What are the barriers to Digital Transformation?

In a previous blog post, I unpacked the latest buzz word in the tech world, digital transformation, and what it means for businesses in the UK. But while many UK businesses are investigating and adopting digital technology, others are experiencing challenges. So what are these challenges and how are the early adopters tackling these issues? Sopra Steria surveyed 120 FTSE 500 companies to find out.

Our research showed that 84% of businesses currently think they could be doing more with digital. This shows there is a real appetite in the UK to try and get the most out of digital. However, it also highlights the complex challenges that lie behind succeeding with digital. The most common barriers to digital success were integration with existing systems and infrastructure (27%), management culture (26%) and skills gaps – particularly in the design phases of a programme (16%).

To overcome such barriers, nearly two thirds of businesses were using external partners or third parties to help them deploy their digital projects. Our research showed that whilst the use of third parties was primarily to help fill the skills gap, it also provided additional benefits such as stronger governance. It also, on the whole, led to more successful transformation programmes.

Interestingly – and encouragingly – once organisations had overcome the initial barriers and had taken the decision to initiate a digital programme, the implementation ran in line with expectations – something very rarely heard of in the IT industry. Delivery times were quick, with 83% of businesses saying they were pleased with the pace at which digital projects were being delivered.

Right now, 52% of businesses have at least one digital project underway. These are the innovators and experimenters who will lead the way in Digital Transformation and win early competitive advantage. They have shown the way to overcoming the barriers to digital transformation success. Those who fail to follow will fall quickly behind.  Doing nothing is no longer an option.

For further insight, watch our video interview with industry analysts Kable or view our infographic.

Is ITIL dead?

Why ITIL must adapt if it is to remain relevant in the Digital era

ITIL is dead! A contentious view? Almost certainly, and I don’t think I’d need to throw a stone too far in any direction before I hit somebody that fervently disagrees with me.  So why do I say this?  One word – Digital.

Don’t get me wrong, ITIL still has its place, and many, many organisations are still using it just fine, thank you very much. But the writing is on the wall.  Digital is here to stay, and slowly but surely (and in some cases very quickly!) we are beginning to witness a wholesale shift in enterprise technology strategy from traditional, legacy IT service delivery to a model that is embracing the Cloud (in all its guises), platform and device mobility, automation (everywhere!), and focus that places customer experience front and foremost on the list of priorities.

Whilst ITIL can and does still enable the delivery and support of these technology objectives, it is rapidly being considered ‘clunky’, and organisations are increasingly seeking to adopt more flexible operational governance that aligns more sensitively with the change cadence required, nay dictated, by such advances.

Digital technologies, by their very nature, tend to be fast moving and highly volatile. Development of these technologies predicates an equally fast moving service lifecycle to ensure that customer expectations are both met and maintained in a customer environment that now demands swift and constant improvement and innovation.

Agile is one part of the industry’s response to this challenge.

The recent proliferation of tools and techniques to support Agile delivery frameworks is an indicator of the steady rise in adoption of iterative work cadences, and the reality is that many traditional ITSM framework implementations simply aren’t geared up to support this approach.  In many cases, ITSM actively works to impede the delivery of change in an agile manner, and this creates a very real dilemma for IT service management leaders.

The crux of this dilemma is as follows:

  1. Many of the core ITIL processes have been designed to protect production operations from the impact of change, and manage any impact of that change accordingly
  2. Agile (and supporting frameworks) have, however, been designed to increase the velocity of change, and the flexibility by which it is prioritised

As every Change Manager will no doubt surely confirm, increasing the rate of change (potentially to daily or even hourly increments) can put major stresses on a process not necessarily designed to work at this pace. Equally, the concept of ‘trust’, so fundamental to the Agile methodology, may sound great in theory, but is not so alluring in practice when you’re the Head of IT Operations with SLAs to meet and audit controls to adhere to.

In the Waterfall world change, to a degree, works coherently with ITIL and the phased approach to delivery (design, build, test), gives service management functions the time and space to perform the necessary activity required to protect service.  In an Agile world, however, this paradigm is challenged, and what were very well structured, methodical, and well understood governance controls, suddenly become a blocker to the realisation of business value (at the pace with which the business wants to realise it). In some cases this can happen almost overnight, as businesses take the decision to cut to iterative software development methodologies in a big bang approach, often with scant regard for the impact on service management and operations functions.  Almost instantly we witness the clash of worlds (Old versus New).  And word to the wise my friends, the business is normally championing those in the New camp.

It is at this point that we hit the dilemma.  What takes priority – the rapid realisation of business value through the swift release of change, or the protection of production systems (and thus the customer experience) from potential availability or performance degradation as a result of change?

The answer depends heavily on the type of organisation and system/service being changed, but of course the real answer is that both are equally important.  The issue, however, is that Agile is considered new, revolutionary, and progressive (it isn’t really but that’s beside the point). ITIL, on the other hand, is considered by many to be overly bureaucratic and a constraint to the realisation of business value. And remember, perception is reality, especially when those doing the perceiving also happen to be holding the purse strings.

The result is that IT service leaders, in the face of a business strategy that promotes a fast pace of change that it is perceived to be constrained by service management control, quickly become guilty by association. An inability to respond quickly to this challenge will only compound the issue.  The next logical step from there is the disintermediation of IT altogether, as business change leaders look to more flexible ways to deliver value to their customers, unhindered by legacy constraint.

To avoid this scenario IT service leaders, and the processes that they adopt, must adapt. Long term proponents of existing models must wake up to this notion. This change train is most definitely coming and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.  We have a lot of baggage to carry, so getting on the train will be hard, but it’s also absolutely necessary (I think I may have stretched that analogy a little thin).

Thus ITIL, whilst perhaps not dead per se, is certainly badly wounded and in desperate need of triage.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson is famously quoted as saying, nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Well now is the time to get enthusiastic, because if enough of the community are, perhaps ITIL might just survive after all.

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

2020: The Digital Employee Experience

As organisations adopt new ways of working and technology to increase their competitiveness, the employee experience – the interaction between an organisation and its people – is radically changing. So what might the employee experience be like in 2020? Here are some ideas…

Agile loyalty: The ability of an organisation to respond effectively to rapidly changing market conditions is a key source of advantage in today’s global economy. For example the sharing platforms created by digital disruptors like Airbnb or Uber have helped lower supplier costs and increased customer choice.

Arguably this sharing platform capability could be developed further to create other forms of competitive advantage such as enabling collaborative or even competing organisations to share their human resources on-demand. In 2020 an employee may be expected and supported by their parent organisation to work in different areas of the same sector as a form of short-term resource exchange that delivers mutual benefit for all participating organisations.

Traditional and digital integration: In B2C markets today there is a strong focus on integrating the traditional and digital experience of a brand to create seamless, insightful customer offerings anywhere, anytime. The adoption of Bluetooth beacons in stores to personalise the physical shopping experience as a complement to digital channels is an example of this omnichannel approach.

For such integration to be commercially successful the employee experience needs to blend offline and online work tools together effectively. The use of smart devices like tablets by shop floor employees to access stock information instantly to support the sales process demonstrates the positive impact of such change. Yet as digital technologies mature, such integration is likely to accelerate further – for example van manufacturers are now prototyping drone-equipped delivery vehicles. In 2020, an employee may need to have the skills to work successfully with a range of old and new technologies integrated together for customer benefit.  

The trust economy: The digital employee experience is fundamentally changing the intrinsic relationship – the bond or trust – between an organisation and its employees. Driven by disruptive factors such as the globalisation of the labour market and proliferation of social media, the need to have aligned cultural values between these stakeholders is critical to realising the advantages of employee self empowerment and agility.  

Today, many organisations are making the public move from a corporate social responsibility approach to the combined goals of social, environment and economic sustainability – a shared set of values with their employees. In 2020, such trust may be essential to the employee experience with an organisation communicating daily updates to its people about its performance against its sustainability goals to help intrinsically motivate their performance.

If you would like more information about how digital employee experience design can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Disruptive Technologies UK 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Disruptive Technologies UK 2016 event in London and found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

The event was the first annual UK conference on disruptive innovation and included a combination of keynotes, workshops and networking sessions. Different speakers, from academia, industry and government institutions shared the stage and presented new ideas and theories.

The event revolved around the idea of fourth industrial revolution. In the last two hundred years, three industrial revolutions shaped the way we live and work. These revolutions have been initiated by major disruptive innovations, such as the introduction of steam power, electricity and IT systems.

Nowadays, we are on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by cyber physical systems.

The emergence of cyber physical systems, thanks to big data, robotics, Internet of Things, drones and advanced biology, holds the potential to revolutionise the world as we know it.

The Government has already invested billions of pounds in Catapult centres and the Innovate UK agency. This funding aims to create the right business environment to nurture and sustain the numerous new commercial ventures in this area.

The morning session focused on how the fourth industrial revolution can disrupt buildings and shape the cities of the future. Smart cities are not only connected and highly technological cities, but they should be analysed using a wider, holistic approach.

Citizens should be at the centre and the aim must be to improve the quality of life.

Local councils are already embracing this revolution and for example Cambridgeshire developed an API from which businesses can use the data collected by the council. Smart buildings will be a fundamental block of the cities of the future and thus the traditional concept of buildings must be re-thought. The overall experience of living and working in predefined places will change and technology, along with new workforce management ways, will allow people to work from anywhere, at any time.

The afternoon kicked off with elevator pitches from different tech start-ups which are looking to solve problems around parking, product design, teleconferencing and passports on mobile devices. After, two case studies have been presented. The first on Tekcapital, a company who invests in University intellectual property and makes it accessible to private companies, and the second on Epicardio, an Oxford based startup which developed a real-time 3D simulation of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Electrocardiography, set to revolutionise academia and hospitals.

The next talk explored the concept of bitcoin and blockchain. The blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin, carries many expectations on how it will impact the financial industry. However, many barriers, such as the lack of national and international regulatory frameworks, along with the lack of technical skills, are slowing its integration in our society. Another barrier to bitcoin becoming mainstream is the vast amount of energy required to power the pools of computers used to mine bitcoins.

The day was wrapped up by two final talks on financial inclusion and on how to holistically look at the technological landscape and not pick a particular innovation as the only “winner”.

The ideas shown and the great panel of speakers effectively conveyed the significant opportunities that the fourth industrial revolution carries, impacting businesses, people and government.

Disruption can only happen if people and communities are buying into the benefits that technological advancement can bring

For this happen, a change in thinking is required, starting to ask why instead of the how.

If you want to know more about some of the technology trends disrupting our future, why not read what we have to say about the digital horizon and smart cities or contact me by email.

Fundraising for Byte Night: supporting Action for Children

One bike. Three men.

Our challenge? To cycle for 24 hours non-stop to raise money and awareness for a charity called Action for Children who support the 80,000 homeless children in the UK. On Friday 3rd August at 4pm we settled down for what was going to be a fantastic experience of tiredness, camaraderie, humour, shouting, generosity, through rain, wind and sunshine.

Back in May when I first suggested a charity cycle challenge as part of our Byte Night fundraising I couldn’t have guessed how much support we would need and receive; where do you start? Picking the team was easy as when I asked John French, Scotty Davidson who sits opposite jumped in and said “I’ll do that!” Next up, venue. Sure we could have done this in the office but that would have limited scope for donations and sounded somewhat boring.

Edinburgh is a fantastic city and every year in August the population swells so much during the Fringe and International Festivals that I thought it would give us a great opportunity to get as many people as possible to see us and donate. With the main festival venues centred around the Royal Mile which is soooo busy we decided on the West End. Busy enough but not too busy to give us any security concerns.

Next came sourcing a bike, informing the local council, clothing, posters, food, drinks, visitors (for support, security and supplies). Aside from friends and family I’ll get the thanks out of the way now. Massive thanks to:

  • Edinburgh Leisure for the spin bike
  • Brewlab for a couple of cases of water
  • Starbucks for breakfast coffee and muffins, and then more coffee and treats
  • A very kind unnamed woman who after watching us from a nearby bar for around 3 hours suddenly appeared with Big Mac Meals for the 3 of us. She’d asked the bar if she could pay them to bring us a bacon roll for breakfast but they said no – not particularly charitable of them but they will remain nameless
  • And finally to my main partners in crime John and Scotty for helping to organise and keeping us all going

And so on to the main event

After picking up the bike and my team mates we quickly set up and settled in for a long night. The weather was unkind for the first few hours with intermittent heavy rain showers but we were soon visited by colleagues leaving the office for the day. The cycling plan was to do 2 hours on the bike then swap while those off the bike shook the buckets and improved their patter. It’s amazing how quickly you lose any sense of inhibition and start shouting out for the cause to attract attention for donations.

 I don’t plan to give too much of a blow by blow account but will instead pick out what I consider some highlights :

  • During rain showers we used the weather to our advantage by shaming those sheltering in shop doorways to consider those unfortunate children who would have no such shelter overnight
  • Free coffee from a bar across the street who had no idea what we were doing but saw that we were clearly raising money for charity and had already been there for a good few hours
  • Chatting with a homeless young lad who had previously been helped by the charity and was now in a hostel which was helping him get his life back on track
  • Meeting other homeless people that had very little to their name but still offered some chat and some coppers as they know how hard homelessness is
  • Seeing the city move through a whole 24 hours from one fixed spot; this was fascinating watching it ease from early to late evening to very early morning to morning to afternoon and the different people this brought across our path. We watched and chatted to people heading out for the evening, heading home and then dropping by again in the morning just to see if we were still there!
  • Being visited by colleagues late into the night with smiles, food and supplementary shouting at passers by to spare some change
  • A young man who gave us £40 which we said was too much but he insisted as he’d apparently won £9,000 at the casino the night before!
  • Lots of children wanting to pop some change in the bucket having harangued their parents/grandparents for money to help us

24cycle_2Our fundraising target was a few hundred pounds – but we raised over £2,000!!!

What an amazing experience and what an amazing result! But what’s next?

Tonight, Friday 7 October is Byte Night and a group of us from the Edinburgh office will be sleeping out under the stars to raise more money to help fund projects and services run by Action for Children.

It’s not too late to support us – if you’d like to make a donation please visit our justgiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/soprasteriateam

What crazy things have you done to fund raise for charity? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Competitive growth driven by sustainability and digital technology

The linear economy

Two centuries ago the first industrial revolution established a linear approach to economic and social growth. This linear economy, still in place today, is based on three different steps: make, use, and dispose.

Its founding principle is that raw materials are copious, easily sourced from Mother Nature and cheap to dispose of.

The linear consumption model fostered significant social and economic improvement around the world. However, natural resources are not infinite and are becoming scarcer and thus more expensive to be sourced.

Trends such as population growth, urbanisation, climate change and pollution, increase pressure on available resources and, combined with the linear economic model, create a significant amount of waste, which is expensive to manage and dispose of.

This waste could actually be a valuable resource, but for that to happen, supply chains, companies and products need to be designed accordingly.

The circular economy

In the last years, a new theory, looking into supplanting the linear economy, has been developed: the circular economy.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is “restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times”. The idea is to create “closed loop” systems, where materials are kept in use as long as possible and then, at the end of the life cycle, resources are not disposed, but recovered and reused.

The circular economy is based on industrial systems designed to reduce waste and optimise energy consumption as well. These circular systems need new supply chain networks, new product design and the introduction of new as-a-service business models.

As such, this new approach not only focuses on recycling, but considers the triple bottom line: economic, social, and environmental performance.

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Benefits of the circular economy encompass the reduced cost of remanufacturing goods, the significant savings in terms of energy usage, the mitigation of the risk of raw materials price volatility, and a more resilient local economy which translates into a better social impact on local communities.

An analysis drawn up by McKinsey estimates that by 2025 circular systems could add £1 trillion to the global economy and that the EU manufacturing sector could realise materials cost savings up to £600 billion per year.

Digital technologies: The hub of the circular economy

Digital technologies have been identified as one of the drivers that can enable the shift towards a circular economy.

Information technology can be used to trace materials through the supply chain and create self-regulated systems able to optimise product utilisation. For example, RFID technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) allow the tracking of materials, recording their usage, cost and remaining available life cycle.

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Additionally, IT can be integrated into buildings, making them “smart”. In this way energy and resource usage can be monitored and planned efficiently, providing a positive impact on the environment and significant savings to the user.

Social media platforms and mobile technology can connect users with businesses, giving them access to products and services in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

An example of this is the sharing economy, where resources are shared and used for their entire lifecycle among different users. AirBnb, Zipcar and bike sharing services are great examples of this.

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These services, paired with big data analytics, can provide valuable insights on products’ usage and customer behaviour, allowing companies to design tailored services to users’ needs, such as predictive maintenance and iterative upgrades.                               

IT plays a major role in this circular revolution. Digital Technologies act as the main hub for the circular economy and the sharing economy, from social media, through IoT, to energy consumption platforms and big data analytics.

Sopra Steria is at the forefront of innovation for a sustainable future thanks to our end to end service offering, from consulting to systems integration; our in-depth knowledge of the public, energy and transport sectors; and its expertise in Big Data, Cloud, Mobility, Cyber Security, and Connected Objects. Through our Smart City offering, Sopra Steria aims to create innovative, more efficient and service-oriented cities. This can be translated to company level with specific services and products tailored on your company needs.

What are your thoughts about the circular economy? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.


1 https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation-Towards-the-Circular-Economy-vol.1.pdf

2 https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy

Why we need to encourage more women-owned businesses

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of speaking at an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting for Women & Enterprise, along with my colleague Graham Roberts. It was exciting and inspiring to be surrounded by so many women leaders and entrepreneurs, even more so because we were brought together to contribute to an important challenge: how to unlock the estimated £10.1bn of economic growth potential in women’s proactive participation in our economy. More on that in a moment. First, a pop quiz:

Name five well-known female entrepreneurs

If you’re like me, you’ll find that difficult. The names we tend to hear about most – Zuckerberg, Musk, Jobs, Gates, Brin, Page – all men. Where are the women?

These men in Tech are inspiring. We admire them. We hold them up, along with sports, movie and rock stars, as aspirational figures in society. And some of us, especially kids and young adults, might be dreaming of becoming like them some day. But what happens if you’re a girl or young woman and you don’t see very many women in business or tech to aspire to? I think it puts you at a disadvantage. People tend to believe they can do things if others like them have already done them.

Of course, women entrepreneurs are out there. Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles…and in our (Tech) industry Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, Ann Budge and Alison Newell (all of who form part of the Sopra Steria story, by the way). We just tend to hear less about them.

Visibility matters

Just as with the number of women in top executive positions, the number of women-owned businesses is still too small, and those that do exist don’t seem to get the same visibility and attention. I love chocolate and have been a fan of Montezuma brand chocolate for a while. But I didn’t know Montezuma was co-founded by a woman, Helen Patterson, until she got up to speak at the APPG reception about her experience starting the company.

Does it matter that my chocolate is made by a company co-founded by a woman? Not when I’m eating it, no; but in the background, somewhere in my subconscious mind, it does. It contributes to the unconscious ideas and beliefs I have about women. The concept of unconscious bias is an area of study that’s getting a lot of attention, and focus from corporate diversity programmes. It suggests that we all develop beliefs about the world we live in that we may not even be aware of on a conscious level: what certain groups of people are like, what people who look like that are like, what people like us and what people who are not like us are capable of. For example, if someone tells you they have been to see their GP, you are likely to imagine that they saw a man, not a woman, even though there are many women GPs. So knowing that my chocolate comes from a woman-owned business might help me chip away at the unconscious biases I have and build up a picture of women running businesses.

Sopra Steria is an example of a company that has seen real business benefits to increasing the number of women in more senior positions, and improving their visibility. In the last few years, the number of women on our UK board has jumped to just under 40%. At the same time, many of our senior women are getting involved in gender equality initiatives within and outside the company, raising awareness of the issue and seeking to improve it. And we have noticed something occurring simultaneously: more women are coming forward, asking for career advice from the women they can now see at the top, and joining in the conversation about diversity in tech and business; many are saying,

“I have something to offer and I’m ready to do more.”

Women entrepreneurs – and would-be entrepreneurs – would benefit from a similar increase in visibility of role models. Right now in the UK, women start new businesses at half the rate that men do, and the gap widens as businesses grow. There are a lot of reasons for this – unequal access to finance, the persistent cultural expectation that women will continue to bear more caring and domestic responsibilities than men are but two. Giving women more entrepreneurial role models that look like them will not solve everything, but it’s worth including it in the mix of initiatives that we need to start on now.

The UK economy is missing out on over £10bn by not addressing the challenges women face in starting their own businesses, according to a recent study by Facebook. We can’t afford to lose out on that growth. Let’s make sure we’re doing everything we can to inspire, encourage and practically support the women who will create new businesses – as well as the next generation, the girls in school and college. Shouting about the examples of successful women entrepreneurs already out there is a good start.

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

The meeting of the APPG for Women & Enterprise took place on 12 September 2016.