How many French Horn players does it take to change a light bulb?

I’m getting used to this kind of orchestral humour…!

It’s been ten years since I started working with the British Police Symphony Orchestra (BPSO) and twice that time that Sopra Steria has been sponsoring their annual Proms Night Spectacular concert. On Saturday 2 December, we’ll be at Symphony Hall, Birmingham again supporting this incredible amateur orchestra and enjoying a fantastic evening.

BPSO are passionate about helping others and sharing their love of music. The annual Proms Night Spectacular concert is all about raising money to help support their extensive annual programme in 2018. The rest of their concerts raise money for charity and over the years they’ve raised in excess of £150,000 for other charities and good causes.

BPSO also have an extensive outreach programme, “PlayOut!”, working with schools and children’s groups, to introduce young people into playing music and the joy it can bring. Have a read about BPSO’s 2016 project at Ingestre Hall. 

Don’t miss the fun!

This year’s Proms Night Spectacular, with its exciting programme, includes music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Magnificent Seven, Prokoviev – Romeo & Juliet, Out of Africa and Daphnis & Chloe.

Everyone gets involved with the traditional ‘Proms Night’ ending whether it’s letting off party poppers, throwing streamers, jingling bells, waving Union Jack flags or singing along. You’ll be sure enjoy a wonderful finale with Jerusalem, Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope & Glory – and BPSO’s flagship fireworks finish!

I’m always so impressed with the spectacular atmosphere that the orchestra brings to Symphony Hall and I’ve enjoyed some fabulous playing over the years, so I’m not going to apologise for this final sales plug! Join us…

Tickets are on sale and what’s better than a Special Offer? – BPSO are offering a   ‘4 for the price of 3’ special offer on their tickets priced at £23, £18 or £12 each (subject to availability). To take advantage of this fabulous offer, contact claire@bpso.net quoting ‘BPSO5’

And the answer to the joke?

Just one, but they’ll spend two hours checking the bulb for alignment and leaks!

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.

The #DigiInventorsChallenge finalists face the Dragons: rather than breathing fire, we were blown away!

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” Jimmy Johnson – American Football Coach

In a Scottish competition, The #DigiInventorsChallenge in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI), sponsored by Sopra Steria , six teams involving more than 30 teenagers across Scotland were shortlisted to compete in the final of the #DigiInventorsChallenge 2017.

I was honoured to be part of the #DigiInventorsBootcamp and judging panel to evaluate the six talented finalist team’s ideas that will transform health, fitness and wellbeing amongst Scotland’s young people. The teams all oozed confidence, passion and flair for their inventions and we really wished we could take all six from idea to invention!

I harnessed my inner ‘Dragon’ and took my seat in the judges den with my fellow judges from DHI, Vodafone, Microsoft, Toshiba and Aberlour Children’s Trust.  I was not prepared to be as blown away as I was by the innovation, insight, planning and forward thinking these young Scots had put into their pitches. It was very clear to me that finalists had learned loads from the masterclasses that included from ‘Idea to Invention’, ‘Developing your idea with users in mind’, ‘Marketing you and your product’, and meet the expert salons. I couldn’t help thinking how impressive this whole experience will be on all their CVs and personal statements and how much older I was than them before I gave my first pitch which was nowhere near as glossy or polished!

The 77 Group presented, which included a video message from Andy. In this he asked the teens to take on board all they’d heard and learned over the two days. It was great to hear one of them quote Sopra Steria’s keynote speaker, Head of Regional Government Alison McLaughlin, by repeating her mantra

“Work Hard – Have fun – Make a Difference”

We all recognised it was powerful to deliver strong messages to the  teens, giving them the drive and passion needed to make the most of their experience.

What’s next?

There can only be one winner and the winning team will be announced at Andy Murray Live  on 7 November 2017 where they will also get the chance to meet Andy himself. The winning team will receive iPads, a cheque for £2,000 and the opportunity to see their design developed into a prototype by DHI and Sopra Steria. I can’t wait to blog after the 7 November to share the winning idea and photos from the event.

Find out more about the inaugral #DigiInventorsChallenge and the six shortlisted teams.

Game, set, match!

Off we go… 3 workshops, 31 teenagers, 100 post-its, 60 Sharpies, bundles of energy, and ideas and innovation to bounce off the wall.

Wow, it was a great day at #DigiInventorsBootcamp at CitizenM in Glasgow, the final stage in the #DigiInventorsChallenge, in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute, to create a new digital health innovation.

When you ask a teenager to join a bootcamp to help them develop a pitch that could sell their idea to Mark Zuckerberg, that’s quite a workshop to organise for 45 mins. My task was to get our young Digi-Inventors to think about design thinking, or whatever you want to call it, service design, UX, prototyping, role playing.

Partnered with the Glasgow School of Art, I got the pleasure of working with Sneha Raman, a Research Associate at the art school. When we first discussed the idea of the workshop we both agreed that the first thing to do was look at how we can help a group of teenagers learn innovative ways of working that will change their view on IT and on how digital experiences are created (putting people and context first). We wanted to give them the creative confidence to look at creating a digital solution a little differently. It wasn’t about a PowerPoint presentation telling them what to do – we needed a hands-on approach giving the team a meaningful experience using design thinking.

In case you haven’t heard what design thinking is, it’s about taking a human centred approach to accelerate innovation. In fact, IDEO (leading the way) sum it up rather nicely…

“Taking a human-centered approach to translating ideas into tangible strategies and offerings. Design thinking accelerates innovation, helping create better solutions for the challenges facing business and society.”

Design Thinking is something Sopra Steria has been focusing on for the last four years and I wanted to translate the experience and the knowledge we have across our business into an energising and practical workshop. Sharing how IT can create an incredible impact on citizens, employees and organisations using design thinking techniques with the Digi-Inventors was a great privilege.

So what did we do in the workshop?

We created a scenario to work from around promoting healthy ways to commute to and from university. Thinking about who and what people do at university and their everyday lives, the students had to:

  • create profiles of different people
  • map out stories in context of their lives
  • put in context the positive and negative experiences they have throughout a day

 Using this knowledge and insight, the students then looked at different ways to travel and what could enhance their experience, using the data that they had gathered on people. Very quickly, we prototyped and mapped out the experience using props. We made it real, fast. This was the best way to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

As the 45 minutes drew to a close, the teams had to think about their pitch, how would they communicate their idea? They didn’t pitch the technical idea using a cool piece of tech, they pitched an entire experience, a service, and the impact it has on changing someone’s life for the better. They shared outcomes and they shared WHY they are creating a better experience.

Hearing their great storytelling at the end of the workshop gave me that fuzzy feeling inside that we achieved creative confidence in the Digi-Inventors.

Good Luck Digi-Inventors!

Find out more about Sopra Steria’s experience in design thinking and service design, and about the inaugral #DigiInventorsChallenge and the six shortlisted teams.

Volunteering: Just how much does business benefit?

In the week 9th to 13th October, Sopra Steria colleagues across the UK will take part in various volunteering and fundraising activities all in aid of ‘Community Matters Week’, an initiative set up to encourage people to give a little back. In 2016, we raised around £20,000 for various charities across the UK. As well as the funds, staff spent plentiful hours volunteering, getting involved in community projects; from transforming a local school yard to helping out at a local city farm and knitting outfits for premature babies, to name a few great projects.

The cynics among us may wonder why we spend precious working hours on things that, yes, are nice, but perhaps not essential to the task in front of us.

However, I believe that employee volunteering programmes can have a positive impact on the workforce and there is plentiful research out there citing the significant business benefits of these company-led initiatives.

Here are some thoughts on the positive impact volunteering can have on business and how Sopra Steria has been involved…

New Business Opportunities

By taking an active part in the local community, companies are able to raise their profile and enhance their reputation. Smart companies should take advantage of this free advertising by getting involved in volunteering in the areas most closely related to their business [1]. This work in the community can provide fantastic case studies to present to potential clients and could potentially set the company aside from the competition [2]. It’s fantastic to see various examples of this happening throughout Sopra Steria with employees volunteering at local coding groups, mentoring programmes with universities and facilitating work experience through the Career Ready initiative; all this voluntary work is included in our bid proposals and receives positive feedback from clients. Recently some of our clients have been so impressed with the voluntary work we do that they have asked us to get involved in workshops for them – a great opportunity for us to build long-lasting relationships and create future business prospects.

Improved Employee Engagement

Research shows that employees who volunteer through a company programme have increased levels of satisfaction in their work [3]. Companies who promote volunteering to the workforce are also found to have higher levels of morale among staff members [4] and it has been noted that voluntary activities can provide a great sense of achievement and team spirit among the workforce [5]. This is clearly evident among Sopra Steria volunteers; just ask any of them how they feel about getting involved with the local community. You will see them light up with pride and passion for the work they have done and the support they have received from the company!

Developing the Current Workforce

There is overwhelming evidence to support the correlation between volunteering and skills development amongst employees [6]. Employees who actively participate in volunteering activities gain a host of transferable skills – from problem solving, enhanced communication skills to teaching and mentoring skills [7] – all of which could have a positive impact on their working lives. This is an area where I have reaped the benefits, my involvement in the Community Matters programme and my ongoing volunteering with my local Girl Guide unit has allowed my confidence to flourish. Through my volunteering I have enhanced my communication and networking skills, as well as developed skills in coaching and mentoring; all of these things have had a positive impact on my working life.

Developing the Future Workforce

Volunteering programmes are particularly relevant to recruitment. Companies are finding that graduates of the millennial generation are interested in finding employers who share their values and beliefs [8]. As such, companies are increasingly asked what volunteering opportunities are on offer, companies who provide a program are more desirable and increasingly labelled as an ‘employer of choice’ among the workforce [9]. Working at the forefront of recruitment and on-boarding within Sopra Steria I can vouch for this:

Applicants are increasingly asking what we as a company do to help our local communities. The volunteering programmes are always a great selling point, people want to make a difference and see how the local community can benefit from that.

It’s clear there are many personal benefits to volunteering; it definitely promotes the ‘feel good factor’. But the benefits are not only at a personal level, volunteering has a bigger impact which can allow us to shape the future of our business. It is great to be involved in a company that is so passionate about the community and I encourage everyone (even the cynics) to get involved; I promise it will be worth it.

Discover more about Sopra Steria’s involvement in Community projects and commitment to supporting volunteering activities.

There is a plethora of information on the benefits of corporate volunteer programmes. For more information check out:

https://www.bitc.org.uk/services/community-investment/business-case

https://www.frontstream.com/3-benefits-of-corporate-volunteer-programs/

http://corporate-citizenship.com/wp-content/uploads/Volunteering_The_business_case.pdf

https://www.salesforce.com/uk/blog/2017/09/the-business-benefits-of-volunteering.html

http://www.employeevolunteering.co.uk/benefits-to-business.html

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.bitc.org.uk/services/community-investment/business-case

 

[2] https://www.frontstream.com/3-benefits-of-corporate-volunteer-programs/

[3] http://corporate-citizenship.com/wp-content/uploads/Volunteering_The_business_case.pdf page 67

[4] https://www.frontstream.com/3-benefits-of-corporate-volunteer-programs/

[5] http://www.employeevolunteering.co.uk/benefits-to-business.html

[6] https://www.salesforce.com/uk/blog/2017/09/the-business-benefits-of-volunteering.html

[7] http://corporate-citizenship.com/wp-content/uploads/Volunteering_The_business_case.pdf page 23

[8] https://www.frontstream.com/3-benefits-of-corporate-volunteer-programs/

[9] http://corporate-citizenship.com/wp-content/uploads/Volunteering_The_business_case.pdf page 69

I’m a beekeeper – what’s your super power?

On Friday 23rd of June I used my Sopra Steria Volunteering Day to support the Scottish Beekeepers Association (SBA) at the Royal Highland Show. The SBA was setup in 1912 as the national beekeeping body in Scotland. Sopra Steria provides me with one day’s paid volunteering, as part of our Community commitments, so with the SBA being a charity I decided to use my volunteering day to help.

Every year the SBA have a massive “Honey Marquee” at the Royal Highland Show which is a 4 day event – it’s Scotland’s biggest agricultural event with over 1,000 trade exhibitors and 6,500 animals. In the Honey Marquee alone, the SBA plan for around 10,000 visitors per day and require teams of stewards to help. So I put my name down for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

SR-Outside-Honey-MarqueeAll of the stewards were avid beekeepers, ranging from people like me, i.e. beginners keeping a couple of hives in the back garden, through to bee farmers with hundreds of hives and decades of experiences.

We rotated our teams around the various sections of the hive covering:

  • Candle making – beeswax of course!
  • Observation hives – we had 3 glass sided hives with bees foraging outside at the show

Education – a “touchy feely” area where people can handle hive parts, honey  comb and a honey extractor.

Here’s a view inside the Honey Marquee:

SBA-Honey-Marquee-2017

How did I get into Beekeeping?

readman-family-beekeepersOne of my good friends from school has kept bees for many years and I’d always had “beekeeping” in my bucket list of things to. So when he said he had a spare colony for me I thought – “how difficult can this be?”. I took my first colony with his telephone support, joined the Edinburgh branch of the SBA and did their beginners evening course. My (then) 8 year old daughter came along to the Saturday practical sessions too, so this has become a bit of a family hobby.

2016 was a bad year weather-wise and we didn’t get any honey, but in May this year we took our first crop of 13 jars:may-honey-crop-wide

Bees and our environment

As you will have heard in the news, bees have had a bit of a bad time with a variety of factors leading to colonies failing, this includes Varroa Mites and Foul Brood. We’re all hoping that the Asian Hornet doesn’t take hold in the UK.

Discover more about Sopra Steria’s sustainability commitment and community activities.

Useful Links:

Want more girls in tech? Show them they can make a difference in the world

Last year I organised a Raspberry Pi workshop and competition for 13-year-old girls at Barnwood Park Arts College in Gloucester.  In discussing the events with their Computer Science teacher, Mr. Holland, I mentioned that the original concept was to get the students to create Pi projects that could help vulnerable people or the social workers and family members who look after them.  I offered him the chance to change that objective and do something that he thought would be more interesting to the girls, but he said, “No, that’s it; making it about helping people will get them interested.”

In the months since the competition, I’ve been trying to immerse myself as much as possible in the conversation that has taken off around gender diversity, and, in our industry, particularly, the question, “how do we get more girls interested in STEM?” and one of the things that is emerging for me is that Mr. Holland’s insight into his own students might well apply more generally: many girls want to do things that help others.

In her Entrepreneur.com article entitled “I Belong Here: 3 Ways to Attract More Women to STEM”, Harvard graduate and Head of Business Operations at biotech firm Illumina Merrilyn Datta notes that many of her female colleagues also working in STEM came to it because they saw a problem they wanted to solve and then that science and technology was the route to solving it.  She also points to research that backs this up: the ICRW has found that an effective STEM education programme encouraged girls to use technology to solve problems in their communities, and that University of Pennsylvania researchers found that “altruism has been highly linked to career choice for women.”

There is further support for the theory that women are attracted to careers that enable them to do good in the numbers of women who start social enterprises: according to a 2015 report by Social Enterprise UK, 40% of social enterprises are led by women – twice as many as run small businesses.

Given that women still comprise the vast majority of people undertaking paid and unpaid caregiving roles, from social workers to full-time mothers and carers of elderly parents, it shouldn’t be news that girls and women care about helping others.  In fact, there is an irony in this situation: one of the major reasons why gender disparity persists (e.g. in the form of lower pay, less access to finance, lower representation in leadership positions in business and politics, lower rates of entrepreneurship) is because the burden of caring falls disproportionately on women.

However, I see an opportunity here.  The fact that many girls and women want to make a positive difference in the lives of others is great news for those of us working in the parts of the tech industry that aim to use technology for good.  From fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity, to improving the lives of the elderly and curing disease, there is no shortage of opportunity to use a STEM career to make a positive difference.

So the next question is, “how can we ensure girls know that there is such opportunity?”  We can bring this out more in the outreach work we’re doing as a sector.  We’ve learned a lot in the last decade about the importance of female role models and having higher numbers of other girls in STEM courses so girls can see others like themselves.  Research from the WISE campaign found that girls need to see the context of STEM in the bigger picture, and be shown its application in real life situations and careers.  When we do these things, we have the perfect opportunity to also bring in messages about the careers in tech that have positive impacts.  We should also run our technology workshops for girls with this in mind: can we make these initiatives more exciting and relevant to girls by setting the focus on issues in their community and in their everyday lives?

…which brings me back to Mr. Holland’s students.  When we caught up after the events, Mr. Holland told me that in response to the challenge we set to create a Raspberry Pi project focused on helping vulnerable people all immediately thought of people in their lives their projects could help (usually grandparents).  That got them excited and opened their eyes to the potential of technology to do good.  After a one-day workshop with Sopra Steria mentors, the girls, in teams of four, set to work building Pi projects ranging from alarms that went off when medication hadn’t been taken on time to alerts sent to caregivers if an elderly person living independently had an accident in his or her home.  Many of the students conducted extra research related to the problem they were trying to solve (for example, dementia), so they could improve their Pi solution.  They did this of their own volition, because having been set a challenge they could personally relate to, they were engaged, curious, motivated.

Ensuring girls know about these opportunities is important, but it isn’t the only thing of course.  We also need to continue to contribute to the efforts being made by businesses in all sectors to make work more attractive to people with caring responsibilities, and to welcome people back to work after a career break (a good example of this is the new Returners’ Hub, which is supported by Sopra Steria and being launched on International Women’s Day).  There is a lot of work to be done to ensure more women have equal access to finance so they can start and scale-up new businesses.  As a society, we can do more to ensure both men and women can participate in caring duties, and that we value these duties more highly.

After this year’s International Women’s Day has come and gone, I hope we’ll ride the wave of momentum and redouble our efforts to make our sector more diverse now and in the future by getting out and talking to girls and young women and inviting them to be a part of the movement towards sustainable development in tech.

For more information about the People Like Me initiative that has emerged from the WISE campaign research mentioned above, and the new Returners’ Hub, go to www.techuk.org/returners on or after 8 March.

What are your thoughts about encouraging more girls into STEM careers? leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Photo used with the permission of Barnwood Park Arts College