In pursuit of frictionless digital engagement with HR

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

What do I mean by frictionless engagement? And why is it relevant to today’s HR function? People like to book their holidays, make doctors’ appointments, shop and bank online. There’s no real need to talk with a travel agent, a GP’s receptionist, a shop assistant or a busy bank cashier – unless you want to, that is. This is the sort of ‘frictionless’ world that a large proportion of the modern workforce is used to – where everything is automated, clever and personalised.

And they expect a similar frictionless experience in the workplace. Only it seems they’re not getting it. A new survey report from Sopra Steria in partnership with Management Today reveals that employers have been slow to understand and implement the automation, analytics and other technologies that can facilitate a better workplace experience. And less than half (45%) of chief executives and directors were prepared to say their organisations had a clear, specific strategy for improving the employee experience.

Investing in robotics and artificial intelligence

I believe they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to transform the way in which employees engage with the business, especially with the HR services that help to define a good employee experience. In a new paper[1] discussing the survey findings, I take a look at how some companies are achieving frictionless engagement. Sopra Steria, for example, has developed a clever chatbot – we’ve named it Sam – that uses robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence to facilitate a range of HR services, such as booking holidays – all with no human intervention.

I question why more companies aren’t investing in greater automation and why the HR analytics that would drive a more personalised employee experience continues to be lacking in so many organisations. Failing to adopt the type of digital enablers employees are familiar with outside work is giving the wrong impression. It suggests a business unable or unwilling to invest in its people and to give them the tools and processes that will enhance their experience at work. That’s a dangerous impression to create, especially in today’s business climate where it can be difficult to attract talented people, and even harder to retain them.

Adding value at board level

I understand that changing entrenched processes and moving to new technology platforms, such as a cloud HR solution, can be met with resistance. Will automated process take away my job? I’ve done it this way for years, why should I change? How will I be able to monitor progress and quality when there’s no human intervention for key HR processes? There will always be fears and uncertainties like these. But what I am certain of is that only with investment in automation, analytics and AI, along with changes to IT infrastructure that equip employees to self-serve from anywhere, at any time, can today’s HR leaders remain a trusted and valued presence on the company board.

[1] For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘How can HR stay relevant in the 21st century?’

Ready Steady Cook

by Software Engineer Graduates, Alistair Steele and Gregg Wighton

Two from our February 2017 Graduates cohort discuss their recent Graduate Project using Chef Technology to solve the problem of setting up a machine (laptop) adhering to company standards. Their aim was to introduce a working example of DevOps and learn more about that sphere. This post talks about the problem they sought to address using Chef, what DevOps is and the experience they have gained from their Graduate Project.

The Problem

During a new starter’s induction day, a considerable amount of time and effort is spent on setting up a Development machine (laptop). Tasks involve downloading software and creating a folder structure which adheres to the guidelines set out by the company. This manual process is time consuming and tedious, plus it allows room for human error. The same issue occurs for a current employee who has to rebuild their machine. A third issue can be seen with employees who have forgotten the company guidelines.

Company time, in particular for new inductions, would be better spent in various other ways. Allowing the new employees to read company policy or familiarise themselves with the office building and appropriate contacts.

A key aspect of this project was to eliminate user interaction and cut down on the potential human error. To achieve this, three technologies were considered, Ansible, Puppet and Chef. We chose Chef as it is serverless, scalable and Windows compatible.

With the technology selected we looked at how best to use Chef and what it’s capabilities were. This required a lot of research – and trial and error. Understanding the problem enabled us to create three main goals: Silent Installs of required software, Folder Structure and Environment Variables, all of which were to be automated.

Our objective was for the user to simply download Chef Client, connect to the repository on InnerSource and then run a single command on the command line. The Automated process will then kick off and deliver the finished product. So what will it achieve?

  • Ensures standardisation throughout the company
  • Saves the company valuable time
  • Speeds up Induction process
  • Silent installs of software, folder structures and environment variables

Using DevOps to tackle the ‘Wall of Confusion’

In the traditional flow of software delivery, the interaction between development and support is often one of friction. Development teams are wired towards implementing change and the latest features. Support teams focus on stability of production environments through carefully constructed control measures. This divide in culture is now commonly referred to as the “wall of confusion”.

DevOps looks to break down this culture by improving the performance of the overall system, so that supporting the application is considered when it is designed. One method of doing this is to start treating your infrastructure as code so that it can be rebuilt and validated just like application code.

One area that would benefit from provisioning infrastructure would be the configuration of development environments. Setting these up can often be tedious as they rely on specific versions of software, installed in an exact order with particular environment variables and other project specific configurations – all of which can cause delays to working on a project and are prone to human error.

Automation, Automation, Automation

Chef is a powerful automation platform that uses custom Ruby DSL to provision infrastructure. A key feature of Chef is that it ensures Idempotency – only the changes that need to be applied are carried out, irrespective of the number of times it is ran. While it is intended to configure servers, the flexibility of the platform means that it can be used to set up local development environments.

Diagram described in the text belowOur diagram shows the architecture and workflow for the project. A developer writes Chef code on their workstation, then uploads their code to a Chef repository hosted on GitLab, and installers kept in an S3 bucket on AWS. This code can be pulled down to a developer’s machine to be configured and run in Chef Zero. This is a feature (usually used in testing code) where both a Chef Server and Chef Client are run at the same time. This approach ensures that development machines can be quickly and reliably configured for a project. This also introduces portability into development environments so that testing and support teams can recreate these environments should they need to.

Ready for the Cloud

Chef is tightly integrated with Amazon Web Services through AWS OpsWorks. This means that the Chef code used to automate physical servers or workstations can be used to configure AWS resources. This ability to standardize both physical and cloud environments means that it is possible to create a smooth workflow for both Development and Support teams.

Our Grad Project take-aways?

From experiencing work in a support team, we can see the benefits of embracing a DevOps culture and workflow. The ability to standardize environments means that Development teams are free to implement new technologies that can then be easily transferred and controlled by support teams. Having completed Phase I of ‘Ready Steady Cook’, we aim to embark on Phase II- developing an automated setup for a specific aspect in the support team.

We have both gained valuable experience in working through a project’s complete lifecycle, from inception to development to testing and production. Throughout the project we utilised Agile methodologies such as working towards fortnightly sprints and daily stand-up meetings. This project has also widened the scope of our graduate training in that we have gained certifications in Chef and are working towards certifications in other DevOps technologies.

Sopra Steria is currently recruiting for the Spring 2018 Consulting and Management Graduate Programme. If you, or someone you know, is interested in a career with us, take a look here.

Are your HR processes truly fit for purpose?

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

As digital transformation programmes begin to make an impact, new IT service delivery models, such as cloud, will increasingly be the norm. Yet while employees themselves enjoy a highly connected life outside work, too often their expectations for a connected digital experience in the workplace are not being met.

This word ‘experience’ is key. It’s how employers can gain competitive advantage with a more engaged, energised and productive workforce. But in a recent research project conducted for Sopra Steria and Management Today, 51% of respondents said their organisations cared less about employee experience than the quality of service they gave to their customers.

This is so wrong. As the white paper discussing the survey findings (‘Engaging Generation Me: creating competitive advantage through excellent employee experience’) points out, “With the economic uncertainty of Brexit and possible talent crunches and skill shortages ahead, employers ignore at their peril Generation Me: employees who demand the same quality of experience as customers.”

20th century thinking for a 21st century business

I believe that part of the problem lies in the failure of HR processes to keep up with the demands of the modern workplace. In a recently published opinion paper*, I describe the missed opportunity for HR to review and update its processes some 30 years ago. At that time – and driven by the CIO – there was a shift of legacy IT estates to on-premise ERP and other big corporate IT systems. And while HR’s IT was migrated across, its entrenched processes didn’t follow suit. There was simply a ‘lift and shift’ of existing, largely paper-based practices onto the new system.

Fast forward three decades and HR faces a big problem. While there has been a growth in HR operations, this failure to update processes and ways of engaging with employees has become a barrier to HR becoming a true business partner. But I believe digital has now put us (as HR professionals) in a position to transform this situation altogether. How? By using all the latest workplace tools, systems and approaches needed to give employees a truly differentiating workplace experience.

From chatbots to RPA

Of course, there must be an understanding of what processes might be enabled by new technology. In my paper I describe some of these enablers, such as digital engagement tools like chatbots that help to speed and facilitate employee interaction with HR services, for example booking holidays. Or the use of artificial intelligence to monitor employee behaviour and better predict their career or wellbeing needs. Then there is robotic process automation (RPA) that takes over repetitive tasks requiring minimal human intervention. This frees up HR professionals for more strategic value-added activity, such as succession planning, which can be further enhanced with the very latest data and analytics tools.

All of this makes today an exciting time to be an HR professional. With processes and technologies that are fit for purpose in a modern digital enterprise, HR can play a crucial role in attracting, nurturing and retaining the very best talent around.

For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘How can HR stay relevant in the 21st century?’.

Relevant or obsolete? The role of HR in the 21st century

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

The workplace is changing rapidly. Digital is transforming both how employees work and the way in which they expect to engage with their employers’ HR services. At Sopra Steria, we’ve recently partnered with Management Today on a survey that looked at the extent to which companies are using digital (data analytics, artificial intelligence, automation) to deliver a more consumer-like employee experience. And the findings don’t bode particularly well for the future of the HR function.

That’s because HR appears to be way off the curve when it comes to all things digital. For example, two thirds of CEOs and directors responding to our survey acknowledged that they had not yet fully implemented HR task automation and self-service technology in their organisations. Yet today’s employees – and not just Millennials – increasingly expect employers to make it easy for them to engage with HR how and when they want to (booking leave from home, whilst on the move, hot desking, etc.) and this can only be enabled with greater automation and digitalisation.

In search of flexibility

In fact, our survey found that greater flexibility and career development were the most likely to enhance employee experience. And the better the employee experience, the more productive and loyal an organisation’s workforce will be. Yet half of all managers and non-managerial staff told us in our survey that they had zero access to HR processes on their mobile devices. And only 4 in 10 non-managers – largely Millennials – said they believed that employees would be fully connected and operationally mobile in the next three years.

Taking this a step further, I find myself asking why so few business leaders have still not correlated a positive employee experience with greater automation? Is greater automation perhaps viewed as a threat, rather than an enabler, with concerns that robots will take people’s jobs outweighing the fact that robotic process automation can free up HR professionals from mundane, repetitive process activities? What I do know is that, with far more traction for improving employee/user experience and engagement, the tide is turning.

Connecting the modern workforce

I explore this in a new opinion paper digging deeper into the survey findings. In it I write, “by not embracing the technology that will connect and enable the modern workforce and free up HR for more strategic activity, the role of HR as a business partner could be obsolete, sooner rather than later. Indeed, being slow in the uptake of new, enabling technologies could well be the demise of the HR function as we know it”.

So, my question to all HR leaders is ‘do you want to remain relevant or become obsolete’?

For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘How can HR stay relevant in the 21st century?’

Digital Inclusion: You hold the keys to IT literacy

by Andy Robinson, Change Manager

During Sopra Steria’s Community Matters Week, held every October, my colleagues and I used our company volunteering time to provide an IT Gadget Surgery at Pinner Library in the London Borough of Harrow. The objective was to share basic IT skills with members of the local community. When we arrived at the library we were greeted with open arms by the library staff – some of whom had already brought in their own laptops so we could help them – as well as regular library users!

The lost generation and Radio Harrow

A journalist from the local radio station interviewed my colleagues Darren Kampta and Jutta Fischer. The interview was part of a report explaining how older people are having difficulty keeping up with changing technology and how companies like Sopra Steria can help. It’s a well-known fact that a lot of people, particularly the elderly, are losing touch with modern life and modern ways of socialising due to technology. The digital divide and digital exclusion are names given to the gap in terms of usage of information and communication technology (ICT)[1].

 The government’s Digital Inclusion Task Force has estimated that 6 million people in the UK (13%) are both socially and digitally excluded[2]. This has been proven to cause economic and social inequality, as 90% of jobs in the UK now require basic IT literacy[3]. From this research it is clear that having a basic understanding of IT and current technology is becoming more and more necessary in order to be a functioning member of today’s society.

It’s a small world

The most memorable person I helped was an older gentleman who had come prepared with a long list of issues he had with his laptop. One by one we crossed off the items and he noted down how to resolve the issue for future use. During the time I spent with him, I discovered we had a common interest in badminton. He had coached badminton up to England international level and it turned out one of the people he had coached, a former international player, was my badminton coach (and friend) from university. It was a great feeling knowing that I was now helping some who had indirectly influenced my life.

The Surgery

 The tasks brought to our team of five IT surgeons differed in complexity. These ranged from attaching a photo from a digital camera to an email and sending it, to fixing Microsoft Licencing issues. We were very happy with the uptake and there was barely a moment we weren’t busy! By the end of the day we’d helped tens of people with their technology queries. Although the tasks may have appeared simple to us, they could make a real difference to their lives by enabling them to share memories with their families, stay connected with their friends, or even to stay safe online. The day taught me to be patient when it comes to teaching people these new skills that perhaps aren’t as obvious to them as they are to us. I became much better at breaking down my explanations into logical steps and realised that in order for learning to take place, I had to get them doing the task themselves. The Pinner Library staff asked us if we would do something like this again in the future. We unanimously agreed that we would like to be involved in a project such as this again.

Community Matters Week 2017 at Harrow Council

Our time at the library was but one of dozens of charitable events undertaken by Sopra Steria staff as part of the company-wide Community Matters Week – one week every year focused on making a positive impact for our communities and charities around the UK. Other activities included The Marathon Challenge – a charity race against Harrow staff, The Barber Shop – two charity head shaves, Wear It Pink (People In Need of Kindness) day and the highly successful Harrow Bake Off/Bake Sale. Our team raised £2,340 for charity – one half of this went to The Mayors Special Appeal – this year it’s Harrow Women’s Centre and Harrow Law Centre, with the other half going to MacMillan Cancer Research.

Lessons learned

 I found that the volunteering at Pinner Library was highly rewarding. I felt as though I had really made a difference to the confidence of several people who had been struggling with technology. All five of us predicted prior to the day that we would mostly be helping older people, and the reasons are obvious: schools and workplaces now teach a basic level of IT literacy which their generation missed out on. Most of us take these skills for granted but we are surrounded by technical devices in everyday life and it is now essential for our social circles. The government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy has an aim to get everyone who can be digitally able, online by 2020[2]. After volunteering myself, this is a topic I now feel much more strongly about, and I will play my part to make sure digital inclusion is possible within the UK.

See more information about Sopra Steria’s work with communities.

References:

[1] 21st Century Challenges, 2013. What is digital divide.

[2] Gov.uk, 2014. Government digital inclusion strategy.

[3] Hilbert, M., 2013. Technological information inequality as an incessantly moving target: The redistribution of information and communication capacities between 1986 and 2010. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology., I(65), p. 821–835.

Regulation and compliance: the new certainties in life

by Miles Elliott, Director of Credit Risk

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’. But in these more modern times, especially for financial services organisations – we should perhaps add ‘regulation and compliance’ to the list. In 2018, a wave of new regulation is being introduced – and one of the most far reaching is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

GDPR: are you ready…?

From 25 May 2018, organisations across Europe will have to strengthen controls associated with collecting, managing and using personal data. Resulting activity will see significant changes to IT systems as well as the way organisations engage with their customers.

There’s less than a year to go until GDPR becomes a way of life, but a survey in May 2017 suggested that only 10% of organisations have mature GDPR plans in place – with a further 40% at an intermediate phase.

That leaves half of organisations at the beginning of their compliance journey – and the clock is ticking!

GDPR: the cost of non-compliance…

Becoming fully GDPR compliant will be challenging and will require a holistic approach to data management and governance. Organisations run the risk of failing to respond to the scope of activity involved and the amount of time needed to ensure compliance. Another common issue is the lack of skills and experience to deliver such a comprehensive change to governance controls across a business. To put this into context, in 2016 alone there were 1.4 billion data breaches across the industry.

Fines for failing to comply with GDPR are expected to be highly penal as well as leading to material reputational damage.

Don’t go it alone – work with an expert in assured compliance

So what should today’s hard-pressed organisations do, especially if they don’t understand the full extent of GDPR?  The answer is to work with an organisation like Sopra Steria that’s got a track record in complex data management AND offers a ‘comprehensive’ approach to GDPR compliance. Our pragmatic ‘think, build and run’ approach empowers organisations to pick and choose the path to GDPR compliance that is right for them. As experts in Data, Analytics and Technology, we can help you quickly identify data gaps and risks, work with you to develop remediation solutions and support you moving forward with on-going compliance monitoring.

The clock is ticking…

So don’t get caught out! Make sure you aren’t one of the 50% of companies still asking “What is this GDPR”?  Take your first steps today to GDPR compliance and get fully prepared for the 2018 deadline. Remember, 2018 is the year of new regulation – make sure it’s a happy one!

See more information about how we can help you get compliant.

Get in touch to discuss how to meet your GDPR challenge and support your journey to assured compliance.

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.