it will be interesting to see how website designs continue to change and evolve in 2016, and the changes that we at Macmillan will make, to continue to ensure that our users are getting the best possible experience from our website.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!


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