Sustainability rolls on at Rio 2016 Olympics?

The Olympics has the accolade of bringing nations and cultures together with a backdrop of sporting disciplines. When my home town, London hosted the summer games in 2012, I wanted to be part of the action and celebration, so I volunteered as a Games Maker in the Athletes’ Village. What a great and successful event it turned out to be and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the extent that it spurred me on to volunteer again, this time for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Buildup to the Rio 2016 as we all know from the media had been mixed with questions being posed on whether the country could have spent ten plus billions of US$ on more vital infrastructure and services to its citizens and whether the stated legacy would ever be realised. Facilitating Sustainability (Environment, Workplace, Marketplace and Community) for Sopra Steria in the UK meant that my desire was to find out for myself what the locals thought on the ground.

 Rio de Janeiro was somewhat a familiar territory for me. I had travelled through Brazil, Peru and Bolivia in 2014, spending time in the Amazon rainforest. My role for Sopra Steria Group as the Head of Environmental Sustainability had given that trip an added dimension to learn first-hand and share with my colleagues the vital role the largest rainforest making our planet habitable for us and generations to come. I had made friends with several Cariocas (those born and raised in Rio de Janeiro), so I arranged to live with my Carioca friends, walking, taking buses (an experience for the brave) and metros (lines 1, 2 & 4 – does anyone know where is line 3?), eating feijoada (a hearty stew of black beans, sausages and cuts of pork of varying quality – traditionally veering towards the lower end, with trotters, and ears all going into the mix!) and not forgetting my daily dose of Caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça: sugarcane hard liquor with sugar, lime and ice).

It was great to see the first gold medal for Brazil going to a young lady, Rafaela Silva, from the notorious favela, Cidade de Deus or City of God who had to fight inequality, poverty and racism growing up. Perhaps this achievement was a tiny example of a positive outcome to mitigate human rights campaigners’ concern about the impact of the Games on the Brazilian city’s most vulnerable communities. Driving with my Carioca friends through several favelas (too dangerous to walk they say; a black belt in karate is of no value against a gun!) poverty is there to be seen with limited schools and hospitals. Most Cariocas with whom I mingled, spoke (thank you must go to Google Translate for rescuing me in a number of situations) and drank Caipirinha felt that money could have been more wisely spent on infrastructure (hospital and schools), than on transport – which by the way was a big improvement from two years ago – and to ensure planning continues to realise the long term benefits of sports and stadia without the risk of a repeat of Athens 2004.

To conclude on a positive note, my volunteer experience at the Rio Olympic Arena with gymnastics and trampoline was great and I admired the Brazilian skill of thinking on their feet and coming up with successful solutions to issues that develop due to a lack of process and training! I even managed to secure a new Rio 2016 volunteer shirt and trousers to auction at the Sopra Steria Community Matters week in October that champions community involvement and where all employees are encouraged to get involved in community activities, one day’s paid company time to volunteer, matched funds and enabling grants.

As I finish this blog, I gather the Tokyo games in 2020 are planning to use multi-lingual high tech robots. Does this mean my human volunteer skills (underpinned by Google Translate) have had its day?

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

The reality of digital transformation of government

Since the 2000s people have embraced the digital revolution. From banking online to doing their food shopping, millions of individuals and businesses benefitted from the convenience of digital services. But government was slow to respond and found the transition to digital hard. Numerous digital strategies and policies came and went. But the way public services were delivered stayed the same.

In recent years government has been forced by budget pressures and customer demand to be more efficient and is using technology as a vital tool for achieving that.

The Government Digital Strategy set out how government will redesign its digital services so well that people prefer to use them. The Government Digital Service (GDS) started by replacing the jumble of government websites with just one – GOV.UK. It introduced new standards and worked across Whitehall to replace paper-based processes with a digital equivalent. And it is now introducing new platforms to solve problems common to all or many government departments (Government as Platform).

The result is that talk of ‘digital transformation’ is everywhere. To highlight just one example, at Budget 2015 the Government set out the vision for a transformed tax system. By 2020 it expects to fundamentally change the way the tax system works – transforming tax administration so it is more effective, more efficient and easier for taxpayers.

But what does ‘digital transformation’ really mean? And how is it different from the technology enabled change of the last twenty years?

My experience is that digital means different things to different people and at different times. And there is a large degree of confusion and frustration.

For me, the most common ways of explaining ‘digital transformation’ are:

  • ‘It isn’t analogue’, which means less paper, as bureaucratic form-filling is eradicated, and access to digital services that cut across silos, which is enabled through;
  • New modern technologies, which means having the right technology (including social, mobile, cloud, analytics) and capability (including new supplier standards) to deliver digital services; and
  • New ways of working, which means putting users at the heart of projects, introducing iterative models that allow for constant evolution of organisations and new ways of working.

The reality is that real digital transformation is achieved when all of these issues come together and we are more ambitious about the outcomes we want to achieve. This holistic approach is recognised in a recent document published by the Ministry of Justice. The next stage of reform for courts and tribunals will include end-to-end digital applications for Lasting Power of Attorney, probate and divorce.

Which means moving beyond the construction of a website as the entrance to government systems built in a bygone age.

Instead, the objective of digital transformation in government is increasingly about fundamentally changing structures, systems and processes behind those websites. Without this wholehearted approach, the promise of cost savings and better outcomes will fail to materialize.

My experience is that the conditions for success in digital transformation tend to be organizational rather than technological.

It depends, first and foremost, on political sponsorship to champion the initiative, an executive team to drive through execution and empowered and cohesive teams able to exercise strong governance (i.e. to identify early service and business risks).

Second, there is a need for rigorous business case discipline to shape and manage projects and ensure value capture (i.e. clearly articulating the benefits of IT investments, estimating costs accurately and picking the right projects to invest in).

And finally, as government use data — about infrastructure, health and safety, and citizen satisfaction — to improve services, integrated security solutions to align with business processes (i.e. digital identity and access management, data loss protection and cloud and mobility security).

I am keen to hear your thoughts on digital transformation and how it might be delivered in government. Please leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Come on vendors, get it together: Office 365, Google, Dropbox, etc

For many of our customers, large and small, their first foray into the beautiful world of cloud computing is driven by a less beautiful compelling event related to one of the following:

  • On-premise email servers (typically Microsoft Exchange) require an upgrade of either software, hardware or both
  • Licensing and upgrades of the Microsoft Office suite, typically as part of some enterprise-wide licensing agreement (or maybe an audit!)

So, if you are approaching a refresh, what should you do?  There’s a myriad of comparisons out there on the web comparing the features and costs of Microsoft Office 365 against Google Apps so I won’t add to that. To cut to the chase, feature-wise they are approaching parity but of course it depends on the specific requirements of your organisation. What I wanted to cover was the usual corporate dilemma, and why Microsoft is currently (and probably for a long time) the right answer.

The logic goes like this.  I really quite like the idea of using Google Apps, it’s a bit easier to administer (in my view – but partially as it’s less rich and maybe doesn’t expose all the cruft of Exchange in the config pages), it’s just feels a bit more hip and happening. Although to be fair, Microsoft have managed to shed their corporate image and loosen up a bit, as demonstrated by this identification challenge that tickled me when you are registering for Office 365…

But, I really only want to have one vendor and configuration to manage – surely I can get everything I need from one vendor in 2016?  It really depends what line of business you are in, but certainly for us as a professional services-based business some customers will expect materials to be sent to them in Microsoft Office formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).  Whilst other vendors can work in this format or I could use LibreOffice, I know that the interoperability just isn’t quite good enough. And my finance team are going to rebel if I don’t give them Excel, so… I really need to buy Microsoft Office – and this is when the costing dimension comes in. Pricing starts at £7.80/month/user for up to 300 users for Office 365 with the ability to download all the Office client applications (jumping to a pre-discount £14.70 for the Enterprise E3) – and that immediately makes a Google Apps-based solution unattractive as you basically have to pay for many of the services twice, e.g. email services, Skype or Hangouts etc from both Microsoft and Google.  A masterstroke of lock-in from Microsoft.

OK, so I accept this as a fact of life, and resign myself to going “all in” with Office 365.  Not so fast.  Like many organisations today, I might have a BYOD or CYOD policy and I know that my users have both PCs and Macs. That sounds fine – Office 365 supports Macs.  Yes, the Mac implementations of Word, Excel etc are a bit different (mainly as a result of the weird double menu bar thing – why have one “Insert” menu when you can have two?) but the apps are pretty good these days.

But the issue comes with file sharing and synchronisation on the Mac. Whilst there is a Mac client for syncing your OneDrive so you can work offline etc, it does not sync shared files – and so the only way you can access them is via the web interface – not something that you are going to enjoy on the train on the way home.  This fact is a little buried here – there’s more evidence of Microsoft’s sense of humour with this statement…

So that leaves us with an issue as to how to support collaborative file sharing across our organisation.  This is what Dropbox (in my experience) does best – it just works across clients.  So you end up having to have at least one other vendor product to plug this functionality gap, which is frustrating.  I was talking to a start up the other day – they are not big but they’ve active subscriptions for all three – i.e. Google Apps (as the email search is the best), Office 365 (as they need the client apps) and DropBox (for the file sharing).  I bet this is much more common than it should be.

But, it’s on Microsoft’s Office 365 roadmap so maybe I’ll be able to have just one subscription in 2017.

If you want to read more on comparisons of Google Apps and Office 365 etc – this is a great resource.


Beamap is the cloud consultancy subsidiary of Sopra Steria

Transforming local public services through use of innovative technology

Delivering differently, delivering digitally

Local authorities face growing challenges to continue to deliver more for less. In recent years they have had to cope with decreasing budgets, growing demand and higher citizen expectations bringing us to a position today where Council Leaders need to consider a radical approach to service delivery.

Technology has the potential to provide tools which support new ways of working, enhance existing capabilities and provide a platform for innovation and transformation that meets the needs and expectations of citizens.

We can consider the ways that technology can support local government under three broad categories:

  • Supporting a flexible and modern workforce
  • Improving the delivery and efficiency of processes
  • Providing simple access to services

The ever-growing capabilities of technologies enables a new approach to support these categories and leads us to consider some key technologies that local government could introduce to support positive transformation.

Supporting a flexible and modern workforce

The local authority workforce wants systems which are easy to use and which help them to deliver their roles effectively. To create a flexible environment which supports workforce development Cloud, or on-demand, solutions offer transformational changes in the way that employees, and citizens, can engage and consume services.

Key technologies that local authorities could consider to create a new digitally forward organisation include

  • On-Demand Services – to enable employees, managers and citizens to access the technology and services they need
  • Choose Your Own model – provides a more flexible and responsive IT function to support employees to do their jobs more efficiently and productively
  • Device agnostic services – removes the barriers to individuals accessing the facilities they need, when they need them, through whatever means works best for them

By providing easy-to-use tools, systems and services which are fast and reliable, on whichever device an employee chooses to use, the modern workforce can be equipped to be more productive, customer centric and adaptable. Using technology smarter provides employees with the most valuable commodity of all – time. This released time can then support improved service delivery where it is most needed. Sopra Steria has helped councils like Eastbourne Borough Council to review their working practices and to develop new more agile operating models that both reduce cost and improve the delivery of services through a better use of available technologies.

Delivering through efficient and informed processes

Any service improvement plan must consider the process layer and how this can be improved through the appropriate implementation of technology. Emerging technologies can improve processes and how services are delivered; these include these key technologies:

  • Machine Learning – to help provide a more personalised experience which is agnostic of service delivery channels
  • Micro Services Architecture – changes the way services are designed to remove the complexity of large system redevelopment
  • API First – provides a more dynamic approach to systems integration

The emergence of Artificial Intelligent based technologies including robotics, cognitive computing, machine learning, natural language processing and data processing techniques give local government new options for radically improving existing and new processes.

The opportunity such technologies provides can allow local government to re-envisage processes – so rather than just replicate from old technology to new, they can ask ‘if we were to do the process today how would we do it.’ Sopra Steria is currently introducing this thinking and technology to help Shepway Council to improve its Revenues and Benefits processes. The benefits that the Council will see are a reduction in delivery cost and the ability to free resources to concentrate on more complex cases.

Providing simple access to services

In today’s fast digital environment local government needs to be adaptable and offer services which are simple, easy to use and meet the needs of a changing society that is increasingly comfortable with new technologies. The growth of smartphone usage, for example, has opened up new opportunities for citizens to engage with the local authority, increasing the ability to create small consumable services that are smarter and more targeted towards citizen needs. Using large scale legacy technologies to deliver services is something which is no longer cost, or service efficient with the technology typically constraining which services can be made available.

Citizens are becoming more tech savvy and expect quick and easy access to services, just as they do from other sectors. Local services need to become smarter and personalised as much as possible to allow users to quickly access the information and/or service needed. Sopra Steria has supported the residents of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to interact more efficiently with the council by introducing ‘my Hinckley’ web access. This recognises the resident by the use of their post code, and then personalises the content of the website to provide only relevant information.

Introducing digital services at scale

It can be seen from the few examples above that there is no doubt that technology has a significant role to play in helping local government achieve both savings and service improvements, but it’s introduction is best considered within a strategic approach to best realise the potential benefits of delivering digital services at scale.

Councils must begin to think differently from the traditional approach and should see external suppliers as partners tackling shared challenges. They shouldn’t be afraid to embrace a more agile and outcome-defined service delivery model that incorporates both internal and external skills and capabilities working towards common goals.

Combining new digital technologies with innovative thinking will help forward-thinking councils to fundamentally break the mould of traditional ways of working for the benefit of their customers who are ready for change and are themselves embracing new technologies in their everyday lives.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

This blog was also published as a techUK Insight article on 9 September, 2016

Putting the ‘soft’ into software: lessons from Agile Cymru 2016

I had the opportunity to attend the 2-day Agile Cymru 2016 conference in Cardiff, which I grabbed with both hands. I was lucky enough to have co-presented here with Margaret Morgan in 2015, and was keen to experience the workshops and speakers on offer, which promised to be an eclectic mix.

The Agile Cymru conference attracts speakers from all disciplines and countries, and it was a particular treat to hear the keynote speakers on both days: Dr Kitrina Douglas and Stevyn Colgan.

Dr Douglas is an independent researcher who specialises in identity development, physical activity and mental health; this interest has grown out of her experience as a successful amateur and professional tournament golfer. She has won the European Championships, the English Open Championships and was a member of the first winning European Solheim Cup team.

Stevyn Colgan is an ex-policeman, author, artist, songwriter and public speaker; he has written TV scripts for Dr. Who and is a visiting lecturer at several UK universities.

 Dr Douglas spoke about the importance of the acknowledgement of alternative narratives to any given ‘dominant narrative’ (personal or cultural). The stories that we accept and tell ourselves and each other about who we are can limit our potential for happiness and fulfilment. For example, the narrative “I have to be the best, so I must sacrifice my time to practice and more practice”, is not the only narrative of champions. Her research, involving many conversations with sports men and women, has demonstrated that other stories can also be told, for example “I enjoy my golf and love the opportunities it gives me to travel”,(amongst many others). Interestingly, our actions, behaviours and stories shape the way the brain develops.

 Stevyn Colgan spoke about his experience as a policeman who sought to change the way in which policing is approached. He spent his time looking for ways to prevent crimes rather than to maximise the number of his arrests. As a policeman on the beat, this included talking to people to find out why some areas were more prone to crime than others, and arranging a dog show on a troublesome estate in order to bring the young and the old into contact.

The ‘commit a crime > get arrested > go to court > get sentenced’ narrative is creatively and effectively challenged by the idea of prevention by addressing circumstances and other factors.

But what has all this got to do with agile software and systems delivery?

My answer is this:

One of the things that agile seeks to do is to maintain the essential connection between business value and product delivery through the creation of high performing teams who deliver iteratively and continuously for as long (or as short) as needed. Adaptation and responsiveness to change is essential. Dr. Douglas and Stevyn Colgan are strongly favouring individuals and interactions over processes and tools (as per the Agile Manifesto), and are demonstrating with real results the benefit of so doing. This is directly related to creating and delivering software, and reminds us to ask continually about the value and purpose of what we are building.

The transformation of our working lives through the application of agile principles in software development is taking us deeper into areas of personal and team development.

This is borne out by the high proportion of ‘soft’ skill presentations and workshops at Agile Cymru 2016, where sessions such as “A manager’s guide to working with self organising teams”, “Empathy from agility”, “How to grow beautiful teams”, “Empowering people through play” sit alongside sessions like “Strategy Deployment for the Agile Enterprise”, “How deep are your tests?”  and Joseph Pelrine’s “Psychological aspects of estimating” (a scientific study of the interaction between system data and human behaviour).

References to specific tools or technologies are minimal. The chief areas of focus are: how to maximise team/personal empowerment and how to ‘scale agile’. These reflect the kinds of shifts that agile principles require of businesses in order that systems and software can deliver most value, most quickly.

I have to give a mention to Adrian Panucci, Matt Roadknight and Eben Halford, who delivered the most interesting, creative and insightful session of the conference. They addressed the challenge of ‘Dealing with Evolutionary Change’ head-on. In short, successful organisational change involves everyone at some point moving out of their comfort zone, across an edge, and into a new reality. This experience was cleverly facilitated for the participants, and allowed us to get a deeper insight into the personal and cultural edges we need to work together to move through to create new ways of working.

This focus on the ‘soft’ aspect of software delivery is changing the conversations and interactions we have at work every day. This, to me, represents the essence of agile and I am excited to see where the journey takes us from here.

All visuals above attributed to Fran O’Hara

Cloud adoption consideration #5: Drive adoption

This is the fifth and final post of a series of blog posts discussing the five main considerations critical to successful cloud adoption by enterprises.  If you missed them, the previous posts are here.

Today’s topic is about how to make sure that all your hard work is appreciated.

Let’s imagine that we’ve got a clear strategy, put the technology fundamentals in place and we’ve refined our operating model to ensure we can scale and industrialise our cloud-service consumption.  We can’t fail, right?  Well – even with all these necessary conditions in place, our experience shows that the consumers of cloud-services in your organisation may still not consume.  There can be many reasons for this – gaps in cloud awareness, bias, internal politics etc.  The solutions lie in good old change management techniques such as communications at multiple levels, education and briefing sessions, stakeholder management and capture and publication of good metrics to show what is really going on.

The key point is that you cannot assume that you can “build it and they will come” – adoption is not a given and the barriers to adoption of cloud services can be subtle and often invisible, so a metrics capture regime and publication is required to surface them.

Recommendation

Our recommendation is to consider these mechanisms to drive adoption as part of the initial cloud programme structure and scope, but also “bake in” as an inherent part of the operating model revisions that we’ve discussed previously.

One technique to drive early adoption is to find and nurture evangelists with candidate “early adopter” projects and this is an approach we see very often.  The trick is making the leap from this initial activity to broader mass adoption in your enterprise that is self-sustaining – i.e., doesn’t need outside influence from the cloud programme to keep the flywheel going.

Wrapping up

In this series of blog posts we’ve outlined five of the top factors that we feel are critical to successfully realising the oft-quoted promises of cloud computing for large enterprises.  There are technology challenges for sure, not least of which is a whole bunch of new skills required in a discipline that is rapidly changing all the time, but fundamentally this is an exercise in change management and we believe in these fundamental building blocks as the basis for a comprehensive strategy.

Of course, there are more than five things to get right – and infinite ways to fail – but that’s what makes it interesting!  Thankfully, our experience is that we are past the phase of disputing the benefits of cloud computing – now the opportunities are clear and it’s all about good execution.  We’d love to help you with your journey!


If you want to read more about this and the other four considerations for successful enterprise cloud adoption, have a look at our white paper.

What are your thoughts about successful cloud adoption by large enterprises? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.


Beamap is the cloud consultancy subsidiary of Sopra Steria

Accelerating my career – taking next steps with Sopra Steria

I’m a Junior PMO Analyst in Belfast, and I’ve recently joined the Sopra Steria Graduate Programme. Previously, I was a graduate project manager with Hewlett Packard Enterprise working on a range of hardware and software infrastructure projects. I am really looking forward to learning and working with the Regional Government team in Belfast and this short blog outlines my experiences to date in my new role.

The beginning: Edinburgh

Monday 4th July 2016 finally arrived – a date to remember for me and 32 other graduates beginning their career with Sopra Steria in various streams including Project Management, Java, Testing, Business Analysis, UI, SAS and GIS.

The induction was a great start to joining the company. ‘Day One’ allowed us to gain an in-depth overview of our new company – which markets we are active in, the services and solutions we provide and highlighted the opportunities for us to develop within the company. But, more importantly, it allowed us to get to know our future colleagues on a personal level as these will be who we’ll work alongside for years to come.

There was a social element too – and it was great to have an opportunity to get to know new colleagues in a more relaxed environment, as well as to talk informally to various managers away from the office.

There was a real focus on enabling us as new starters to meet a range of current staff and previous graduates. I learned a lot from asking questions about their roles and the clients that they are working with – a great benefit as they were able to give examples of real-world problems that Sopra Steria solve. During this on-boarding week, we also attended numerous instructor-led courses such as Agile Methodologies, Testing and Corporate Structure – a great foundation to understand more about the way Sopra Steria works and its approach to client engagement. Towards the end of the week, everyone received an overview of their next eight weeks in terms of scheduled training. Mine is a mix of on-the-job learning and understanding the core project management fundamentals taught within the Association of Project Management Professionals study guide.

As we said goodbye to our new colleagues and friends and I realised that I had successfully completed my first working week as an employee of Sopra Steria!

Next step: a warm Belfast welcome

As with all new starters, we returned to our contractual offices for our second week of work. For me that’s Belfast and the office is located right in the city centre and a 5-minute walk from the train station. The first few days focused on getting to know my new Belfast colleagues and more about our business in Northern Ireland. As I was being introduced I thought “I am never going to be able to remember everyone’s name!” But thankfully, it’s only taken me five weeks to overcome this. The Belfast office is home to around 80 people, but there are quite a few based on client sites so I am still getting to know new people who only occasionally work in the office.

When I was in Edinburgh during the on-boarding week I learned that the Belfast office and staff had the reputation for a sweet tooth and that any time they visited there were always cakes, buns and biscuits on offer. I found this very much the case! In the short spell I have been in the Belfast office we buy buns and cakes to celebrate pretty much anything – whether it’s a promotion, leaving party or someone’s birthday and just in case we are running short on these events there is a monthly bake-off between members of staff for bragging rights in the office. There have been rumours of a graduate bake-off happening in the near future, but I see myself eating cakes rather than making them!

As I continued to find my feet within the project management team I was gradually given an overview of each regional government client we work with and invited to attend meetings regarding upcoming projects which gave a realistic view of the projects I would be getting involved in. These face-to-face meetings are a great benefit as they allow me to see where various departments and teams within Sopra Steria fit and come together to complete projects, they are also a good way to meet the key decision-makers from a customer perspective and introduce yourself.

Everyone has been very friendly, helpful and welcoming. I’ve really valued the many offers of support from across the team and guidance to help build my new career. I’ve had some key pieces of advice:

  1. make the most of any opportunity that presents itself
  2. be responsible for driving my own career
  3. don’t be afraid to contribute by sharing ideas or thoughts on promoting or enhancing Sopra Steria. It’s great to know that at such an early stage in my career and being so new into the business that my opinion counts.

I’ve been assigned work on two different local government projects and I’m really looking forward to getting involved and understanding these accounts in more detail. Project Management is very much a learning through experience stream, reading books and attending courses is beneficial – but you really learn by doing.

I’m also really impressed with Sopra Steria’s policy on developing and enhancing employees’ talents by encouraging attendance at workshops and training courses to attain professional certification. I’m attending a 3-day Project Management course in mid-September and I am looking forward to meeting up with the other project management new starters from other organisations, while enhancing my knowledge and skills in this field.

My first six weeks at Sopra Steria have flown by – it only seems like yesterday I was travelling to Edinburgh for my induction. In this time, I’ve really settled into my new surroundings and role and am extremely excited for the future – on a personal level for continuing to develop my project management skills and for Sopra Steria as a company continuing to work on innovative and exciting solutions for our clients.


If you, or someone you know, has graduated recently and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme?