Why Digital Skills should be top of the class in today’s schools

What will the jobs market be like in 5 years’ time (or even in 1 years’ time) – given the rapid changes that are going on right now?

Robotics and Intelligent Automation are becoming mainstream, chatbots and avatars are taking over call centres and new fintech banks such as Monzo and Starling are turning the traditional banking market on its head.  People of all ages will have to start acquiring new skills and approaches to working if they want an interesting, sustainable and well-paid job.

It’s a fact that digital is transforming the jobs market.  People with digital skills and knowledge are in high demand and are commanding high salaries.  Data is the major differentiator – and understanding how to gain insight from the increasingly huge volumes of data that we are all generating is crucial to every business right now.  Universities and many Financial Services organisations have already started investing in digital and data.  There are a plethora of courses and training available – but until recently – digital wasn’t really taught in schools – leaving young people who didn’t choose (or couldn’t afford) to go to university woefully under skilled and unprepared for the new reality of employment in today’s demanding jobs market.

The first Digital School of Excellence

That’s why it’s great to see Newbattle High School in Midlothian launching the first Scottish-based Digital School of Excellence.  As well as teaching digital skills, Newbattle will be one of the first schools to also include Data Science as a core part of its curriculum. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics as well as local businesses like Sopra Steria are investing in this landmark Digital School as they know it’s the only way to get the right ‘talent’ and skills into the jobs market.  The school doesn’t just teach digital and data skills – it also encourages its pupils to be entrepreneurial, to challenge the status quo and to understand the creation process of great products as well as instilling the right skills and techniques to ‘sell’ their ideas to a sceptical and highly demanding audience.

The Unified Schools Programme

In Scotland, the financial services industry is working on its ‘Unified Schools Programme’ under the leadership of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and led by HSBC’s Colin Halpin. It’s an exciting project with a joint message about why financial services is an exciting, progressive and diverse industry to work in. The programme is focused on promoting the sector as THE digitally focused and customer centric place to be for young people, highlighting the advantages a career in digital can offer.

An SFE pilot project involving Newbattle High School and Queensferry High School kicked off in November 2018 to give young people opportunities to experience financial services through short placements. SFE members and Skills Development Scotland are fully supporting the initiative.  Why?  Big business knows it needs fresh talent and realises it needs to promote the financial services industry as a great place to work, highlighting the multiple opportunities that the sector can deliver if it’s to get the creative and talented people it needs to be future ready. There really is a job for everyone in financial services – and for young people with a positive attitude, creativity, enthusiasm and focus, it can be a fantastic first step into the world of work.

I used to be concerned for today’s young people facing an uncertain future in a demanding jobs market.  Now I can see exciting new career opportunities where the education system, with support from government and industry helps the next generation to think differently, to be brave and to create ideas that will shape our future.  Scotland is setting the pace for change – the question is – when will the rest of the UK catch up and put digital skills top of the agenda?

Learning happens best when organisations reach out to new partnership, test their knowledge and challenge their assumptions

Through the techUK Women into IT Group I was fortunate enough to meet Jen Rodvold from Sopra Steria, who alongside a number of passionate colleagues was intent on doing just that. My organisation, ELATT, is a digital skills charity based in Hackney, East London, and works with a group of talented, but often over-looked group of young people and adults, many with special needs and a background of disadvantage. Together with Sopra Steria we are now developing a programme that can help our students become not just confident in themselves but also the diverse and inclusive workforce of tomorrow that tech so desperately needs.

We are now working at a number of levels to reach that goal. So far, we have consulted on curriculum development to ensure that we are bringing the agile project management, team work and attitudinal skills into our courses that our students will need to demonstrate in their first digital job, as well methods and advice to best present yourself and your strengths at CV and interview stage in the employment process. 

The next stage to this exciting partnership is a visit to the Sopra Steria Digilab, where our students will have the chance to get their hands on cutting-edge Internet of Things technology, and I know that this will really bring to life what they’re learning in the classroom.  Watch this space!

Anthony Harmer, Chief Executive
ELATT | The Learning Community

Work Experience – Why Sopra Steria?

Sopra Steria recently provided a work experience placement to James Hogg, who visited our Edinburgh office earlier this month. James was based with me in the Government Sales Support Team for most of the week working on a variety of tasks (we kept him busy!), as well as spending time in our Digilab and meeting colleagues from other areas of the business. Read on to hear in his own words how James found the experience.


Introduction

I’m James, I’m 15 years old and have done a week of work experience at Sopra Steria’s Edinburgh office. Having little clue what I wanted to do when I grow up, choosing Sopra Steria for my work experience turned out to be the perfect choice. From my work experience I wanted a rough idea of what the World of Work was like, what it involved and how it worked/functioned. After an enjoyable week of working alongside the Government Sales Support team, Recruitment and in the Digilab, I learnt what I wanted to from work experience, with lots more on top of that.

What I learnt during my work experience at Sopra Steria

On my work experience I learnt loads!

I learnt bits about how an office functions and the dynamics of an office, who does what and why they do it. With Sales Support I learnt all the ins and outs of what they do on a day to day basis, including learning all about contract opportunities and how they go about finding relevant ones for the company, sending them on to people who will either take up the opportunity further or decline it.

With the Recruitment team of Sopra Steria I learnt the basics of what their role in the company is and what they do on a day to day basis, I found this interesting not only because their role in the company is pivotal but because it’s good insight for my CV writing future to know what exactly employment teams look for.

In the Digilab I was in the most futuristic section of Sopra Steria, being given the opportunity to work in the Digilab was extremely interesting. I was challenged with a multitude of new tasks which for the most part I didn’t know were a thing: tasked with taking a computer out a wall, stripping it down to the bare minimum, burning a software onto a disk and using the same disk to download the software onto the computer. After doing all of this I had to download a service which allows you to operate devices in a room from your computer (e.g. Lights, TVs volume, music, Alexas). This was definitely not anything I had done before, I found it challenging but that made completing it that more rewarding.

Also, throughout my week I learnt lots about coding. I found this challenging, yet interesting. Through the Codecademy website I completed tutorials – I went from changing the colour of my name with basic code to designing a website all within a week.

Along with all these great skills and things I learnt about Sopra Steria, I also learnt lots of transferable skills that I can further develop and use in the future.

Greatest achievement in my week of work experience

I would say one of my greatest achievements in my week of work experience would be creating a website. What makes this my greatest achievement, in a week full of achievements and new situations to try and prevail in, was the fact that I had never coded before. Before my week with Sopra Steria I had maybe done one course early on in high school which consisted of not much coding. However, after my week I had learnt a lot of different types of coding (website design, HTML, CSS and other basic code) and had designed multiple webpages with my new found skills.

Another one of my achievements from my week of work experience would be my time in the Digilab and what I achieved within my time here, doing all sorts with computers, stuff that I didn’t even know was a thing. Once again, from previously little to no knowledge of what I was doing to completing tasks is the reason why this is one of my achievements in a full on week.

Would I recommend work experience at Sopra Steria

Yes, I would absolutely recommend someone choose to do their work experience at Sopra Steria. I would recommend it for many reasons, but primarily because you meet lots of friendly, interesting and welcoming people who will help you learn and make your week worthwhile, also learning lots of transferable skills in the process making it extremely worth it for someone to do their work experience at Sopra Steria.


At Sopra Steria we are committed to Work Experience, Internships and Student Placements – allowing students to gain experience, get a feel for working life and potentially help shape and inform their future career choice.

Our sustainability programme encourages students to build skills and careers in IT, and we offer great training, development and career progression prospects – find out more about our Early Careers opportunities.

From East to West – the changing dynamics in retail

Have you come across Zozotown yet? It’s an example of a retail phenomenon that is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in omni-commerce – the dedicated online shopping channel. The business model behind Zozotown – known as Zozo to many of its users – represents a shift towards true unified commerce.

As well as being an online shopping marketplace, it provides both a warehouse and fulfilment for major and minor brands. Sellers ship their products for storage to a Zozotown warehouse. As there is no inventory risk for Zozotown, and since no initial fees are paid, a higher commission rate is charged compared to other marketplace businesses – in some cases, up to a third of the item price.

Getting personal in retail

The Zozo shopping experience is personalised and interactive, with a customer’s size choice remembered from purchase-to-purchase and styling ideas offered. This model, along with other retail innovations, began not with the online retail giants in the West, but in Asia where e-commerce is expanding at record rates. For example, China’s e-commerce sales are set to grow by £180bn in 2018 alone, which is £23bn more than the UK’s entire annual online spend.

This is the topic of a new opinion paper that I’ve recently published, ‘Retailers look East for digital inspiration’. In it I look at how technology is changing the face of retail and how much of the innovation in this sector has traditionally come from the likes of Silicon Valley in the US. That’s all changing. We are increasingly seeing retail innovations stemming from the East, several of which I describe in my paper. There’s a heightened consumer appetite for digital commerce. Even Japan with its ageing population sees 70 per cent of all the fashion sold online purchased via smartphones.

Putting the customer first

What lessons can the East share with the West? Perhaps the key one is the region’s focus on an effortless customer journey, where the experience is quick, seamless and continually improving. Innovations are very much attuned to the customer, for example with easy (mobile) access, multiple payment options and an almost ‘a la carte’ shopping and delivery experience.

As a consulting-led organisation, Sopra Steria retains a lively interest in developments like this. We constantly monitor disruptive new technologies and business models in the market. This enables us to see which ones are evolving and who is innovating at the fastest pace.

We’re also innovating ourselves. I am particularly interested in Sopra Steria’s development of a voice-enabled conversational chatbot proposition, known as Digital Customer Interaction. This ties in neatly with my earlier point about the need to build an effortless customer journey. It’s a trailblazing proposition in which a conversational bot uses real-time insight to provide a highly-tailored and personalised customer journey, regardless of channel used. From responses to frequently asked questions and automated customer identification and verification, to multimedia objects pushed to a smartphone for multi-channel interactions, our solution supports an end-to-end customer journey using natural language processing enabled by digital voice.

This is just one of the many exciting developments we are seeing in the retail sector, where digital is fast creating a level playing field globally. Retail pioneers in the West, such as Amazon and eBay, should now be looking closely at their peers in the East, where being customer centric is di rigueur.

I am looking forward to the next phase in the evolution of retail and feel sure it will have customer centricity at its core.

Download ‘Retailers look East for digital inspiration’’

For more information on Sopra Steria’s approach to delivering real and lasting value in retail, contact me on sylvester.eseigbe@soprasteria.com

Sopra Steria collaborates with The Scottish Government for a DevOps Hackathon

Today we are welcoming The Scottish Government Department of Agriculture and the Rural Economy (ARE) to our Edinburgh DigiLab for a DevOps Hackathon.

We are hosting this event in a similar manner to the internal hackathons we did a couple of months ago and we are very excited to have ARE on board to take them on this journey with us, using DevOps technologies including Red Hat OpenShift.

Today we will be providing a developer’s perspective, getting our hands dirty with the basics of DevOps using OpenShift and walking the attendees through a variety of tasks from the creation of projects and build of applications through to the use of pipelines for application deployment as well as processes to assist with application/environmental maintenance.

The attendees in our office today range from infrastructure analysts to technical management and developers – an open invite was distributed throughout ARE and we are very pleased to have a variety of skills on-board.

We are looking forward to sharing our knowledge of the platform with ARE and we hope to run a series of these hackathons, so watch this space!


Shehzad Nagi, Senior Technical Architect
Caitlin Toner, Architect

Five significant public sector trends

We are told that government is transforming itself. The public sector is changing into a ‘public purpose’ sector. More of the service outcomes we expect should be co-produced, across complex delivery chains, which are more connected and collaborative. Success often depends on nudging the behaviours of citizens, communities and businesses. Prevention is increasingly the mantra, empowering people with the tools they need, addressing problems quickly and providing services in settings that suit needs.

Rules are slowly being changed to harness technology in a way that works for everyone. The promise is that innovative technologies provide an opportunity to move past a choice between improving outcomes, shifting costs on to individuals or increasing pressure on staff. They are a catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment. Not only saving time and money but enhancing public value.

But there still seems to be an inverse relationship between the transformation rhetoric and the reality. Many of the traditional government tools, which emphasise predictability, control and distinct accountabilities, struggle to address ‘wicked challenges’ that are fluid, interconnected and unpredictable.

Public services are struggling to adapt to new demands in a world characterised by speed, intensity and connectedness. They are driven by short-term demands for results and a political fix, which undermines the ability of government to make the larger system work more effectively.

Productivity has gone up mainly by doing ‘more of the same’ rather than through reform. The easiest savings have been made and choices are getting harder. As the Institute for Government recently commented, ‘governments cannot continue for long to provide the same services by simply muddling through, with dollops of emergency cash’.

What does this mean in practice? And what are the implications for the reform of public services?

First, progress has been made when using digital tools to improve many of the more transactional dimensions of government. Improvements have been made to the convenience, speed and efficiency. However, too often complexity is resulting in technology silos and a miss-match with business needs. Transformation demands more radical change across operations, processes and technology. Digital thinking and technologies have to be tightly woven into the fabric of government. Simply replacing an existing manual operation with a digital one is NOT a viable approach.

Second, new demands are being placed on the ability of public services to combine the best available skills, expertise and resources – inside government and outside in the business, academic and community sectors – and point that firepower at the right place to achieve a transformative shift. A more discerning conversation is required about the best way of achieving policy, regulatory and service delivery outcomes. Including the role of private and community sector organisations in reform of public services.

Third, we are now used to platform business models that respond to the potential of distributed networking with organisations, institutions and individuals. Yet government is constrained by an age-old culture of centralised or, at best, decentralised structures. It needs to work out which approach – centralised, decentralised or distributed – makes most sense for different tasks and contexts.

Fourth, we all want solutions that are simpler, integrated and responsive to people and their lives. So we need to reconnect policy making and delivery. Which means that delivery people are ‘in the room’ from the start of the policy process. In particular, government has to confront the reality that much of the most important information needed for good policy making is to be found through interactions with frontline staff, customers and citizens.

Fifth, trust in government is in short supply. And many private and community sector organisations appear out of touch. Being more open, responding to citizen and user concerns, becoming more transparent are all part of the solution. But the work of trust rebuilding is unspectacular and slow.  It relies on leadership, daily habits, and clear thinking.

Success will be difficult but not impossible.  It requires government to think about the long term. And then invest in more collaborative and evidence based ‘platforms’. This type of change depends on transparency, of purpose and approach, so that we do not just observe what is happening but at least want to know why.

A customer is for life; not just for the sales

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Pre-Christmas & January sales. The cold, winter months are enlivened in the world of retail with a shopping bonanza for the savvy consumer. These high-profile sales see shoppers in a frenzy as they seek out the best bargains, both online and on the high street.

Then what? Once the furore has calmed down and normal service is resumed, how do you nurture these customers to ensure long-term loyalty to your brand?

The key is to keep them happy at every step of their interaction with you. They must receive an effortless service, when they want it and from where. More often than not, today’s customers also want instant gratification: to immediately know that what they’ve bought will be with them faster than ever before.

How to achieve this is the topic of a paper that I have recently published, ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’. In it I make the case for what’s increasingly referred to as ‘unified commerce’. This is true omnichannel retailing (as opposed to just operating multi channels) that sees retailers delivering a seamless customer experience, regardless of which touchpoints they use. Unified commerce demands the fully integration and alignment of processes, systems and applications across both the back office and customer-facing channels.

Theory v reality

While the theory behind this makes absolute sense, the practical reality is that few retailers are truly achieving omnichannel status. The target is to enable a single enterprise-wide customer view, supported by the alignment of product data, pricing, promotion, procurement and inventory management. So why isn’t this happening?

An obvious reason is the siloed approach many retailers take to their operations. With each customer touchpoint (online, in-store, mobile, B2B sales, customer services, etc.) operated as a standalone entity, it is impossible to achieve a consistent customer experience across them. Even the way retail employees are managed in these siloes is a barrier to omnichannel success. As I point out in my paper, to be truly omnichannel, it’s important that all areas of the business are governed by consistent processes, incentives, measurements and ways of working. This means that decisions on remuneration and incentive schemes should be made at the very highest level of the business.

Technology too

The above is very much about a cultural shift, but technology too is an enabler of unified commerce. To deliver repeatedly and reliably at pace, retailers need to invest in cloud-ready infrastructure and they must automate at every opportunity – infrastructure and environment provisioning, application code build, deployment and promotion of application code and, of course, testing.

While cloud-native retailers are set up for this, the same isn’t true of traditional retailers. They are faced with the challenge of marrying legacy with new disruptive platforms and approaches in a genuinely omnichannel model. There are a number of ways to achieve this and, at Sopra Steria, we’re working with many organisations to help them modernise their IT so that they both unlock the value of current systems and keep pace with disruptive new entrants.

In the end, keeping your customers happy, not just during the sales season, but for the long term, begins with how you create and sustain a seamless customer journey. That’s everything customer facing and everything behind the scenes, such as logistics and fulfilment, as well as in the back office.

Download ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’

For more information on Sopra Steria’s approach to applications modernisation and unified commerce, contact me on Gary.Ellwood@soprasteria.com