My Journey as a Woman in STEM

International Women’s Day has been and gone, but it’s important to think about what the day means. It’s a celebration of women who more often than not don’t get enough recognition for doing what they do – but it isn’t solely about celebrating. It’s also about making efforts to break down gender stereotypes and norms – and this is especially true for women in STEM industries.

While more women are working in STEM than ever before, they still only make-up around one quarter of the STEM workforce in the UK. Even as the UK faces a severe STEM skills shortage – with a recent study forecasting more than 600,000 vacancies in STEM by 2023 – many women still struggle to enter and stay in the STEM-related industries. As women in STEM, it’s important that we share our stories so that those looking to follow the same path know that it is entirely possible and there is always a way in.

So, what about me? I’m currently on a graduate training programme as a digital consultant at Sopra Steria – one of the biggest global tech consultancies in the world. I get to learn my job in a very practical, hands on way. More specifically, my job includes working directly with clients while simultaneously getting involved with our technology teams to figure out how best we can help said clients.

As for my route into STEM, I initially studied Politics and Sociology at Cardiff University – not your traditional STEM subjects. During my study however, I took a couple of modules centred around technology and internet governance and from that, I knew exactly what I wanted to pursue. A couple of years and a nerve racking assessment centre later – I chose Sopra Steria. Beginning my career in digital technologies at a standout organisation that is heralded for its innovative solutions and expertise with female and male role models.

If you’re looking to get into STEM but perhaps haven’t previously studied a STEM subject, don’t be disheartened. It’s important to remember that there a number of routes you can follow. Looking to the future, I want to further develop my knowledge of technology and identify which area I want to specialise in and I believe I am at the right place for it.

Of course, I am at the beginning of my journey but at Sopra Steria, I feel wholly comfortable and proud to be a woman in STEM and have a plethora of colleagues who are passionate about what they do to look up to. It is truly an exciting time to be a woman entering the sector. Never before has it been a better time to put myself out there and try to make as much of a difference as I can. But, it is important to remember that while we have come so far as an industry, there is long road ahead to true equality, and we cannot take our foot off the pedal.

By Lauren Boys – Junior Consultant

A sneak peek inside a hothouse sprint week extravaganza

Most public and private sector leaders are acutely aware that they are supposed to be living and breathing digital: working smarter, serving people better, collaborating more intuitively. So why do front line realities so often make achieving a state of digital nirvana feel like just that: an achievable dream? The world is much messier and more complex for most organisations than they dare to admit, even internally. Achieving meaningfully digital transformation, with my staff/ customers/ deadlines/ management structure/ budgets? It’s just not realistic.

That’s where the Innovation Practice at Sopra Steria steps in.

I count myself lucky to be one of our global network of DigiLab Managers. My job is not just to help our clients re-imagine the future; anyone can do that. It’s to define and take practical steps to realising that new reality in meaningful ways, through the innovative use of integrated digital technologies, no matter what obstacles seem to bar the path ahead.

This is not innovation for the sake of it. Instead, our obsession is with delivering deep business performance, employee and customer experience transformation that really does make that living and breathing digital difference. Innovation for the sake of transformation taking clients from the land of make-believe to the tried and tested, in the here and now.

The beautiful bit? The only essentials for this process are qualities that we all have to hand: the ability to ask awkward questions, self-scrutinise and allow ourselves to be inquisitive and hopeful, fearlessly asking “What If?”.

Welcome to five days of relentless focus, scrutiny and radical thinking

The practical approach we adopt to achieving all this takes the form of an Innovation Sprint: a Google-inspired methodology which lets us cover serious amounts of ground in a short space of time. The Sopra Steria version of this Sprint is typically conducted over 5 days at one of our network of DigiLabs. These modular and open creative spaces are designed for free thinking, with walls you can write on, furniture on wheels and a rich and shifting roll-call of experts coming together to share their challenges, insights and aspirations. We also try to have a resident artist at hand, because once you can visualise something, solving it becomes that bit easier.

The only rule we allow? That anything legal and ethical is fair game as an idea.

Taking a crowbar and opening the box on aspiration

Innovation Sprints are the best way I know to shake up complex challenges, rid ourselves of preconceptions and reform for success. I want to take you through the structure of one of the recent Sprints we conducted to give you a peak at how they work, using the example of a Central Government client we have been working with. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics we discussed, names and details obviously need to stay anonymous.

In this Sprint we used a bulging kitbag of tools to drive out insight, create deliberate tensions, prioritise actions and, as one contributor neatly put it, ‘push beyond the obvious’. That kitbag included Journey Maps, Personas, Value Maps, Business Model Canvases and non-stop sketching alongside taking stacks of photos and videos of our work to keep us on track and help us capture new thinking.

Before we started, we outlined a framework for the five days in the conjunction with two senior service delivery and digital transformation leads from the Central Government Department in question. This allowed us to distil three broad but well-defined focus areas around their most urgent crunch points and pains. The three we settled on were ‘Channel shifting services’, ‘Tackling digital exclusion’  and ‘Upskilling teams with digital knowhow and tools’.

Monday: Mapping the problem

We kicked off by defining the problems and their context. Using a ‘Lightning Talks’ approach, we let our specialists and stakeholders rapidly download their challenges, getting it all out in the open and calling out any unhelpful defaults or limited thinking. In this particular Sprint, we covered legacy IT issues, employee motivation, citizen needs and vulnerabilities and how to deliver the most compassionate service, alongside PR, brand and press challenges, strategic aims and aspirations and major roadblocks. That was just Day One! By getting the tangle of challenges out there, we were able to start really seeing the size and shape of the problem.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Diving into the molten core

This is where things always get fluid, heated and transformation. We looked in turn at the  three core topics that we wanted to address, following a set calendar each day. We would ‘decode’ in the morning, looking at challenges in more detail again using ‘Lightning Talks’ from key stakeholders to orientate us. Our experts shared their pains in a frank and open way.  We then drilled each of our key topics, ideating and value mapping, identifying  opportunities to harness innovation and adopt a more user-centric approach to technology.

At the heart of this activity we created key citizen and employee personas using a mixture of data-driven analysis and educated insight. An exercise called “How might we…?” helped us to free-think around scenarios, with key stakeholders deciding what challenges they wanted to prioritise for exploration. We were then directed by these to map key user journeys for our selected personas, quickly identifying roadblocks, testing or own assumptions, refining parameters and sparking ideas for smarter service design.

On each day we created Day +1 breakaway groups that were able to remain focused on the ideas generated the day before, ensuring that every topic had a chance to rest and enjoy a renewed focus.

Friday: Solidifying and reshaping for the future

On our final day, we pulled it all together and started to make the ideas real. We invited key stakeholders back into the room and revealed the most powerful insights and synergies that we had unearthed. We also explored how we could use the latest digital thinking to start solving their most pressing challenges now and evolve the service to where it would need to be in 3-5 years’ time. Our expert consultants and leads in automation and AI had already started to design prototypes and we honestly validated their potential as a group. Some ideas flew, new ones were generated, some were revealed to be unworkable and some were banked, to be pursued at a later date. We then discussed as a team how to achieve the transformations needed at scale (the department is predicting a rapid 4-fold growth in service use) while delivering vital quick wins that would make a palpable difference, at speed. This would help us to secure the very senior buy in our clients needed for the deeper digital transformations required.  To wrap up, we explored how we could blueprint the tech needed, work together to build tight business cases, design more fully fledged prototypes, strike up new partnerships and financial models and do it all with incredible agility.

Some photos from the week

Fast forward into the new

My personal motto is: How difficult could that be? When you’re dealing with huge enterprises and Central Government departments devoted to looking after the needs of some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our society, the answer is sometimes: Very! But in my experience, there is nothing like this Sprint process for helping organisations of all stripes and sizes to move beyond unhelpful default thinking and get contributions from the people who really know the challenges inside out. With this client, we were able to map their challenges and talk with real insight and empathy about solutions, in ways they had never experienced before. We were also able to think about how we could leverage Sopra Steria’s own knowledge and embedded relationships with other government departments to create valuable strategic synergies and economies of scale.

A Sprint is never just about brainstorming around past challenges. It’s about fast-forwarding into a better, more digital, seamless and achievable future, marrying micro-steps with macro-thinking to get there. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience for all involved and one that delivers deep strategic insight and advantage, at extreme speed. And which organisation doesn’t need that?

Let’s innovate! If you’d like to book your own hothouse sprint week extravaganza or just want to know more about the process, please get in touch

The UK Consulting team attend Sopra Steria Consulting University 2018

Last week’s annual Consulting University in Paris was a huge success, with over 1500 Consultants from across Europe in attendance to hear from Executives about our vision for the future. Amongst the UK Consulting community were 20 Junior Consultants from our Graduate Programme. We recognise that our graduates are vital to the future success and the culture of Sopra Steria and we invest in providing them with experiences and networking opportunities that contribute to professional development.

Views from our graduates

Megan Archer
Junior Consultant

“It was really exciting to attend the Sopra Steria Group Consulting University in Paris and to share that experience with over 1500 Sopra Steria consultants from across Europe. In the opening speech, Jean-Claude Lamoureux, the Group Consulting Director said that “in Europe, consulting is on NOW”. He’s absolutely right. In the UK we have already recognised this and are accelerating our big leap forwards into the world of consulting.

Since my fellow graduates and I joined the company as part of the new Junior Consulting

programme, we have been asked to bring our energy, youth and fresh ideas to the table to make a real difference to the consulting culture in the UK. Seeing all of the French consultants, hearing their success stories and witnessing examples of their innovations has given us all the confidence to push this to new levels.

Merci beaucoup Paris, for a fabulous time and for making me super excited about the future of Sopra Steria Consulting!

Our Graduate Programme

Are you a graduate with a passion and a desire for early responsibility? a curiosity for how technology can transform how our clients do business? a flair for analytical thinking, problem solving and first-class communication skills?

Read more about our graduate programme

Demi QUINN
Junior Consultant

“I can’t imagine there are many graduates who can say that they were invited to Paris in the first five months of starting their first job…. but I was! It was a pleasure and a privilege to attend the 2018 Consulting University and to meet so many new faces who were so genuinely excited about the future of Consulting at Sopra Steria.

   

Most of the UK consultants commented on how much they enjoyed the opportunity to network in Paris, not only with our European colleagues, but also with the wider Sopra Steria UK Consulting community.  It felt great to be part of such an exciting and diverse UK team – and we will definitely be getting a date in the diary to get together again in the UK!

One of the biggest highlights for me was one of the shorter sessions that we attended. This was a mixture of motivated speakers across the company discussing some innovative projects and exciting capabilities that we are already working on.  I hadn’t realised just how pioneering a company Sopra Steria really is.

I also have to mention the Digital Escape Challenge that we completed, which wasn’t what I expected at all. Teaming AR and an ipad, with the classic scavenger hunt and end-of-world scenario was an awesome way to get 1500 consultants excited before dinner (even if my team lost!!).

   

We had an unforgettable experience that has us ready and eager to smash the end of 2018!

Thank you for having us Paris #UC2018!

Our Graduate Programme

Are you a graduate with a passion and a desire for early responsibility? a curiosity for how technology can transform how our clients do business? a flair for analytical thinking, problem solving and first-class communication skills?

Read more about our graduate programme

How the Equality Act 2010 affects you

Most of us use online services such as banking, travel and social media everyday with little thought as to how we can access or use them. However, this isn’t the case for many users, including employees.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 legislation, which previously provided protection against direct discrimination, has been updated to the Equality Act 2010 (except Northern Ireland). The Equality Act became legal on 6 April 2011, and changes the law to brings disability, sex, race, and other types of discrimination under one piece of legislation.

One major change is that the Equality Act 2010 now includes perceived disability and in-direct discrimination, making it easier for claimants to bring successful legal proceeding against businesses and public bodies.

What it means

The Equality Act essentially means that all public bodies or businesses providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public, including employees (For example: retail, HR, and councils) must make fair and reasonable adjustments to ensure services are accessible and do not indirectly discriminate. Being fair and reasonable means taking positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access online services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of disabled customers.

Benefits of compliance

UK retailers are missing out on an estimated £11.75 billion a year in potential online sales because their websites fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities (Click-Away Pound Survey 2016).

In addition, 71% (4.3 million) of disabled online users will simply abandon websites they find difficult to use. Though representing a collective purchasing power of around 10% of the total UK online spend, most businesses are completely unaware they’re losing income, as only 7% of disabled customers experiencing problems contact the business.

How to comply with the Equality Act

The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be undertaken by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, and forms of visual impairment. Evidence of successful tests by disabled users could be invaluable in the event of any legal challenge over your website’s accessibility.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is the international organisation concerned with providing standards for the web, and publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are a good indicator of what standard the courts would reasonably expect service providers to follow to ensure that their websites are accessible.

WCAG provides three ‘conformance levels’. These are known as Levels A, AA and AAA. Each level has a series of checkpoints for accessibility – known as Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints. Public bodies such as the government adhere to Priority 2 – Level AA accessibility as standard.

According to these standards, websites must satisfy Priority 1 – Level A, satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement and very easy to implement. Priority 2 – Level AA, satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers for customers. Finally, Priority 3 – Level AAA, is the highest level of accessibility and will ensure most disabled customers can access services, and requires specific measures to be implemented.

Read the Equality act 2010 quick start guides to find out more about how this affects you.

2020: Retail as a Service?

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Dylan was right about Digital Transformation

Bob Dylan is recognised as one of most influential writers of the 20th century.  He is not though, seen as an inspiration for the digital age. Perhaps he should be? With his 1964 song, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, he states that “He not busy being born is busy dying”. With this line he couldn’t have been more prescient.

Organisations need to continually “be busy being born” and innovate or face the alternative.

Think about it: what differentiates companies hobbling along the digital highway from the ones paving the way? The ability to embrace change, refuse status quo and turn the business into an ever evolving entity. 

Put another way, being digital is about reconciling the pace of adoption of new technologies with the pace of their commoditisation. The latter recently experienced a dramatic acceleration, while the former is often stuck in old-world mode.

 

Old world versus Digital world

Twenty years ago, adopting new software was a big deal. There were limited numbers of vendors in each market segment. Software customisation or process transformation was necessary to take advantage of technology. Integration was complex, ongoing maintenance and support often presented challenges. All of this resulted in expensive acquisition costs, from both a financial and an effort perspective. Long-term supplier contracts were the norm.

Once software was installed, and the vendor proven, it was a lot easier for an organisation to allow the vendor to expand its footprint through additional modules and products rather than go back to the market to look for alternative solutions.

From a vendor perspective, selling and delivering software was costly requiring a large sales team to reach customers and negotiate complex contracts. Vendor delivery teams would need to be highly skilled building bespoke integrations to satisfy the specific needs of customers.

New software integration was expensive, risky and therefore needed careful consideration. Adoption pace was slow as software was seen as complex far from being a commodity.

Today, the pace of commodization has increased by an order of magnitude, mainly due to Cloud technologies. Let’s have a look: what does innovation mean today in the enterprise world? Big data maybe, machine learning and AI, blockchain or IoT?. All these have already been turned into commodities. Fancy running some machine learning algorithms on your customers database? AWS has an API for that. Conducting a first run shouldn’t take more than a few hours of work. Same goes for most of big data technologies, IoT, blockchain and even virtual reality.

as-a-Service paradigm

The as-a-Service paradigm has drastically reduced costs, complexity and risks of adopting new software and technologies. The SaaS model for instance through turning CAPEX into OPEX, has abolished any notion of commitment.

Should your company use this marketing software over this one? Who cares? Use both, allow yourself to pay a bit more for one month or two, then keep the one that perfectly meets your needs. Going further, why even consider it at company level? One department may prefer one software because it measures what they want in the exact way they want, while another department may prefer another one. With almost no acquisition and no integration costs, why try to over rationalise at the expense of business value and user experience?
Standardisation is still to be considered on non-differentiating applications, but at a much less prominent position.

The Digital highway

All this said, most of old world companies are still considering innovation with the same eyes as before, missing business opportunities and losing ground to new entrants.

If conducting an IoT experiment means running an RFP, conduct a 6-month PoC and sign a multi-year contract, then you may be doing IoT, but you’re still hobbling on the digital highway.

Velocity is key to transforming your company into an ever evolving, fast learning, business.

“He not busy being born is busy dying

Thanks to Clara, Gavin, Jian and Robin for their kind guidance.

More on the subject:

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Come on vendors, get it together: Office 365, Google, Dropbox, etc

For many of our customers, large and small, their first foray into the beautiful world of cloud computing is driven by a less beautiful compelling event related to one of the following:

  • On-premise email servers (typically Microsoft Exchange) require an upgrade of either software, hardware or both
  • Licensing and upgrades of the Microsoft Office suite, typically as part of some enterprise-wide licensing agreement (or maybe an audit!)

So, if you are approaching a refresh, what should you do?  There’s a myriad of comparisons out there on the web comparing the features and costs of Microsoft Office 365 against Google Apps so I won’t add to that. To cut to the chase, feature-wise they are approaching parity but of course it depends on the specific requirements of your organisation. What I wanted to cover was the usual corporate dilemma, and why Microsoft is currently (and probably for a long time) the right answer.

The logic goes like this.  I really quite like the idea of using Google Apps, it’s a bit easier to administer (in my view – but partially as it’s less rich and maybe doesn’t expose all the cruft of Exchange in the config pages), it’s just feels a bit more hip and happening. Although to be fair, Microsoft have managed to shed their corporate image and loosen up a bit, as demonstrated by this identification challenge that tickled me when you are registering for Office 365…

But, I really only want to have one vendor and configuration to manage – surely I can get everything I need from one vendor in 2016?  It really depends what line of business you are in, but certainly for us as a professional services-based business some customers will expect materials to be sent to them in Microsoft Office formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).  Whilst other vendors can work in this format or I could use LibreOffice, I know that the interoperability just isn’t quite good enough. And my finance team are going to rebel if I don’t give them Excel, so… I really need to buy Microsoft Office – and this is when the costing dimension comes in. Pricing starts at £7.80/month/user for up to 300 users for Office 365 with the ability to download all the Office client applications (jumping to a pre-discount £14.70 for the Enterprise E3) – and that immediately makes a Google Apps-based solution unattractive as you basically have to pay for many of the services twice, e.g. email services, Skype or Hangouts etc from both Microsoft and Google.  A masterstroke of lock-in from Microsoft.

OK, so I accept this as a fact of life, and resign myself to going “all in” with Office 365.  Not so fast.  Like many organisations today, I might have a BYOD or CYOD policy and I know that my users have both PCs and Macs. That sounds fine – Office 365 supports Macs.  Yes, the Mac implementations of Word, Excel etc are a bit different (mainly as a result of the weird double menu bar thing – why have one “Insert” menu when you can have two?) but the apps are pretty good these days.

But the issue comes with file sharing and synchronisation on the Mac. Whilst there is a Mac client for syncing your OneDrive so you can work offline etc, it does not sync shared files – and so the only way you can access them is via the web interface – not something that you are going to enjoy on the train on the way home.  This fact is a little buried here – there’s more evidence of Microsoft’s sense of humour with this statement…

So that leaves us with an issue as to how to support collaborative file sharing across our organisation.  This is what Dropbox (in my experience) does best – it just works across clients.  So you end up having to have at least one other vendor product to plug this functionality gap, which is frustrating.  I was talking to a start up the other day – they are not big but they’ve active subscriptions for all three – i.e. Google Apps (as the email search is the best), Office 365 (as they need the client apps) and DropBox (for the file sharing).  I bet this is much more common than it should be.

But, it’s on Microsoft’s Office 365 roadmap so maybe I’ll be able to have just one subscription in 2017.

If you want to read more on comparisons of Google Apps and Office 365 etc – this is a great resource.


Beamap is the cloud consultancy subsidiary of Sopra Steria