This week Sopra Steria launched a new open source intelligence gathering platform, Smart i3, at the Internet Intelligence and Investigations Conference held by the National Police Chiefs Council. As platinum sponsors of the event, which brings together around 350 law enforcement and Government officials, the team hosted a workshop, delivered a key note speech and conducted live demonstrations on the exhibition stand.
Introducing Smart i3
Conducting online investigations in a fast-paced and ever-evolving digital landscape can be complex and time intensive. Smart i3 is a powerful and disruptive tool with the ability to fuse disparate data sets and present connections in a meaningful way to investigators. The platform’s advanced algorithms sift through vast amounts of open-source data in minutes, reducing the time-to-intelligence from hours to minutes. Securely hosted in the UK, this open-source tool minimises manual search activity and speeds up evidence-case creation, supporting intelligence-led searches across the range of authorised investigation levels.
Sopra Steria has a proud history as a service provider to police forces and law enforcement agencies, as well as wider criminal justice organisations. Smart i3 is a demonstration of its commitment to investing in technology and services that will transform our public sector.
“Sopra Steria is a specialist in technology and digital transformation and is proud to be recognised as a strategic partner to Government and across the Public Sector. Transforming the way public services are delivered for the benefit of society is a vision in which we believe in. Bringing to market new and innovative technologies, such as Smart i3, is a demonstration of that commitment.”
Shona Wright, Head of ADS Marketing said:
“The Internet Intelligence and Investigations Conference was the ideal place for us to formally launch Smart i3 and we thank the National Police Chiefs’ Council for inviting industry to take part in this flagship event.”
In 1999 I worked at a major High Street Bank with the teams who developed Mobile Banking Via SMS Who would have thought that as a consequence to us thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to get you balance on your mobile phone’ that it would contribute to the decline of the High Street? From getting your balance by text on a Nokia 3310, fast forward 20 years to the Banks opening up more and more services to their customers via the Smart Phone Apps that we all use on a daily basis. This combined with Telephone Banking has led to reduced branch usage and therefore Branch closure. At the end of 2017 in the UK there are about 9500 bank branches a reduction of about 600 on 2016 with about 500 to close in 2019.
Branch closure then has a knock on affect to Small Businesses. A small Business can not afford to close their doors for an hour round trip to their nearest branch. Which means that Businesses may choose another location. In a report for Scottish Government , by mapping bank branch closures against postcode lending data, it found that bank lending to small firms fell by 63 per cent on average in postcodes that lose a bank branch. This figure grows to 104 per cent for postcodes that lose the last bank in town. “On average, postcodes that lose their last bank in town receive almost £1.6 million less lending over the course of a year,” the report concluded.
Where Banks have left the High Street, Communities feel Financially Isolated, It causes major concern for Small Business and people who are Digitally Excluded i.e. those with Little to No Access to Technology and therefore have to travel to a Bank. Within affected communities there is strong feeling that banking should be viewed as a basic part of the local infrastructure and therefore should be available as standard provision.
Add to the Banks shutting down
75% of rural and 10 % of urban areas do not have satisfactory broadband
9 million adults in the UK have never used the internet
1 million adults living in social housing that are offline
27% of disabled adults (3.3 million) had never used the internet
Offline households are missing out on estimated savings of £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online.
Cash: is still the second most popular payment method,(just behind debit cards) accounting for 34% of all payments last year. Around 2.2 million customers mainly used cash for their day-to-day shopping in 2017, although nine out of 10 of them had a debit card they could use, but cash is still an important part of their daily spend preferred by many.
Combine Branch Closure with Cash machines disappearing at a rate of 300 a month, with rural areas hardest hit. As Link ATM Network has lowered the fees it charges to Banks and Building Societies. experts are warning that it could mean closures of free-to-use ATM machines across Britain if they become unprofitable to run, leaving access to cash for millions of people in doubt. There are 957 areas in the UK with at least 500k customer dependant upon benefits whose cash machine is more than 1km away. The Customers who use “pay for” Cash Machines, regularly incur charges of between £3.70 and £9.25 a week.
Potential closures of Bank Branches and Free Cash Machines risk leaving whole communities without access to cash, harming over two million people who are dependent on cash for their day-to-day shopping.
The Financial Services gap is widening between the Technical Haves and Have Nots – Digital Exclusion. In addition to High Street Closures, the latest Regulations of PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) leading to Open Banking in the UK, allows regulated 3rd parties to access your Bank Account data to deliver a regulated service if you have provided consent to do so. The services currently being provided using Open Banking protocols are for example Comparison Engines, Personal Financial Management apps which can determine trends in your spending habits, or Apps to identify personalised offers. These latest Apps and Services are obviously not available to those who don’t have access to Tech.
As a society we need a way to ensure that advances in Technology and changes to the High Street, do not exclude people from the latest innovation in Financial services. How do we as an industry ensure the poorest in our society, those that don’t have tech or can’t afford tech, can access the range of comparison engines to get cheaper deals, can take advantage of Digital Payment options to gain discount, and find the best deals, that are readily available to the rest of us? Do the Tech and Financial world have an obligation to provide the tools to ensure accessibility for all and if so how do we work together to ensure Financial Inclusion?
As a footnote, I’m currently Working with a Consultation group in Manchester to define Tech Displacement and how you assess the disruption of your Innovation on People and Places and we are looking to develop a toolset to evaluate. We are at the start of the this consultation period, so please follow me on Twitter to find out how we progress or maybe to trial our toolset for us. @NJMarham
Sopra Steria employee volunteers have been at libraries in the London Borough of Harrow this week to help library users learn how to use the internet and technology in their everyday lives, all in support of National Get Online Week, a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness of and take practical action on digital exclusion.
These gadget surgeries run by Sopra Steria volunteers will help users learn new tricks and get the most from their laptops, mobiles phones or tablets. Get help with internet searches, social media, apps, email, organising photos, online shopping, video calling, booking GP appointments and applying for jobs.
Today 4.3 million Britons still do not have basic digital skills, and 11.3 million only have basic abilities, according to the Good Things Foundation, the organisation behind Get Online Week.
Sopra Steria is committed to digital inclusion so that people of all backgrounds, no matter where they are in the UK, regardless of socio-economic status or age, have the skills, confidence and access to technology they need to make the most of all the digital world has to offer.
Last week I was proud to continue the tradition of Sopra Steria’s support of the Young Software Engineer of the year award, since its inception 20 years ago. Once again the entrants were outstanding (though I confess the technicalities of some project went right over my head!). Can Gafuroglu’s winning project was entitled ‘Joint prediction and Classification of Brain Image Evolution Trajectories from Baseline with Application to Early Dementia Diagnosis’. Our industry is about solving problems and this project underlines the significance of what can be achieved by the smart use of technology by #smartpeople.
The buzz at the dinner was incredible and underlined the spirit of ScotlandIS – that of #community.Our Sopra Steria table was no exception, with a mix of SMEs, customers and advisors. Plus Alison McLaughlin – now on secondment to Scottish Government Digital as part of the Digital Fellowship Programme.
And, #trees. Lizzy Yarnold was an inspirational speaker on the evening and reminded us all of the importance of belief, ambition and team work. She spoke about a book “The Inner Life of Trees”: What they feel, how they communicate. A brilliant parallel to business life – the need for constant communication, mutual support and networking.
Well done to ScotlandIS. The Scotsoft conference has once again reinforced our Smart Young People, Our Community and that we are a well-connected forest.
A splendid evening with around 250 people in attendance enjoyed a night of celebration of the volunteering community in the borough of Harrow. Ray Baker and myself were fortunate enough to share a table with the Leader of the council, Cllr Graham Henson and his wife, and fellow councillor Maxine Henson, amongst others. Canapés and bubbly were shared beforehand with a photo booth and a rousing introduction from the exuberant, The Worshipful The Mayor, Councillor Kareema Marikar.
Dinner was delicious range of Indian food and the compere moved things along briskly as the awards started being presented. Each group of nominees were called forward and the winner was invited onto the stage to receive their award from the guest presenter for the category. Runners up received a certificate extolling the virtues and winners a rather lovely glass trophy.
The Sopra Steria sponsored award was presented to the overall winners of all of the categories, i.e. the Volunteers of the Year. I was honoured to be invited on to stage to present this to the Infant Feeding Volunteers Peer Supporters.
Overall it was a fantastic evening that really celebrated the true nature of volunteerism and I’m proud that Sopra Steria can support this great work being done and I look forward to our continued involvement going forward.
We all have dreamt of flying, fighting with a lightsabre, and controlling objects with our mind. I was lucky enough to make one of my dreams come true when DigiLab UK went on an exploration journey of brain-computer interfaces. I recruited one fellow dreamer, a UX designer, along with me, the software engineer. We started to look at different aspects of BCI. The initial task chosen was to control an object with our mind, and in the journey, learn more about the technology. I was staring at my desk thinking about which object to control. Then there was my answer staring back at me, BB8 on my desk. Whether by fate or the force, we knew what we had to do. We would control BB8 using a BCI device, the Emotiv EPOC+, which was also available and previously used for hackathon project in Norway. I will take you through my journey of making this prototype with the help of a two-part series blog in the hopes of helping others who are starting to explore BCI technology.
The Emotiv EPOC+ headset comes along with 14 electrodes. Setup of the device is easy but tedious as you are required to soak the electrodes with saline solution each time before screwing them onto the device. This process is needed to get good connectivity between the user’s scalp and electrodes. For people with more hair, it is naturally more difficult to get good connectivity as they must adjust their hair to make sure there is nothing between the electrodes and scalp. For some connectivity levels were sufficient with dry electrodes but to save time I recommend that always soak the electrodes before using the device as you are more likely to get fast and good connectivity. There are many videos available online that guide you through the initial setup of the device.
Training mental commands
I aimed to control BB8 with EPOC+ headset, so I started to investigate the mental commands and its various functionalities. To use the mental commands you first need to train them. The training process enables the EPOC+ to analyze individual brainwaves and develop a personalized signature corresponding to the different mental action.
Emotiv Xavier control panel is an application that configures and demonstrates the Emotiv detection suites. It provides the user with an interface to train mental commands, view facial expressions, performance metric, raw data, and to upload data to Emotiv account. The user has the option to sign in to their account or use the application as a guest.
The user is required to make a training profile. Users have the option to have multiple training profiles under one Emotiv account. Each user needs their profile as each one of us possesses unique brain waves.
Let’s train the commands
The first mental command or action user must record is their “neutral” state. The neutral state is like a baseline or passive mental command. While recording this state, it is advisable to remain relaxed like when you are reading or watching TV. If the neutral state has not recorded correctly, the user will not be able to get any other mental commands working properly. For some recording, the neutral state results in better detection of other mental commands.
The “record neutral”button allows the user to record up to 30 seconds of neutral training data. The recording automatically finishes after 30 seconds, but the user has the option to stop recording any time they feel that enough data has been collected. At least 6 seconds of recorded data is required to update the signature.
After recording the neutral state, the user can start to train any one of the 13 different actions available. For my research, I only focused on two mental actions “push” and “pull.” Emotiv website provides tips and instruction on how to train the mental commands. It suggests remaining consistent in thoughts while training. To perform any mental action, users must replicate their exact thoughts process or mental state that they had during the training process. For example, if a user wants to train “push” command, it’s up to the user what they want to think or visualized for that action. Some users might imagine a cube going away from them, or some might imagine a cube shrinking, whatever works for them, but they need to remain consistent in their thoughts and mental state. If the user is distracted even for a second, it is advisable to retrain the action. As the user is able to train a distinct and reproducible mental state for each action, the detection of these actions become more precise. Mostly, the users must train an action several times before getting accurate results.
While I was trying to train the “push” action, I placed the BB8 on a white table and imagined it moving away from me. I replicated same thought, imagining BB8 going away from me on the table and was able to perform the mental action. However, when I placed the BB8 on the carpet, I failed. This may have been because the different colour of the carpet distracted me and I was unable to replicate my exact mental state, therefore, failed to perform the mental action. For me, the environment needed to be the same to reproduce my specific mental state. However, this varies from user to user.
Emotiv Xavier gives the option to view an animated 3D cube on the screen while training an action. Some users find it easier to maintain the necessary focus and consistency if the cube is automatically animated to perform the intended action as a visualization aid during the training process. A user can, therefore view themselves performing an action by viewing the cube. The cube remains stationary unless the user is performing one of the mental actions (if already trained) or unless the user selects “Animate model according to training action” checkbox for training purposes. It is advisable to train one action fully before moving on to the next one. It gets harder and harder to train as you add more mental actions.
Is the training process easy?
There are lots of tips and guidance given on Emotiv website for training mental commands. Users are given an interface to help them train and perform mental actions with the aid of animated 3D or 2D models. However, during my three days of training, I was not able to find an easy and generic way to train the mental commands. People are different. Some are more focused than others. Some like to close their eyes to visualize and perform the command. Some want help with animation. What I observed was that it depends on the person and how focused they are, and how readily they can replicate a state of mind. There is no straightforward equation. You need time and patience. I was only able to achieve 15 % skill rating after training two mental actions. Only one of my colleagues got 70% skill rating which he wasn’t able to reproduce later.
While searching for simpler ways to train mental commands I came across a process known as neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a procedure for observing your brain activity to understand and train your brain. A user observes what their brain is actually doing as compared to what they want it to be doing. The user monitors their brain waves, and if they are nearing the desired mental state, then they are rewarded with a positive response which can be music, video or advancing in a game. Neurofeedback is used to help reduce stress, anxiety, aid in sleeping, and for other forms of therapeutic assistance.
Neurofeedback is a great way to train your brain for mental commands. For example, if someone is trying to do “push” command,” they can observe their brain activities on screen and see if they are consistent. Then they can slowly and steadily train their brain to replicate a specific state. Emotiv provides the “Emotive 3D Brain Activity Map” and “Emotiv Brain Activity Map”, a paid application that can be used to monitor, visualize and adjust brainwaves in real time. For our research, we didn’t try these applications. If you try it out, let us know how you got on!
Training is like developing a new skill. Remember how you learned to ride a bike, or how you learned to drive? It took time and practice, and it’s the same for training mental commands. Companies do provide help by giving tips, instruction and software applications to help users train and visualize, but in the end, it’s acquiring a new skill, and users need practice. Some might learn faster than others, but for everyone it takes time.
On the 19th of September we had our first ‘Fintech Bites’ meetup, hosted at the premises of The IDco, a great new Fintech and Sopra Steria partner that focuses on Open Banking. The main theme was Digital Identities in Financial and Public Sectors. This was a soft launch event, with over 30 Financial Services professionals in attendance, including a number of representatives responsible for Fintech and Innovation from RBS, Lloyds and HSBCThe evening commenced with myself, Sopra Steria Consultant Taz Juozokas, introducing the meetup story and what we have in store for it in future. This was followed by UK Fintech Director Colin Carmichael talking about the Fintech Scotland ecosystem and what the key roles of each of the partners in Scotland are (Sopra Steria was announced as a Fintech Scotland partner in June 2018 with Managing Director of UK Consulting Melba Foggo on the Board of Executives).
The IDco were next to speak, with Digital & Open Banking Expert Andrew Garden and Digital Marketing Specialist Jimmy McLellan providing some great insight into their offerings.
Andrew gave a short overview of the interesting work The IDco has been doing in the digital identity space, as well as their future plans for KYC and AML automation for the Financial Services sector. He also showed us a demo of NoMo – a new digital finance management app. NoMo allows the customer to understand how well they are doing with finances and recommends spending based on this. It also does payment aggregation and alerts with personalised messages. You can test the private, beta version here.
Sopra Steria tech partner Wallet.Services closed the event, with speakers including Chairman Rab Campbell and CEO Stuart Fraser.
Rab covered the concept of blockchain and the work Wallet.Services have been doing with the Sopra Steria public sector. The audience was thrilled to learn about zero knowledge authentication enabled via distributed ledger technology. He also talked about their projects for Oil and Gas companies in Aberdeen, as well as the innovative work they have been doing with Citylets and partners regarding the safe sharing of rental information across the lettings market.
Wallet.Services created a digital identity on blockchain, which allows the registering of housing tenants rent payments in order to build their credit history.
The event has received great feedback from the audience and some interesting discussions were had afterwards. I would like to thank everyone who attended the event and showed an interest. Look out for more to come across the UK!