Thursday, 7 December 2017

Digital innovations to beat cancer sooner

It’s been 3 months since I started my internship with the Digital Innovation team at Cancer Research UK. Before this I had no experience in digital so it’s been a steep learning curve.

I didn’t realise before I started what a forward thinking and exciting environment I was entering into. The value of what digital transformation can and has added at Cancer Research UK is amazing. From learning about the innovations going on in the directorate to leading on my own project with the Digital Innovation team, it’s been a fantastic experience.

Everyday innovation at Cancer Research UK

In my time at Cancer Research UK I wrote a bi-weekly newsletter about technology innovation. A part of this was the Innovator of the Week section. This gave me the opportunity to speak to people across the charity about the innovations they’re working on. For example, the analytics and reporting team are developing text analysis programmes to analyse survey responses, so that top level conclusions can be drawn and acted on faster. And the clinical partnerships team are investigating partnering with organisations to research how artificial intelligence can be used to beat cancer sooner.

There are claims that AI could help to identify cancer from scans up to 50,000 times faster, which could make a massive difference to how quickly diagnoses can be made.

As well as these exciting ongoing innovations, there was also the chance to learn about innovation success stories. Our pulmonary nodules app helps clinicians calculate the risk of a pulmonary nodule being cancerous or benign. Helping them to make faster decisions and get the right people the right tests. It was also great to see that although this is a finished product used by clinicians, the team is improving the user experience and making it available for more devices.

Voice technology

As an intern in the digital innovation team I got the chance to look at Voice technology. Voice devices are voice controlled speakers, so you can ask them to carry out tasks and communicate with them by talking to them like you would a person. Amazon Alexa devices will activate when you start the command with ‘Alexa…?’. So you can do anything from ordering takeaway, to controlling your heating, to making a to-do list all by asking Alexa.

While only 9% of households currently have an Alexa compatible device, Radiocentre estimate that 40% of households may have a voice device in 2018 and that soon there will be 33 million devices in circulation. This could be a new and exciting way for supporters to engage with Cancer Research UK, and for us to communicate with them.

My team has produced two Amazon Alexa skills; the Cancer Research UK Science Blog skill and the My Alcohol Tracker skill. Amazon Alexa skills and Amazon devices work in the same ways as apps do with smartphones. Apps are downloaded from an app store and then used on a smartphone. Similarly, Amazon Alexa skills can be enabled on the Alexa app and then used on your Alexa device.

My main project was promoting the skills my team had made. This promotion was aimed at external audiences but also internal audiences. It’s important to promote internally, so people know what the team is up to and also so teams who have a use case for Voice know who to come to.

Science blog flash briefing skill

The Cancer Research UK science blog skill works on the Alexa flash briefing. You add your chosen news sources and then ask “Alexa, what's my flash briefing” and Alexa will read out the headlines from the sources you've chosen.
This skill means you can now have the headlines from our science blog featured on your flash briefing. I had the opportunity to write a post for our science blog, which was a great way for me to get to grips with Voice and why we’re looking at it. And after we published the post we found an increase in the amount of people using the skill.

My alcohol tracker

I was lucky to also work on launching the ‘My Alcohol Tracker’ voice skill. You can read more about this skill here. This skill lets you keep track of how much alcohol you’re drinking and aims to raise the awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer. This particular skill was made in partnership with three different teams across the charity, which was a great opportunity for me to meet people in different areas of the business.

I also got involved with the PR team to help launch the skill and they suggested that to increase the chance of the press release getting media attention we could produce a promotional video. We filmed in our Stevenage Superstore with our customers’ reactions. You can view the result here.

The video helped us to launch the skill successfully and a number of media outlets picked it up, most notably The Huffington Post and Vice. It was also watched on CRUK’s Facebook page over 27,000 times.

To sum it up

Working with so many people across these projects was a great opportunity to learn about innovation. You don’t need to have innovation in your job title to innovate and Cancer Research UK has a fantastic progressive attitude that allows innovation to thrive. I look forward to applying what I’ve learnt about innovation in my next role and I am excited to see what the Digital Innovation Team will produce in the coming months.

There are 3 internship cohorts a year and the applications for the summer intake open in March and April. And there's more information on our website if you're interested.

Amelia Hammond

Digital Innovation Intern

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