Action for Children intensifies customer data analytics with Rackspace open cloud

Action for Children has engaged open cloud provider Rackspace to help it gain deeper insights into customers and fundraising activities through better data analysis

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Action for Children is seeking to improve its data analysis to provide deeper insights into customers and fundraising activities.

As part of this effort, it has engaged open cloud provider Rackspace to provide an on and off-premise hybrid system. A hybrid model was chosen because the organisation needed to retain a portion of dedicated hardware on site to host sensitive data.

“With Rackspace, we knew that we could achieve true public, private and hybrid portability," says Darren Robertson (pictured), a data scientist at the charity. 

"Additionally, by using an open platform such as Rackspace open cloud, we could take a long-term approach, ensuring that we avoided supplier lock-in around pricing or technology roadmap restrictions. This gives us the freedom to keep innovating – moving to new technology solutions and models as they are developed,” he says.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Robertson explains the charity’s data management and analytics strategy, which involves better targeting of advertising and personalising the web experience for donors and prospective donors.

Managing and analysing customer data

Action for Children works with more than 50,000 vulnerable and neglected children and young people through 600 projects across local communities. It has amassed data on customers, donors, fundraisers and potential foster parents.

The charity had been using an agency that offered both web development and hosting, but needed a more stable arrangement.

One of the reasons Action for Children chose Rackspace was because of the increased analytical capability a cloud system can offer. The supplier is providing an on-demand Hadoop cluster. “I’d love to have one of those in the office,” jokes Robertson.

His five-strong team uses SearchMetrics for business intelligence. That includes the use of an application programming interface (API) which enables the team to pull data on to the Rackspace server.

The charity also turned to Rackspace because it needed to manage spikes in web traffic more effectively. When Stephen Fry tweeted support for the charity in 2012, the consequent traffic, while it did not bring the site down, was costly. The charity had to take a physical image of the site and put it elsewhere, says Robertson.

We need to be able to personalise the web experience for each user

Darren Robertson, Action for Children

Getting value from marketing money

Charities need to get a really good return on investment for their advertising. "Blanket advertising no longer works well enough. We are now using web analytics to see what, for example, is the propensity of people living within a 30-mile radius of a children’s centre to give an ongoing donation, as opposed to a one-off gift. We want regular givers, since that is more economic.

“And we need to be able to personalise the web experience for each user, so that we don’t ask students and multinational CEOs for the same kind of donation, for example. For a student it might be better to text to donate a small sum,” he adds.

Robertson says the charity’s Christmas 2012 campaign saw good results from the web analytics effort and Action for Children has made significant savings by moving to an on-demand service.

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