Information Chaos: the next big business challenge

“Every budget is an IT budget.  Every company is an IT company.  Every business leader is becoming a digital leader. Every person is becoming a technology company. We are entering the era of the Digital Industrial Economy.” – Peter Sondergaard, Gartner.

Most organisations now recognise that managing their information assets is just as important as managing their physical, human, and financial assets. So why are so many still drowning in a flood of unmanaged content and information chaos? The symptoms are plain to see: servers overflowing and multiplying, making it hard to find anything; sensitive information leaking, losing competitive advantage and exposing the organisation to litigation risk; information silos continue to develop, frustrating secure collaborative working; and because of cheap cloud storage, accessible from personal smartphones and tablets, knowledge assets are migrating to places beyond the reach of the company’s information governance processes – if indeed they have any!

Meanwhile new information continues to pour in, in an ever-changing array of formats, through multiple channels and on multiple devices. Organisations face rising costs for maintaining their legacy systems of record, and struggle to keep control of new systems.

No wonder many leaders in Knowledge Management believe that Information Chaos is the next big business challenge.

The core of all these difficulties is a lack of Information Governance.  With no rules, users can put their stuff wherever they like: the ‘C’ drive of their laptop, flash drives, Dropbox, etc. Shared network drives, intended to support collaboration, bring irritating access issues – and if no governance process is in place, users can create a folder anywhere, and give it any name. So no one knows where to look for things, and people mostly share files with colleagues using email attachments – leading to increased risk of data breaches, massive duplication, loss of version control, and excessive network traffic.

Information governance means:

  • identifying what information classes make up the knowledge assets of the organisation;
  • appointing someone to be the owner (and custodian) of each class of information – this will usually be the appropriate head of function; and
  • establishing rules for naming, storing, protecting and sharing knowledge assets.

The objectives of rationalising document management and introducing proper governance are:

  • To enable full exploitation of information assets, based on:
    • A business-led file plan and document management system (“A place for everything and everything in its place”)
    • Full Enterprise Search to improve productivity and consistency
    • No more repeating work (“re-inventing the wheel”)
  • To rationalise data storage and make savings, by:
    • Keeping one master copy of everything (wherever possible)
    • Maintaining clear version control (because sometimes it’s necessary to keep earlier drafts)
    • Eliminating duplication
    • Deleting ephemeral and superseded documents
  • To ensure the security and integrity of information, by
    • Applying appropriate access control to all information
    • Ensuring that sensitive information is classified and labelled correctly
    • Ensuring that approved and published information cannot be changed or deleted until the proper time

1.    Developing the Taxonomy

Information Governance requires a clear understanding of the kinds of information the organisation needs in order to function. At Sopra Steria I’ve worked with several clients on this problem using both top-down and bottom-up methods.  In a top-down approach, we help subject matter experts in the business to build a hierarchical taxonomy of their areas of expertise. The classes in the taxonomy will eventually correspond to folders in the idealised corporate file plan.

2.    Knowledge Audit

I supplement this top-down analysis with a bottom-up review of existing file structures, on the basis that frequently occurring document and folder names are likely to signify knowledge classes that need to be represented at the lower levels in the file plan hierarchy. I make use of a disk space analyser tool for this information discovery exercise, or knowledge audit. The more sophisticated tools not only keep track of the most commonly-used terms but also assess the scope and severity of the Information Chaos problem. They can identify where the duplicate, redundant and corrupt files are, together with their volumes. This information can also later support the cleansing and migration stage; i.e. partially automating the process of deleting “bad” files, and moving “useful” information to a new home in the revised corporate file plan.

In summary, an Information Governance project might consist of the following phases:

flow diagram through the sub head topics listed here

Experience has shown that developing a taxonomy is very difficult to do across an entire business (of any size). In fact, both the first two (parallel) steps in this process are best carried out piecemeal; i.e. team by team, business unit by business unit, project by project; joining the models together later, eliminating any class duplication en route.  This has the added advantage of delivering early benefits and demonstrating steady progress to management.

3.    Information Architecture

In stage three, the results of the top-down taxonomy work and the bottom-up knowledge audit are combined to develop a new Information Architecture for the business. The core of this will be a hierarchical folder structure similar to the familiar Windows Explorer layout, but with important differences. In the Information Architecture hierarchy the nodes are classes of information. For example, it may consist of generic terms such as Project or Supplier, while a File Plan would have a specific folder for each real-world instance of the class.  So the class, Project, spawns Project Alpha, Project Bravo, Project Charlie, etc; the Supplier class creates GoliathCo, Bloggs & Sons, and so on.

The other important difference is the association of metadata with each class, and with the corresponding folders in the File Plan.  This is likely to include the standard maintenance metadata (author, owner, creation date, last modified date, etc); plus the document type; any access constraints; and retention schedules and disposal triggers.

Carefully selected business metadata is an invaluable support to Enterprise Search, but can be seen as a nuisance when saving documents. For this reason, metadata should be set as high up in the hierarchy as possible so that content placed in lower level folders can “inherit” the correct values without the need for additional data entry by the user.

4.    Set up the new File Plan

The next step in the project will be to implement the Information Architecture in a File Plan. How this is done will depend on the selected platform; for example, an Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) system, SharePoint, or network shared drives (although the latter will not be able to support a rich metadata schema such as is described above).

5.    Cleansing and Migration

With the target File Plan in place the last stage of the project can begin. Owners sort through their holdings, deleting the documents they no longer need and moving the valuable content to the proper places in the File Plan. This is a “housekeeping” exercise, an inevitable chore for many, and management must be careful to allow their staff sufficient time to complete it.

With an agreed Information Architecture, and a File Plan based on it that all staff can use, proper Information Governance can be introduced.

ConclusionsHINTS AND TIPS 1. Solving your Information Chaos problem will mean an unavoidable “House-keeping” exercise to identify your useful content and delete the rubbish. 2. You can reduce the pain, and avoid a future recurrence, by developing a new File Plan to move your cleansed content into. 3. Develop the File Plan by a combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up” – but do it in small bites, joining all the pieces up later.

Addressing the Information Chaos problem requires: first, the development of a target Information Architecture; and second, an extensive “housekeeping” exercise to eliminate the dross and migrate the organisation’s vital knowledge assets. The benefits of such a project will be:

  • Reduction of business risk by ensuring:
    • full traceability of decision making
    • an increased ability to respond to enquiries (legal, regulatory, FoI, audit, etc)
    • a reduced risk of litigation
  • Boosted user productivity by
    • minimising the admin burden on end users
    • providing secure collaborative working through a shared Information Architecture
    • better re-use of existing knowledge assets
  • Cost reduction
  • Enhanced information quality
  • Streamlined document and records management processes

Satisfaction as information chaos eliminated…

Share with me any experiences you have of successful information cleansing and migration, and any tips on how you’ve made the process work in your organisation. Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

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.

Artificial Intelligence: The new entertainment experience?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can radically transform how we interact with a range of services, with Amazon’s Alexa being a notable example growing rapidly in popularity. But in what ways could AI disrupt how we use and consume entertainment? Here are some ideas…

Dynamic film narrative

An AI can use Machine Learning to find hidden insights in a data set to identify remedial action. This capability could be used to enable a film viewer to directly interact with a film’s narrative – pausing the action any time to tell the AI (or even the film’s characters themselves?) how they think and feel about the story. Sentiment that an AI can then analyse in the cloud to learn what an audience wants next that’s fed back to the content producer – greater plot exposition, more of their favourite characters or action. AI-driven blockbuster entertainment that never flops!

Game voice user interface

Natural Language Processing (NLP) enables an AI to understand and respond to spoken and written commands. In terms of a console gaming experience, NLP could transform such experiences. Rather than using a controller to direct and interact with non-player characters within a game, the player could talk to them directly, naturally – a new level of gameplay design that creates truly immersive experiences.

Personalised content maker

AI’s ability to analyse massive amounts of data from potentially any source is enabling deeper, richer forms of Personalisation. Could an AI use this capability to create brand new content (stories, images, even films or music) to an individual’s specific tastes and mood? On demand entertainment that always delights, never gets boring or ends – the perfect TV channel you won’t want to switch off!

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

Intelligent personal assistants: an opportunity for retailers?

Alexa is arguably the tipping point for intelligent personal assistants; with Amazon’s open source approach to sharing its app (“skill”) development capabilities the sky’s the limit for this new, disruptive form of natural language driven customer experience. But what could retailers make of this opportunity? Here are some ideas…

It’s not the hardware but the cloud analytics that matters

Critical to any retailer using an intelligent personal assistant to innovate their brand is that these use cases should primarily focus on the business outcomes from using its cloud analytics capabilities, not the front-end device itself.

A retailer, for example, could use Alexa to provide instore guidance to shoppers to help them find items or make simple queries, physical customer browsing behaviour captured in the cloud that when combined with online experiences enables deeper, more contextual forms of personalisation across all this retailer’s channels.

An opportunity to simplify (and risk of complicating) customer journeys

A unique strength of an intelligent personal assistant is that it has the potential to smartly rationalise customer queries and transactions – an opportunity to turn chatbots into compelling conversational experiences a customer would have a preference for using over engaging a person or using a digital channel.

But there remains a significant user experience design challenge for its natural language driven interface – at what point does the buying journey become too complex for this channel and risks increasing friction for a customer? Any form of customer experience that requires a customer to look at detailed product information or make comparisons between products could be difficult and hard to follow through spoken voice generated content alone.

Alexa’s use of APIs could enable a retailer to combine this channel with its mobile e-commerce site (or in-store tablets) for example to create a seamless, holistic experience where complex information is shared visually driven by a customer’s voice commands and smartly informed by Alexa’s AI.

Bricks and mortar as a truly experiential destination

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Alexa (and intelligent personal assistants in general) is the potential for them to create unique, personalised experiences instore – a direct, deep relationship between a customer and a retailer’s brand. And because its cloud driven this enables interconnectivity (IoT) with other instore technologies such as targeted digital signage, interactive mirrors, social media engagement and mobile point of sale.

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

Inspiring digital skills in the next generation

I recently had the opportunity to go with colleagues on behalf of Sopra Steria to Victoria College in Belfast alongside Digital Shared Service (DSS) to present to fifty teenage girls on Working in IT.  It was a great opportunity for us to give something back to the local community and support Digital NI in promoting STEM subjects and digital technology careers to students.

Sopra Steria has an active role in each of our local communities where we partake in outreach programmes.

We aim to open the student’s eyes to the wonders of IT, the world of digital and its impact on individuals working and personal life.

It was a strange, but nice feeling being back in the classroom, especially being the one talking at the front! I had the challenge of beginning the session, introducing my company and myself to the students and explaining my own journey from a history degree to working in IT as a Graduate Business Analyst. I explained how not all jobs in IT are code based, the unique job roles included within IT and the different skills needed.

We next wanted to highlight the importance of IT within everyday life and introduced “Game Changer” a programme which has the ambition of raising physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles in children and that Sopra Steria is working on with Halton CCG and Widnes Vikings Rugby. Through the programme we have developed TRAKKA – a fitness band and associated measurement and monitoring application – and Sopra Steria’s programme lead Louise O’Leary captivated the students, challenging them to think about how simple changes in lifestyle can create big changes in wellbeing. Although the TRAKKA wristband was designed for younger kids they were interested to see how the ecosystem developed from TRAKKA:

Inspire, Inform, Improve

diagram 'trakka' ecosystem - circle of text: Nutrition, Data/Web/Apps, Information, Behaviour & Wellbeing, Academic Improvement, Activity, Content, Ideas - back to Nutrition

Data is at the heart of TRAKKA, highlighting performance and areas for improvement and following on from Louise’s presentation, another of my colleagues Dermot Boyle moved the conversation on to another important topic, data analytics, bringing it to life with real life and familiar examples. This is another emerging IT area where we will see increasing focus over the coming years and where apprentices and graduates will be able to make their mark as they start their careers. Designed to get them involved, we concluded with a quick hands-on session, asking them to answer questions from information in our TRAKKA, Power BI dashboard.

In our work with other schools and colleges across the UK, we’ve been involved in a number of projects providing Raspberry Pi kits helping to building IT and entrepreneurial skills. At the end of our visit we donated a Raspberry Pi to Victoria College to support them in working with the students to develop coding knowledge in a fun and interactive way.

Louise, Dermot and I all really loved being involved in this visit; it was fun and energetic and we really hope the students felt the same. It appears our time was well spent as the school has asked whether some of the children could take up work placements – so we may even see a few of the faces again in and around the Belfast office! It’s a big choice choosing your future career and it would be nice to think that we provided someone with that spark of inspiration to enter the world of IT.

If this is something that you feel interested in or want to know more about, please feel free to get in touch – we would be more than happy to help! You can leave a reply below, or contact me via email.

image of students at Victoria College
Our student audience at Victoria College

Look at how our sustainability programme encourages students to build skills and careers in IT.

Understand more about our vibrant team and work in Northern Ireland.

We offer great training, development and career progression prospects – find out more about our Early Careers opportunities.

Shopping with Artificial Intelligence: The frictionless family customer experience?

With Amazon, Facebook and Google all adopting an open source approach to development of their artificial intelligence (AI) services, what could this innovation mean for a family shopping on the High Street? Here are some ideas…

An end to Saturday morning parking mayhem – having to spend half an hour queuing to get into a shopping centre car park only to find out the only spaces left are on the hundredth floor can be a miserable start (and end) to a Saturday shop for the whole family.

An AI personal assistant could reduce the friction of this inconvenience by reserving a suitable car parking space at the shopping centre in advance, based on the family’s store preferences, accessibility requirements and other factors, like forecast weather. It can then send the reserved space location to the family’s in-car GPS and automatically pay for its ticket. The more an AI can effectively integrate or communicate with other systems the greater the convenience for customers.

No more bored kids looking at their mobiles – the family have spent hours traipsing from store to store failing to be engaged by any of these retail experiences. The kids are just itching to get their phones out to start socialising with their friends, and mum and dad are getting the feeling they are better off buying online.

An AI could transform the friction of this irrelevant customer experience by giving in-store products ‘personality’ –  a product can introduce itself using spoken voice to these customers (via a store branded mobile app for example), talk about its unique selling points and answer potentially any question about its suitability – all personalised using buying and social insights the AI has about the family. The more an AI can effectively apply analytics to create experiential, contextual shopping experiences, the more compelling and delightful bricks and mortar stores become for customers.

Empowered shopping without added wrinkles – So the family have found things they need and discovered lots of things they want, but mum and dad aren’t comfortable with uncontrolled spending across their bulging wallet of bank cards.

An AI could help remove the friction of this uncertainty by acting as a single channel for these customers to manage their disparate bank services in one place, giving on the spot advice about saving and spending to enable the right purchasing decisions and provide a secure, easy to use payment system using customer voice recognition (biometric authentication). The more an AI can create a platform that combines and simplifies a range of complex services; the better mobility customers have on the High Street – experiences that rival anything offered by online retailers.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

 

New banking… new thinking

They say money talks.  Well in the world of banking, that is often true.  But now, new entrant and challenger banks can breathe a sigh of relief.

Know your customer. It’s the oldest adage in the world but still the most valuable. But understanding the needs, wants, expectations and behaviours of today’s highly demanding and digital customers is tricky for all organisations – and most especially banks.

Banking has transformed (and then some!) in the last 10 years. In the past, banks designed services and customers took what was available. Inertia ruled – and customers largely stayed loyal. Now all that’s changed. New, exciting, personalised banking services are constantly emerging – and the bank that truly understands what different types of customers want and need now and in the future gets ahead and stays ahead. Standing still is not an option! The message is clear; if banks don’t provide the services, security, flexibility and innovation that its customers want and need – they will vote ‘with their feet’ and move to another bank that does. Simples!

But understanding complex customer behaviours, financial requirements and market developments requires highly sophisticated and often complex analysis. It’s a fact that there are some great analytics solutions on the market but until recently, these were incredibly expensive and beyond the reach of all but established banks or ‘well heeled’ new entrants. This put new banks at a disadvantage and hampered them from designing new, responsive, highly personalised solutions. But now that’s changed.

From today, advanced highly sophisticated analytic capabilities will be within the reach of ALL banks.

How? Sopra Steria, a European pioneer in digital transformation, has just announced that it has become a SAS Managed Analytics Services Provider (MASP). This will enable us to offer cutting edge, high-end analytic solutions at a cost effective price point for new entrant banks.

We will include ‘Gold level’ SAS cloud-based analytics solutions as part of our Modular Digital Banking (MDB) solution. This innovative end-to-end, fully functional digital banking solution delivers a ‘step change’ in banking service analytics capability, enabling new entrants to increase their agility and responsiveness.  Key features include:

  • A real time decision engine with integrated marketing automation and advanced analytics
  • Advanced visual analytics capability to create descriptive and predictive models
  • Enterprise grade development environment to ensure organisations can meet regulatory compliance requirements both now and in the future
  • Data modelling as well as data integration, quality and management capabilities

Interested?  Take a look at the Sopra Steria and SAS strategic partnership and find out more about affordable, advanced and innovative analytics that can help you make better decisions faster.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.