Bridging the gap: how Fintechs and ‘big business’ can work together

by Colin Carmichael, UK Fintech Director

Everyone’s talking about Fintechs – but what does ‘Fintech’ really mean?  It’s a generic term that loosely groups a number of innovative technical organisations within Financial Services.

As the Fintech director for Sopra Steria, I believe I know all about Fintech. To me, Fintech is all about change – introducing new, fresh ideas and ways of working – and making them happen. I’ve worked in financial services across the UK, Europe and further afield for many years – and organisations of all sizes find it hard to change; the bigger the organisation – the greater the challenge. Change means that organisations have to think and act differently to introduce brand new ways of working to deliver desirable services to their customers.  The customer really is king and new products and services need to be built to their wishes (rather than the ‘old fashioned’ way of creating a product and selling it hard). What’s more, new, faster technology and access to huge amounts of data have made this issue more acute as it’s raised customer expectations. Put simply – there’s so much to think about and to do to get ahead and stay ahead.

Organisations need to keep up with the very latest ideas – and still deliver a reliable and robust service. And it’s a fact that incorporating new technology is how they will do it. So why is it so challenging for Fintechs and big players to work together? All too often, Fintechs struggle to get their ideas to the right decision makers – and established businesses are nervous of too much change.

The biggest hurdles are often company politics, internal structures, old processes and course – the difficulty of incorporating brand new ideas into ‘old’ systems. For Fintech’s, it’s tricky to get the right contacts at the right level – and to also ensure their ideas are brought to life safely and securely.  For banks and insurers, introducing new, untried and tested ideas is hugely risky and it can take a long time – as well as effort and money to get it right.

What’s needed is a bridge between the Fintechs and the more traditional organisations – to help them to work productively together. Organisations like Sopra Steria have platforms that are at the heart of many of today’s large businesses – and they also understand existing processes, procurement and politics which often stand in the way of getting things done. By working together, Fintechs, established players and platform organisations can listen to and learn from each other, in order to fast track innovation and get the results they need – quickly and cost effectively.

So, my advice to banks and insurance companies as well as the Fintechs is to work and collaborate with a platform provider from the start. Fintechs can safely test and prove their worth in ‘virtual factories’ using real systems and data – and financial organisations can be confident about bringing the best and brightest ideas to market without huge risk. It puts new Fintechs in touch with established players – and accelerates change. And that’s what we all want.

So, maybe, we shouldn’t be using the term ‘fintech’ to refer to just new and upcoming technology companies. After all – aren’t we all Fintechs? Perhaps instead we should be focusing on partnerships and collaborations between new technology companies, established organisations and the role platform players have to accelerate change.

It really is true. It’s not what you know but who you know that makes all the difference.

Our Apprentices Answer

by Nadia Shafqat, Junior Software Engineer

In an ongoing series, we hear from both our current and past apprentices about their experiences. Apprenticeships are offered to anyone at any level, from those at the start of their career to those who wish to change the direction of their career and learn new skills. Here we hear from Nadia.

Tell me about your journey in Sopra Steria.

I joined the Sopra Steria’s Apprenticeship Programme in October 2016, to get a more hands on, practical experience in the IT sector. My journey started of small, contributing to internal data projects where I built up my coding skills in JAVA and XQuery, before progressing on to a ‘leading edge’ client project developing an application, which will help them to continuously monitor, validate and communicate safety, clinical and product performance data. Initially, I focused on acquiring the necessary skills across various elements of the programme, including becoming proficient in Agile Scrum methodology and practice, however with the support of the team, and the resources available in Sopra Steria, I feel I am now at a level where I am a contributing member of the team.

What skills have you learnt?

I have been exposed to a variety of technical skills and languages, such as Java, Angular, Marklogic, etc. However, I have also picked up general work skills, e.g. Agile, and used this to enhance my already-present skills, such as teamwork, etc.

What has been your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement was being nominated for the FDM: Women in IT award.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship?

Definitely! An apprenticeship is a great way to experience the working industry and find what career you would like to pursue in the future, without any debt.

 

To learn more about our opportunities visit our apprenticeship page or if you have any further questions, email the team at early.careers@soprasteria.com

“I am your Father”… my experience with Shared Parental Leave

By Dave Parslew, Senior Internal Recruiter.

As well as looking after internal recruitment, Dave is a first time dad. In this post he talks about anticipating the birth of his first born, the decision to utilise Shared Parental Leave and why more men should be utilising SPL.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) for me seems like a fantastic opportunity to be able to spend some quality time with my first born, Sam. During our pregnancy, my wife Anna and I decided that SPL was definitely for us and when it came to ‘D’ day, we agreed that she will take the first 9 months and I will take the last 3. I always joked that May to August will be a perfect 3 months in the sun for me, though now with the birth of my child and all the work to look after a new baby, my views have of course changed!

Baby and DAve

The resemblance is already uncanny for Dave and baby Sam.

Quite a few years ago, I assumed that when I did actually have kids, I would have to go back to work after my 2 weeks of paternity and leave the all-important first year of quality time to my wife. I thought that was the only option and at the time it was! However, things have changed and the question I asked myself and all the other eligible fathers out there is why wouldn’t you?!

Around 285,000 couples in the UK are eligible every year for shared parental leave, but take-up “could be as low as 2%”, according to the Department for Business. Nearly three years after it was introduced around half of the general public still are unaware the option exists. Experts say that as well as a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are deterring some parents from sharing parental leave.

There seems to be a lot of “research undertaken by trusted organisations” about SPL out there but I say don’t just rely on the headlines and newspaper write-ups; delve a little deeper into the detail and look at the research for yourself!

Research shows the poor take-up of the policy is due to concerns about lack of financial support for fathers. I say, if you manage your finances correctly and are prepared for the eventuality that you might be slightly out of pocket for a few months of your life, you will get to spend some amazing time with your children (time you will NEVER get back) so just go for it!

However, the main problem with childcare take up remains – many men just wouldn’t want it because they’re scared it would impact their careers. It’s not that men’s attitudes are anti-childcare these days. It’s more that this fear outweighs fathers’ enthusiasm to have a stint at being a stay-at-home dad or the desire to exercise their legal right. It’s the dated belief that a man better serves their family by sticking to a traditional career path.

In my opinion, if you care that much about money, then perhaps you shouldn’t have kids in the first place as they WILL most definitely suck you dry of most of your finances. However if you see it as I see it then everyone’s a winner!

This is a government funded scheme remember, so in my case the company I work for (Sopra Steria) will have to cover my work for 3 months but they have been very accommodating about it and in some ways educated by it due to the lack of uptake.

Fair enough I won’t get paid for 3 months but there is an option to plan some ‘Staying in Touch’ days with HR (paid in full for the day) and I still accrue holiday while I am off along with Bank Holidays.

Hopefully my example will encourage others to do the same. To top it all off of course, I will have an awesome few months with my new son. I am looking forward to this immensely and the bottom line is, ”You only live once”!

Below are the key points about SPL, learn more about the intiative here.

What is Shared Parental Leave?

  • Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015
  • It allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after they have a baby
  • Parents can take time off separately or can be at home together for up to six months
  • SPL is paid at £140.98 per week or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower

 

Why Apprenticeships?

by Sara Keegan, Early Careers Recruiter

I started working on apprenticeships for Sopra Steria following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017. Sopra Steria had been recruiting apprentices since 2012 so the introduction of this levy only enabled us to grow and continue to offer apprenticeships to anyone at any level, from those at the start of their career to those who wish to change the direction of their career and learn new skills.

My role as an Early Careers Recruiter covers everything from showcasing what opportunities we have available, to keeping in touch with our apprentices throughout their careers. I can honestly say I love my job.  I am passionate about developing the apprenticeship scheme and the opportunities it offers. At a recent forum delivered by our training provider, the question raised to all of us was “Why Apprenticeships?” For me that’s an easy one to answer.

University is drilled into students and parents as being the only option to succeed in a career, but you could do a degree on an apprenticeship, gain commercial experience within the professional world AND be debt free!! Apprenticeships ensure that we are opening up the potential career paths into the tech industry.

Regardless of the levy being introduced, development among young talent is something that Sopra Steria are heavily driving. We are invested in developing talent, from new recruits to reskilling existing staff.  Apprenticeships play an important role within the company and will provide skilled workers for the future. For many, if you are thinking about a career change and learning a new skill it can be daunting to start again. Instead having on-the-job learning, mentoring and a buddy system, you will get to study with our award winning Apprentice training partners to gain Industry recognised qualifications.

It has opened my eyes to the wonderful world of apprenticeships and I want to help spread the word and remove preconceived notions of apprenticeships. This is the new wave of apprentices, working in an innovative industry. Being agile is a skill echoed in our workplace and one that all our apprentices find is second nature. As they learn they apply it directly to their roles, seeing first-hand what works and adapting their tact if not.

We will have a number of exciting positions throughout 2018, so keep updated on our apprenticeship page.  If you’re keen to learn and are passionate about technology, find out more by dropping us an email to early.careers@soprasteria.com

A look back at my apprenticeship

by Peter Apostoli, Digital & Strategy Operations Administrator

I started my apprenticeship at Sopra Steria on March 2016 and looking back on my time, it has been amazing to see where my career path has developed and how I have become more involved in a role I enjoy and am now skilled at.

I began as a business apprentice in the UK Exec office and it was an intense first three months. This included getting used to a new environment, the many systems in place and there always being new things to learn. As I continued my apprenticeship assignments I settled into the role more which helped me to come out of my shell. I began to network and build relationships with my colleagues which ensured that I became better known around the organisation. The skills I was learning was not just in business or project management, more a holistic approach of how to improve my communication and ability to work in a team which are just as important.

As I learnt more, I continued to take on added responsibility from my line manager. I thrived on the increased workload as it was good to know I could be entrusted and keep adding to the scope of my work. During my time I organised various trips for our CEO, managed diaries, liaised with external customers, attended various away days, assisted marketing & comms, monitored news that would impact our business and distilled this information for my team. I finished my apprenticeship with a level four in business and administration.

In October 2017, I was offered a role within IMSL as a junior cloud engineer. This was a role I did not suit but only through the opportunity did I gain that insight. While continuing in this role I found there was a new position available as a Digital and Strategy Operations administrator. Someone willing to take on a variety of different roles including diary administration, reporting, presenting and generally support in various areas of digital and strategy. From my previous experience as an apprentice I had the skills available to apply and was successful through the application and interview process. Since being in this role since February it is one that I am passionate about. Not only can I apply the skills learnt in my apprenticeship, but I am able to keep developing my knowledge around an amazing team.

I would recommend an apprenticeship to those who want the ability to gain qualifications and valuable business knowledge but who don’t want to go to university. For anyone looking to start their career path, though it’s easy to look back and see how you grew into a certain role it initially begins just by applying.

Find out more by clicking here or by emailing early.careers@soprasteria.com

Taking a weather check on employee experience

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

This week has seen the ‘Beast from the East‘ shut down much of the transport network causing confusion and delay (Thanks Thomas!). But I’m safe in the knowledge that I can just hunker down at home and continue to work as usual, accessing work remotely. This has been possible because Sopra Steria’s analytics platform predicted the level of additional bandwidth and resilience needed in our VPN network when more people than usual are working from home.

So, what has this got to do with employee experience? The 2017 Management Today survey in partnership with Sopra Steria found greater flexibility in working and career development were most likely to enhance employee experience. Thus, there is a clear correlation between a good employee experience and a company being able to both predict a sudden increase in remote users and take preventative action against the network slowing.

Investing in data and analytics

I use this example of the power of analytics in a new opinion paper discussing the business case for enhancing the employee experience. In it I point to the value of having a data and analytics team able to use artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to allow the business to prepare for peaks and troughs of employee activities.

I make the case for using digital capabilities to support forward planning and enable intervention before challenges become issues, such as spotting patterns of absence and identifying those who need extra support.

By being able to correlate different types of data – hours worked, the weather, absence rates, etc. – it is possible to gather a picture of the things that have the most impact on rates of employee absence or reduced productivity.

I am excited at this potential for using data and analytics to help create a differentiating employee experience. Indeed, our own analytics platform already sits alongside our virtual HR Assistant, speech activated applications and robotics know-how to form a set of industry-leading capabilities focused on improving the employee experience.

Making the Business Case

Deciding what technology and process transformation to invest in to enhance the employee experience must go beyond being purely an HR decision.

To make the business case, HR should work with IT who understand the new technologies in areas such as data science and analytics.

In my paper, I point out that it is important to recognise what it will take to get the most out of your structured and unstructured data to support your future workforce management – and this requires specialist knowledge.

And if the business case suggests now is not the time to rip and replace legacy IT and move to a new cloud-based platform, HR must collaborate with finance. Why? Because while the business might not be ready, there still needs to be a discussion about the investment required in the workforce to ensure processes fit employees’ current needs and continue to support them into the future.

For example, it is possible to place digital front-end tools, such as real-time employee analytics, on top of legacy IT using Sopra Steria’s DiAL (Digital Abstraction Layer).

So, come snow, ice, or even a summer heatwave melting railway tracks, it is possible to give employees the flexibility to work from home by predicting future outcomes – without it costing the earth.

For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘A transformation business case that writes itself – download here.

Containers: Power & Scale

by Richard Hands, Technical Architect

In my last blog post, we looked at the background of Containers. In this piece, we will explore what they can do and their power to deliver modern microservices.

What can they do?

Think of containers on a ship.  This is the most readily used visual analogy for containers. A large quantity of containers, all holding potentially different things, but all sitting nice and stable on a single infrastructure platform, gives a great mental picture to springboard from.

Containers are to Virtual Machines, what Virtual Machines were to straight physical hardware.  They are a new layer of abstraction, which allows us to get more ‘bang for our buck’.  In the beginning, we had dedicated hardware, which performed its job well, but in order to scale your solution you had to buy more hardware. This was difficult and expensive. Along came Virtual Machines, which allowed us to utilise much more commoditised hardware, and scale up within that, by adding more instances of a VM, but again, this still came with quite a cost.

To spin up a new VM, you have to ensure that you have enough remaining hardware on the VM servers. If you are using subscription or licensed operating systems, you have to consider that etc.  Now along comes containers. These containers literally contain only the pieces of code, and libraries necessary, to run their particular application. They rely on the underlying Infrastructure of the machine they are running on (be it physical or virtual).  We can typically run 10-20x more containers PER HOST than if we were to try putting the same application directly on the VM, and scale up by scaling the number of VM’s.

Orchestration for power

Containers help us solve the problems of today in far more bite-sized chunks than ever before.  They lend themselves perfectly to microservices.  Being able to write a microservice, and then build a container that holds just that microservice and its supporting architecture, be it spring boot, wildfly swarm, vertex, etc., gives us an immense amount of flexibility for development.  The problem comes when you want to orchestrate all of the microservices into a cohesive application, and add in scalability, service reliability, and all of the other pieces that a business requires to run successfully.  Trying to do all of this by hand would be an incomprehensible challenge.

There is a solution however, and it comes in the form of Kubernetes.

Kubernetes is an open-source platform designed to automate deploying, scaling, and operating application containers.” (http://kubernetes.io)

Kubernetes gives us a container run environment that allows us to declaratively, rather than imperatively define our run requirements for our application.  Again let’s look back to our older physical or VM models for the imperative definition:

“I need to run my application on that server.”

“I need a new server to run my application on, and it must have x memory and y disk”

This approach always requires justifications, and far more thought around HA considerations such as failover, as we are specifying what we want our application to run on.

Most modern applications, being stateless by design, and certainly containers, don’t generally require that level of detail of the hardware that they are running on. They simply don’t care as they’re designed to be small discrete components which work together with others.  The declarations look more like:

“I want 10 copies of this container running to ensure that I’ve got sufficient load coverage, and I don’t want more than 2 down at any one time.”

“I want 10 copies of this container running, but I want a capability to increase that if cpu or memory usage exceeds x% for y% time, and then return to 10 once load has fallen back below z

These declarations are far more about the level of application service that we want to provide, than about hardware, which in a modern commoditised market, is how things should be.

Kubernetes is the engine, which provides this facility but also so much more. For example with Kubernetes we can declare that we want x and y helper processes co-located with our application, so that we are building composition whilst preserving one application per container.

Auto scaling, load balancing, health checks, replication, storage systems, updates, all of these things can be managed for our container run environment by Kubernetes.  Overall, it is a product that requires far more in depth reading than I can provide in a simple blog post, so I shall let you go and read at http://kubernetes.io

Last thoughts

To conclude, it is evident that containers have already changed the shape of the IT world, and will continue to do so at an exponential pace.  With public, hybrid, and private cloud computing becoming ‘the norm’ for both organisations, and even governments, containers will be the shift which helps us break down the barriers from traditional application development into a true microservices world. Container run systems will help us to break down the old school walls of hardware requirements, thus freeing development to provide true business benefit.

Follow Richard Hands on Twitter to keep up to date with his latest thoughts.