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.

2020: Retail as a Service?

Digital disruption is typically seen as a form of “waterfall innovation” – where a new entrant unseats legacy players by adopting a radical new approach to service delivery using technology (like Amazon leveraging its own cloud based e-commerce platform capabilities to beat incumbent Retailers on convenience and price). Yet a challenge to this view is that such disruptors are actually applying a form of “agile innovation”, where through incrementally developing their own live services they gradually transform and re-shape a market – a detailed look at Amazon finds its approach to customer service improvement is not disruptive but iterative; where over the last ten to fifteen years it’s used its own net revenues for R&D activities (not for short-term profit) to continually drive massive grow.

The implication is that a Retailer can exploit the competitive advantages of digital disruption by using an iterative service delivery approach – so what could be the benefits and challenges of this “Retail As A Service” model? Here are some ideas…

OpEx Funded Innovation – A major blocker to Retailers investing in digital transformation is that it can involve significant upfront capital expenditure to deliver a return in investment that is difficult to forecast and realise. Applying an “as a service” approach, an alternative could be to deliver small, incremental improvements using a portion of Retailer’s margin earned during the same financial year. No big financial risks, the Retailer can only invest what it earns from the market with the added benefit that such OpEx funded innovation can rapidly pivot to changing customer demands. Yet any slicing of margin will impact a Retailer’s profitability – its owners or shareholders would need to tolerate a different form of financial risk to make this approach acceptable; reduced, variable short-term profit for potential significant long-term gains.

Zero Physical Asset Operating Model – Could the application of a service-based approach to delivery be extended beyond the traditional areas of IT and back office transformation into other parts of a Retailer’s operating model? For example, a Retailer could run a “zero physical asset” business; where front-end services like stores, supply chain management, even sales staff resources are provisioned on a pay-as-you-go basis. A key benefit would be that the Retailer doesn’t run the risk of owning fixed term assets like property or technology that may become commercially unviable or obsolete. However, this would create new risks – a key one being that the Retailer becomes wholly dependent on other service providers’ availability and ability to innovate to meet its competitive needs.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

The journey towards government digital transformation: three years of data highlight the scale of change

Digital transformation is the buzz phrase of the moment – the only way to stay relevant in 2017. In January 2013, the government gave itself 400 days to transform 25 major services, making them simpler, clearer and faster to use. Fast forward to February 2017 and the priority is even more ambitious – to change the culture and ways of working of the public sector. With technology as an enabler.

Truly transforming government through the power of digital technologies will inevitably take time.

Over the last three years we have surveyed nearly 4,500 civil servants from across Whitehall and beyond. Increasing numbers of civil servants have told us that digital is having an impact on their work.

So by 2017, 88% of civil servants were directly experiencing the changes produced by technology and new ways of working (an increase of nearly 20 percentage points since 2015).

How do civil servants understand and experience digital transformation?

Transformation is needed to keep up with changing user demands. And technology is delivering more efficient and effective operating models. These changes are well understood by civil servants, who told us that digital meant, beyond anything else, the restructuring of the way that public services are delivered. In previous years channel shift and improving online services were the most prominent descriptions (reflecting the emphasis then placed on digital by default).

This pace of change can be threatening, especially when the civil service is far smaller than in 2010 (there has been a reduction of around 19% in just seven years). However. three quarters of the civil servants we surveyed said digital ways of working were having a positive impact on them and an even more positive impact on the citizens they serve (a response that has remained relatively stable over the last three years).

What conditions must exist to achieve digital transformation?

Technology is an enabler of transformation. Technology is not the outcome. It is a component of change that must be exploited. Transformation of government requires senior civil service buy in. But you also need adequate resourcing and teams with the skills to set and keep the pace.

Lack of resources and skills have consistently been identified by civil servants over the last three years as the most significant barriers to transformation.

The government has plans to attract, recruit and retain specialists in an increasingly competitive marketplace, through improvements to career paths and reward structures, new learning and development programmes and a data science campus and accelerator programme. But there is significant room for improvement.

In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to change.

Civil servants called out acute needs for service design, agile delivery and user research skills. And nearly half – 43% of respondents – told us that they personally had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6 percentage points since 2015).

What will digital transformation look like over the next three years?

The last twelve months have seen a significant drop in the number of civil servants saying that new restructured services and online channels were live or about to go live (down 16 and 19 percentage points respectively). We do not see this as a negative finding. Rather there has been a recalibration in the way that civil servants think about digital transformation.

The ultimate objective of government is a more secure, coherent and agile government, able to reduce the costs of building, changing and running services.

Civil servants recognise that this requires deeper and far reaching organisational change and new operating models, budget structures and the end of siloed decision-making hierarchies. And this takes time.

In the coming weeks we will be going into more detail about the survey findings and giving our views on ways of addressing barriers to change. In the meantime, you can read more about the survey on our website. We also want to encourage a debate with civil servants and others with an interest in government, so please leave your comment below.

“AI Neutrality”: A proposed manifesto for artificial intelligence user experience design

What makes a great artificial intelligence (AI) driven user experience? Here are my thoughts…

1. Design AI services end to end – the disruptors that have transformed the travel, holiday and retail sectors over the last twenty years succeeded by focusing aggressively on improving their own single channel online experience. AI user experience design must also adopt this strict one channel approach to service delivery – every user journey should be simple, relevant, no fuss and always getting better because it’s being delivered by an artificial intelligence end to end.

2. Go beyond mobile  The interconnectivity of AI enables any environment or physical object to positively affect all of our five senses (such as connected home technology like heating and lighting devices that responds to a user’s mood). AI design should always be pushing to transcend the user interface constraints of existing service platforms (particularly the visual and audio experience of mobile) to truly reflect and improve how we use our senses to interact with the world around us.

3. Addressable media is a key user journey –  AI has the potential to utilise a complex range of historic and contextual customer data to deliver targeted, personalised advertising – for example, UK broadcasters are adopting programmatic technology to deliver specific adverts at individual households in real time. Yet if designed poorly such disruptive engagement risks coming across like hard selling that overwhelms or irritates a customer (consider the negative reaction of customers to pop up web ads that apply a similar approach). Consequently, it’s vital that AI driven addressable media is treated as a form of user experience that requires research, design and testing to ensure customers are empowered to consume it on their own terms.

4. Hardwire ethics and sustainability –  the positive disruption to our lives from social media has enabled these services to grow rapidly and organically by billions of users worldwide. Yet this has also led to these platforms becoming so big it’s challenging for their service providers to effectively manage and safeguard the user content they share. Drawing from this experience, and combined with public calls for the proactive regulation of AI, it’s essential artificial intelligence products and services have the right ethics and sustainability values in their core design as they are likely to grow even faster and bigger than social media.

5. Champion “AI Neutrality” – artificial intelligence has the power to transform all our lives like the internet before it. A fundamental principle driving the success of the web has been “net neutrality” – that internet data services should be supplied as a form of utility (like electricity, gas, water) in a non-discriminatory way to all customers. Access to simple AI services should be similarly “neutral” – a basic human right that is complemented by differentiated, chargeable products and services from over-the-top producers.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.

One for all and all for one

Today, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness day, and I can’t help but mention about witnessing perhaps the most divisive times in our recent memory. While harmonious communities are at the brink of deep divisions and our collective thought process is ever preoccupied with the volatile political and social situations, it is perhaps a good occasion to remind ourselves of those who are most vulnerable. There is a need to come together to support them more than ever before. The technical community has always taken pride in transcending boundaries most effectively.

There is a greater responsibility on us now to operate in a manner which looks out for end users who are the risk of getting completely ignored.

Internet inventor Vint Cerf has recently called for it to be considered an offence if a web based service is not accessible. While the sentiment seems fully justified given the service providers can get away without doing much about web accessibility, his views seem to predominantly hold programmers / developers responsible for such aspects. In reality all roles in a software development life cycle need to contribute towards making a service accessible. Right from senior management down to the operational teams, there is an onus on every role to make the end-to-end accessibility a reality, which the accessibility experts have been highlighting all along. There is something we can all do no matter what our position is in the big IT juggernaut.

Recently, MP Dawn Butler created history by using sign language for her speech in Parliament – an utterly inspirational gesture about caring for every person in our audience and for making sure everybody understands what she was trying to convey. To think, ensuring everyone understands our work is actually a basic obligation to ourselves as it will give it most reach and recognition. Looking at the same idea with a business hat on, there is a very obvious commercial benefit to it. The more people understand / access the content the better it is for marketing and hence better for business. It is sheer common sense to make our work accessible.

In future, the new innovations may very well address these requirements completely. For example, the improved voice browsing technologies are a great alternative for people with visual or motor disabilities. But at the moment there is still a big need to build websites with consideration to the diversity in user communities. At Sopra Steria we have a full set of services to make this happen – see our dedicated website for accessibility services and service infographic.

Now is a time for all of us to renew our pledge to achieve complete accessibility in the world around us.

Why regulatory compliance offers a win-win situation

by Tej Sembi, Business Development Sopra Steria

A number of scandals in recent years, like the flawed reporting of hip replacement devices leading to huge compensation payouts and fines, suggest that the medical device industry has a problem. Do the big players really care? Well, with the work we have been doing shows that all concerned in this industry do care – patient safety is their number one concern.

The world of regulation is changing and catching up with technology. New standards and medical device directives are being introduced worldwide – from the US, to the UK, Europe and beyond. These make it clear that the industry must behave more responsibly. For example, ISO 13485 2016 extends the previous edition of the quality management system requirements for medical devices and risk.

A driver for differentiation

While this is clearly great news for the end user, there is also another positive outcome from these changes. I believe new regulatory regimes present a fantastic opportunity for medical device and implant companies to radically change the way they use and interpret product data to provide business benefit. In fact, with the right mindset, they represent a driver for differentiation and increased competitiveness.

Let me explain. Companies have to comply with the legislation, which means that they are committed to spending in this area, so does it not make sense to maximise this investment?  The data will need to be collated and managed, so why not look at how it is also used by other business areas and tap into this much underused resource?

On average, companies are said to base decisions on around 20% of available data so what could be achieved if they could harness more? These untapped sources of data contain a whole myriad of information.  Complying with the new regulations will give companies the opportunity to have better visibility and control over clinical outcomes and supporting data which could be used across the organisation to enhance patient safety, improve portfolio management, and improve sales and marketing alongside its vital role of compliance.

Reducing exposure to risk

Ultimately the right solution to the compliance challenge should deliver a better understanding of  customer/patient needs and outcomes, gaining clarity of validation, verification and design activities and support the prediction of product lifecycles in terms of maintenance, performance, end-of-life and potential usage-based issues or damage.

The more an organisation knows about each of these areas of its business, the better able it will be to reduce the company’s exposure to litigation, improve operational efficiencies and sales opportunities and, crucially, enhance product development and patient outcomes.

Thus, regulatory compliance becomes a win-win situation all round: healthcare providers have confidence in the efficacy of the medical devices they procure, patients trust that the devices they depend on are safe and robust and manufacturers gain the customer and product insight they need to differentiate and protect their brand reputation.

What do you think, am I mad to suggest compliance is really an opportunity? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.