The value of consistency in design

At Sopra Steria, the core of my role is to make everything that’s designed more consistent.

All our outputs are designed in some way, whether it’s research, documentation, bids, UI designs, diagrams, presentations or social media. Everything that’s seen by other people is part of our brand, all holding a consistent type of messaging (written or otherwise). This is especially important to consider when we are presenting to a large audience, within key sales or when we’re working with our client’s brands.

Why is design consistency important?

Recently I attended UX Scotland, where I enjoyed a talk by Andrew Purnell, a designer from the London and Glasgow based agency Snook. He shared my view that often on projects, following a consistent brand can be forgotten, with information and styles that do not look or sound like they come from the same company. This can lead to a confusing journey for whoever happens to be using the service, as screens that look and behave differently are not easy to use and do not feel connected.

This can also apply to other media or documentation. Think of two pitches that are from similar companies with a similar approach. One is written by several different authors all with a different style, and with diagrams scanned from several external sources. The other has been designed to have any image or diagram with the same branding, for the messaging to sound consistent though the authors are different. Which is more likely to hit the mark?

Design consistency reduces this confusion and creates a feeling of familiarity, providing reassurance and building trust.

Designing a consistent service

When we’re working on projects, we can think about the wide range of outputs that will come into contact with people as they use the site or system. Service design considers customer journeys from the first to the last point of contact, and takes into account all touchpoints that they may interact with, such as websites, call centres, emails, letters, social media or downloads. Will the service look and feel the same on the homepage, sign-up or email they receive?

Designing systematically

One way to increase consistency throughout each output is to implement a Design System that covers the guidelines for as many of the areas that people will see as possible, combining branding, content strategy, marketing and digital design. For a company, they can provide consistency across an entire range of touchpoints including branding, blog posts, Twitter messaging, business cards, iPhone apps, websites and email signatures. They can also include all the specific detail that makes up the site or system, such as tone of voice, imagery, colour palettes, type styles and (coded) component parts.

“Be consistent, not uniform” – Gov.uk design principles

As well as including everything that makes up the product or service, Design Systems are adaptable and easy to change, which makes them very effective across teams, and throughout a project lifecycle. They can be constantly updated and linked to the latest version of each output, so the project and ultimately the customers are always kept up to date.

To find out how we can help you to design your service consistently, please leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

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Some excellent examples of design systems:

IBM’s Carbon Design System – http://carbondesignsystem.com/

Atlassian’s Design System – https://atlassian.design/

STEAM not just STEM: how can we encourage more creativity?

Creative ideas take time. They are often generated after an initial period of thinking deeply about the problem, considering different ways to frame the problem, and exploring different possible solutions. Sir James Dyson developed over 5,000 prototypes before he patented his vacuum cleaner. And Walt Disney animated cartoons for nearly two decades before his first big success, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

So how can we encourage more creativity? How can we help people, as Apple famously put it in 1997, to ‘think different’? One way is to go back and start at the beginning. With children in school. And by rewiring our educational system to focus on STEAM rather than STEM.

In recent years, as the United Kingdom has faced stiff economic and technological competition from China and other countries, there has been a surge of interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is clear that if we are to maintain our position as a global leader in innovation, we have to increase the emphasis on these four subjects in our schools.

Yet this is an area where we have lagged behind relative to other countries. We need to up our game dramatically. The UK ranks 16th out of 20 OECD countries for the proportion of people with technical qualifications. We have particular skills shortages in sectors of the economy that depend on STEM subjects. Nearly 40% of employers report difficulties recruiting staff with relevant STEM skills.

But STEM alone will not do it. We need to add an A for arts. Focusing only on the sciences is not enough to stretch the mind and encourage creativity.

Take a look at some of the most successful and innovative products produced in the last ten years. The iPhone is not simply a technological tool. It is a piece of art and a fantastic work of creative design. And the applications are more than mere products of programming. The best are feats of imagination.

The STEAM movement is already being championed in the United States, spearheaded by academics and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). They argue that the US educational system (and, I think, the UK) is still functioning in the same way it did a hundred years ago. It has the same outdated systems, institutions and traditions.

We are trying to educate eight million children via an antiquated school system. Or as the academics at the RISD put it,

“Schools were, and still are, structured like the factories they were developed to serve. They treat education like an assembly line – you move from one task (class) to the next – day in and day out. There is little collaboration or interchange.”

The danger is that innovation will continue to wane. To become a more innovative economy requires the ability to seize new opportunities and adapt to change. But historically, the UK has not been as successful at commercialisation and development as we have been at basic research. We have often been slower than competitors to take up and deploy existing technologies.

Our education system tends to reward test scores and rote memorisation rather than creativity and problem solving. Our students are learning antiquated skills in a modern, and changing world. And that will be a recipe for disaster as the world continues to move towards greater connectivity, innovation and technological change.

Or, as the US secretary of education Richard Riley famously summed it up, “The jobs in the greatest demand in the future don’t yet exist and will require workers to use technologies that have not yet been invented to solve problems that we don’t yet even know are problems.”

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Information Chaos: the next big business challenge

“Every budget is an IT budget.  Every company is an IT company.  Every business leader is becoming a digital leader. Every person is becoming a technology company. We are entering the era of the Digital Industrial Economy.” – Peter Sondergaard, Gartner.

Most organisations now recognise that managing their information assets is just as important as managing their physical, human, and financial assets. So why are so many still drowning in a flood of unmanaged content and information chaos? The symptoms are plain to see: servers overflowing and multiplying, making it hard to find anything; sensitive information leaking, losing competitive advantage and exposing the organisation to litigation risk; information silos continue to develop, frustrating secure collaborative working; and because of cheap cloud storage, accessible from personal smartphones and tablets, knowledge assets are migrating to places beyond the reach of the company’s information governance processes – if indeed they have any!

Meanwhile new information continues to pour in, in an ever-changing array of formats, through multiple channels and on multiple devices. Organisations face rising costs for maintaining their legacy systems of record, and struggle to keep control of new systems.

No wonder many leaders in Knowledge Management believe that Information Chaos is the next big business challenge.

The core of all these difficulties is a lack of Information Governance.  With no rules, users can put their stuff wherever they like: the ‘C’ drive of their laptop, flash drives, Dropbox, etc. Shared network drives, intended to support collaboration, bring irritating access issues – and if no governance process is in place, users can create a folder anywhere, and give it any name. So no one knows where to look for things, and people mostly share files with colleagues using email attachments – leading to increased risk of data breaches, massive duplication, loss of version control, and excessive network traffic.

Information governance means:

  • identifying what information classes make up the knowledge assets of the organisation;
  • appointing someone to be the owner (and custodian) of each class of information – this will usually be the appropriate head of function; and
  • establishing rules for naming, storing, protecting and sharing knowledge assets.

The objectives of rationalising document management and introducing proper governance are:

  • To enable full exploitation of information assets, based on:
    • A business-led file plan and document management system (“A place for everything and everything in its place”)
    • Full Enterprise Search to improve productivity and consistency
    • No more repeating work (“re-inventing the wheel”)
  • To rationalise data storage and make savings, by:
    • Keeping one master copy of everything (wherever possible)
    • Maintaining clear version control (because sometimes it’s necessary to keep earlier drafts)
    • Eliminating duplication
    • Deleting ephemeral and superseded documents
  • To ensure the security and integrity of information, by
    • Applying appropriate access control to all information
    • Ensuring that sensitive information is classified and labelled correctly
    • Ensuring that approved and published information cannot be changed or deleted until the proper time

1.    Developing the Taxonomy

Information Governance requires a clear understanding of the kinds of information the organisation needs in order to function. At Sopra Steria I’ve worked with several clients on this problem using both top-down and bottom-up methods.  In a top-down approach, we help subject matter experts in the business to build a hierarchical taxonomy of their areas of expertise. The classes in the taxonomy will eventually correspond to folders in the idealised corporate file plan.

2.    Knowledge Audit

I supplement this top-down analysis with a bottom-up review of existing file structures, on the basis that frequently occurring document and folder names are likely to signify knowledge classes that need to be represented at the lower levels in the file plan hierarchy. I make use of a disk space analyser tool for this information discovery exercise, or knowledge audit. The more sophisticated tools not only keep track of the most commonly-used terms but also assess the scope and severity of the Information Chaos problem. They can identify where the duplicate, redundant and corrupt files are, together with their volumes. This information can also later support the cleansing and migration stage; i.e. partially automating the process of deleting “bad” files, and moving “useful” information to a new home in the revised corporate file plan.

In summary, an Information Governance project might consist of the following phases:

flow diagram through the sub head topics listed here

Experience has shown that developing a taxonomy is very difficult to do across an entire business (of any size). In fact, both the first two (parallel) steps in this process are best carried out piecemeal; i.e. team by team, business unit by business unit, project by project; joining the models together later, eliminating any class duplication en route.  This has the added advantage of delivering early benefits and demonstrating steady progress to management.

3.    Information Architecture

In stage three, the results of the top-down taxonomy work and the bottom-up knowledge audit are combined to develop a new Information Architecture for the business. The core of this will be a hierarchical folder structure similar to the familiar Windows Explorer layout, but with important differences. In the Information Architecture hierarchy the nodes are classes of information. For example, it may consist of generic terms such as Project or Supplier, while a File Plan would have a specific folder for each real-world instance of the class.  So the class, Project, spawns Project Alpha, Project Bravo, Project Charlie, etc; the Supplier class creates GoliathCo, Bloggs & Sons, and so on.

The other important difference is the association of metadata with each class, and with the corresponding folders in the File Plan.  This is likely to include the standard maintenance metadata (author, owner, creation date, last modified date, etc); plus the document type; any access constraints; and retention schedules and disposal triggers.

Carefully selected business metadata is an invaluable support to Enterprise Search, but can be seen as a nuisance when saving documents. For this reason, metadata should be set as high up in the hierarchy as possible so that content placed in lower level folders can “inherit” the correct values without the need for additional data entry by the user.

4.    Set up the new File Plan

The next step in the project will be to implement the Information Architecture in a File Plan. How this is done will depend on the selected platform; for example, an Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) system, SharePoint, or network shared drives (although the latter will not be able to support a rich metadata schema such as is described above).

5.    Cleansing and Migration

With the target File Plan in place the last stage of the project can begin. Owners sort through their holdings, deleting the documents they no longer need and moving the valuable content to the proper places in the File Plan. This is a “housekeeping” exercise, an inevitable chore for many, and management must be careful to allow their staff sufficient time to complete it.

With an agreed Information Architecture, and a File Plan based on it that all staff can use, proper Information Governance can be introduced.

ConclusionsHINTS AND TIPS 1. Solving your Information Chaos problem will mean an unavoidable “House-keeping” exercise to identify your useful content and delete the rubbish. 2. You can reduce the pain, and avoid a future recurrence, by developing a new File Plan to move your cleansed content into. 3. Develop the File Plan by a combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up” – but do it in small bites, joining all the pieces up later.

Addressing the Information Chaos problem requires: first, the development of a target Information Architecture; and second, an extensive “housekeeping” exercise to eliminate the dross and migrate the organisation’s vital knowledge assets. The benefits of such a project will be:

  • Reduction of business risk by ensuring:
    • full traceability of decision making
    • an increased ability to respond to enquiries (legal, regulatory, FoI, audit, etc)
    • a reduced risk of litigation
  • Boosted user productivity by
    • minimising the admin burden on end users
    • providing secure collaborative working through a shared Information Architecture
    • better re-use of existing knowledge assets
  • Cost reduction
  • Enhanced information quality
  • Streamlined document and records management processes

Satisfaction as information chaos eliminated…

Share with me any experiences you have of successful information cleansing and migration, and any tips on how you’ve made the process work in your organisation. Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

I’m a beekeeper – what’s your super power?

On Friday 23rd of June I used my Sopra Steria Volunteering Day to support the Scottish Beekeepers Association (SBA) at the Royal Highland Show. The SBA was setup in 1912 as the national beekeeping body in Scotland. Sopra Steria provides me with one day’s paid volunteering, as part of our Community commitments, so with the SBA being a charity I decided to use my volunteering day to help.

Every year the SBA have a massive “Honey Marquee” at the Royal Highland Show which is a 4 day event – it’s Scotland’s biggest agricultural event with over 1,000 trade exhibitors and 6,500 animals. In the Honey Marquee alone, the SBA plan for around 10,000 visitors per day and require teams of stewards to help. So I put my name down for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

SR-Outside-Honey-MarqueeAll of the stewards were avid beekeepers, ranging from people like me, i.e. beginners keeping a couple of hives in the back garden, through to bee farmers with hundreds of hives and decades of experiences.

We rotated our teams around the various sections of the hive covering:

  • Candle making – beeswax of course!
  • Observation hives – we had 3 glass sided hives with bees foraging outside at the show

Education – a “touchy feely” area where people can handle hive parts, honey  comb and a honey extractor.

Here’s a view inside the Honey Marquee:

SBA-Honey-Marquee-2017

How did I get into Beekeeping?

readman-family-beekeepersOne of my good friends from school has kept bees for many years and I’d always had “beekeeping” in my bucket list of things to. So when he said he had a spare colony for me I thought – “how difficult can this be?”. I took my first colony with his telephone support, joined the Edinburgh branch of the SBA and did their beginners evening course. My (then) 8 year old daughter came along to the Saturday practical sessions too, so this has become a bit of a family hobby.

2016 was a bad year weather-wise and we didn’t get any honey, but in May this year we took our first crop of 13 jars:may-honey-crop-wide

Bees and our environment

As you will have heard in the news, bees have had a bit of a bad time with a variety of factors leading to colonies failing, this includes Varroa Mites and Foul Brood. We’re all hoping that the Asian Hornet doesn’t take hold in the UK.

Discover more about Sopra Steria’s sustainability commitment and community activities.

Useful Links:

Digital in Government: the next step is true transformation

Have you recently tried to access a government service and wondered why it can’t be as simple and easy as Amazon? Were you frustrated, like me, when required to print, complete and return a physical form rather than fill in a pre-populated online one?

In our recent survey of civil servants we wanted to understand how digital – the powerful combination of disruptive technologies underpinned by new business models – was being adopted across government. How is government seeking to enhance digital customer experience by optimising its digital infrastructure and insight from analytics?

Transformation = Restructure

Our Government Digital Trends Survey of nearly 4,500 civil servants over three years found they have a consistent understanding of what digital means. The most popular definitions chosen were ‘restructuring services’ followed by ‘improving online services’.

With government facing pressures from multiple directions, not least the challenge of implementing a successful exit from the European Union, civil servants view digital transformation as a win-win. Not only can it improve the quality of service that citizens receive, through the development of more convenient delivery models, but these same models can help government to reduce their costs.

But the sheer scale of changes facing the government means that the civil service needs to think harder about the way it works.

Breaking down ‘stove-pipe’ government

Adding to the skills gap I described in my previous blog, there are in-built structural challenges across government. Public services tend to adhere to ‘stove-piped’ models that have largely been left untouched for decades.

Departmental structures encourage civil servants to focus purely on their own priorities. The organisation of government provides little opportunity to consider how citizens’ needs cut across departmental boundaries.

The good news is that civil servants view the collection of data that underpins their operations as a core process. In 2017, civil servants told us that the most significant benefits of ‘big data’ were reducing expenditure (29%) and improving operational efficiency (21%). But opportunities for innovation in new processes (7%) and improving customer engagement (3%) trailed far behind.

Data-enabled government is needed

This example highlights the challenge and opportunity of digital transformation in government. A more innovative approach, such as a single interface for collecting data, is not only a source of efficiency. It allows government to remove the duplication of effort and provides a catalyst for the development of end-to-end processes that place the needs of citizens at the centre.

As government is understandably cautious by nature, digital transformation was initially limited to narrow front-end activities. The focus was on creating digital channels to ‘bolt on’ existing business processes, rather than redesigning processes endto end.

Yet government benefits from being one of the most ‘data-rich’ organisations. The growing number of data sets that are now generated, through the automation of processes, create huge opportunities to drive digital transformation. The Policy Exchange think tank suggested that the UK government could save up to £33 billion through improved data use.

What does data enabled digital government look like?

I think there is an urgent need for the joining and sharing of data across government to help civil and other public servants to plan more effective services targeted at those most in need.

There are several aspects to this data enabled digital government, including:

  1. Predictive analytics: Human resources tend to represent the largest single source of costs for government. Predictive analytics can maximise the efficiency of operations and improve workforce utilisation (helping government do more with – more often than not – less).
  2. Coordinated government analytics: Sharing data across government organisations drives benefits by avoiding the duplication of effort. But going beyond efficiency, the creation of cloud-based big data hubs leads to more personalised and targeted services.

And tailored and preventative approaches are urgently needed to address high cost social issues such as troubled families and health problems such as obesity. Predictive and coordinated analytics lend themselves to addressing these so called ‘wicked issues’ because they are so complex, fast moving and they involve changing the behaviour or gaining the commitment of individual citizens.

If you would like more information about the Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Judging the young Inventors for #DigiInventorsChallenge in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI)

There has been huge excitement in the Sopra Steria Scotland camp recently as we eagerly opened the entries sent to myself, Emily Walters and Graeme Harvey who were picked to be part of the judging panel for the Inaugural Digital Health and Care Challenge 2017.

Teenagers across Scotland are competing in the #DigiInventorsChallenge, giving them the chance to develop a new invention that will transform health, fitness and wellbeing amongst the nation’s young people using technology. The ideas include everything from fitness apps, gaming controllers and online challenges.

The winning team will see their idea come to life through the Digital Health & Care Institute’s innovation model as well as developing the skills and experience needed to make their idea a success.

I am sure the experience will stay with the winners for a lifetime and set them on their way for careers within digital health.

The role of the judges was to critically evaluate the submissions and decide on a shortlist of six teams that will bring their ideas to life at #DigiInventorsBootcamp.  We were all extremely impressed with the original and innovative ideas we received and we carefully considered the following elements when making our blind judging assessment;

  • What is the idea and how will it work?
  • What health and care problem does it solve and why is that important?
  • How does the idea apply to digital technology
  • Why would people want to use the idea and what benefits would it bring?
  • What design and manufacturing problems may occur, is there an outline of a business plan?

When I originally started talking with DHI about being part of this challenge there were three key reasons why I wanted to get involved:

  1. The challenge offers the #DigiInventors insight into a career in tech
  2. Working with young people and gaining powerful user research in their concerns on health and care and how digital services can transform outcomes
  3. Bringing the winning idea to life and working with the DHI to see the design developed and commercialised

Now the shortlist has been issued and so many different ideas have been generated I can see how powerful this kind of engagement is in getting young people to develop creative and entrepreneurial skills.

The next step is planning for the #DigiInventorsBootcamp where we’ll be meeting with the finalists to help take their ideas to the next stage. I’ll be back with more on this later in the year!

See more about Sopra Steria’s involvement with this great initiative.

Government needs to invest and build digital skills across government – the view of civil servants

Having the right skills and capacities to hand is pivotal to the effective digital transformation of government. For the past three years, we have asked civil servants to tell us how government is adapting to changing digital skills needs as part of our Government Digital Trends Survey.

The most startling finding from this year’s survey is a rise in the number of civil servants who say that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation

Lack of available skills continues to be a barrier to transformation

In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to digital transformation of government. Despite a significant increase in training over the last twelve months, 43% of respondents told us that they had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6% points since 2015). When asked about whether they personally receive adequate digital skills training to do their job, the number agreeing was just 12% (a decrease from 20% since 2016).

Seeking to fill this digital skills gap, we found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition:

36% are using self-directed study in their own time to develop their digital skills (an increase of 12% points since 2015)

Civil servants are calling out a lack of specialist digital skills

Several types of skills are needed: technical and professional skills, including ICT specialist skills for workers who drive innovation and support digital infrastructures and the functioning of the digital services. This year we asked civil servants, including those working in digital programmes, to identify the top three digital skills gaps in their organisation.

Development and service design were the most popular answers, chosen by 44% of respondents. The next most common answers were agile delivery management (37%), user research and technical architecture (36% each).

To seize the benefits of digital, government needs these in-demand specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and analyse data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation to flourish, often in collaboration with the private and not-for-profit sectors, but also support the infrastructure that government and users rely on.

What are the priority skills policies to meet these challenges?

Addressing the challenges of digital will require an overhaul of government’s skills policies. It must ensure that an increasingly digital world yields better quality jobs and that civil servants have the means to take advantage of the new job opportunities that open up.

In my opinion there are five priorities for skill policies to facilitate take-up of these opportunities:

  1. Part of the task is to ensure that all civil servants have basic ICT skills as well as solid problem-solving skills to use ICT effectively. Many of these skills are also acquired outside education and training institutions – for instance, and as we have found through the survey, in the workplace. Government could support and better recognise skills acquired by civil servants outside formal channels.
  2. It is not just sufficient for civil servants to have skills – government must fully use these skills to reap their benefits in terms of higher productivity. The use of digital skills, including problem solving in a technologically rich environment, varies substantially across the civil service. A key factor driving this variation is the use of high performance work practices such as teamwork, work autonomy, training, flexible work hours, etc.
  3. For ICT specialist skills, basic programming is no longer enough. For instance, advanced engineering and experience with machine-learning are increasingly important. In addition, ICT specialists also need domain-specific knowledge, given the potential applications of ICT in the business of government, such as health, education and welfare.
  4. Government needs to better assess and anticipate changing skills needs in order to adapt programmes and pathways offered and guide civil servants towards choices that lead to better outcomes. By including all stakeholders in skills assessment exercises government can ensure that the information collected is useful and that policies respond to actual needs. This includes working closely with industry to address shortages in areas of strategic importance.
  5. As skills demands change continuously, training for civil service to keep up with new skills requirements is crucial. This requires offering better incentives for civil servants to re-skill and up-skill. And includes, for example, the government fully supporting and embracing the Digital Academy initiative in the Government Digital Service (GDS).

If you would like more information about our Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.