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

Solving organisational challenges in partnership

On Monday 14 January, I and seven colleagues spanning all areas of our delivery – from the training room to the web team and the data team – attended a Tech for Good Hackathon with some fifty Sopra Steria graduates and mentors.

We know that if our charity is to continue to grow both in its impact and its reach we need more effective and efficient systems, and to achieve this will require a greater focus both on problem-solving within our current workflow as well as implementation of new digital solutions.

hackathon monatge

Focussing on the student journey, from enrolment, on-course support to completion, we were hugely impressed by the enthusiasm, professionalism and team-work that the Sopra Steria graduates showed, tackling what often appear to us as quite intractable operational challenges.

The opportunity for me and my colleagues to simply take a day out to reflect on current practice was in itself hugely helpful, and one that we don’t otherwise find the space for: but to marry that opportunity with the creative ideas and plans put forward by the Sopra Steria graduates really made it a worthwhile day, giving us the clarity and focus this piece of work deserves.

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll begin implementing some of the ideas from the Hackathon, and can’t wait to see how those ideas develop.


Anthony Harmer – CEO, ELATT

Looking Ahead to Customer Experience Design in 2019

As we get into the new year here’s a look ahead at some things I hope to see more of in Customer Experience Design during 2019.

Conversational Graphical User Interface (GUI)

While voice UI continued to be a big focus in 2018 and will no doubt carry on advancing in 2019, I hope to see more GUI’s taking a steer from conversational design, chatbots replacing forms for common interactions with an organisation (like updating stored details) and even guiding customers in product selection and decision making instead of traditional navigation structures. Add a dash of AI and you could see apps and websites becoming more and more like virtual assistants – with or without voice enablement – making digital experiences feel ever more natural and personal.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Virtual Reality (VR) is still finding its place in the world of commerce and although we have some great examples of VR applications in training and recruitment (including some developed by our colleagues in Shared Services Connected Ltd for the Ministry of Justice) I expect AR to really come into its own next year, with a multitude of possible uses in a variety of fields such as commerce, government, and healthcare. Although mobile AR has been around for some time I can see it becoming more widely used as product designers recognise the untapped potential in the device we all carry around every day, so that AR capabilities can be brought into everyday experiences, not just preserved for those with specialist kit.

Hyper-Personalisation

Again, not a new fad but something that has been steadily building for a few years. As we continue to take more of a holistic view of customer journeys – designing the service not just the digital product – I can see the application of big and dynamic data to tailor end-to-end journeys to the specific needs of an individual. At the micro level, when designing products I expect to see less segmentation by traditional demographics and more thought given to mindsets, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, underpinned by data. If we are going to be given permission to keep collecting customers’ data we need to be very quick to use it to improve their experiences and demonstrate value back to the customer.

Investment in Customer Experience

And at a market level, it is becoming clear that brands will increasingly compete on Customer Experience in coming years, with an Econsultancy report this year showing that 69% of companies believe they will be competing on customer experience by 2020*. As experience becomes a key differentiator I expect more focus on the skills and tools needed to deliver great experiences, with design becoming a core part of any Digital Transformation programme and organisations continuing to build their own in-house capability to support this. External creative teams (such as ours) working with client organisations, will need to demonstrate how we can establish and support blended in-house/external teams, with a strong focus on DesignOps and close collaboration, ensuring that we can provide the right support and specialist skills to complement existing teams. Nelson Hall recently announced that Sopra Steria have been identified as a ‘Leader’ their NEAT assessment for UX/UI services and we are continuing to focus on this vital capability to make sure we deliver world-class experiences for our clients and their customers.

2019 looks set to be a bumper year for customer experience design, and I’m really excited about what we can achieve with a renewed focus on improving lives by putting customers at the heart of digital transformation.

For more information about how Sopra Steria can help you get closer to your customers and design transformative experiences, please contact:

Bethany Jarroussié
Digital Practice Director – Experience Design
bethany.jarroussie@soprasteria.com

* ‘Bridging the customer experience gap’ 2018 by Econsultancy and Zone

 

Is DevOps dead?

In certain circles, DevOps has become a dirty word – an outdated, ‘of the minute’ trend that was banded about in the tech world without anyone having a solid idea of what it means. It’s very easy to say you’re doing DevOps, but often, everyone is on a different page.

For many, DevOps has stopped being something to shout about – it’s what we expect as a minimum and it’s business as usual. In a fast-paced digital world, taking months to deploy your code or respond to customer feedback is no longer good enough. With the likes of Amazon deploying code an average of every 11.7 seconds, the expectations of customers are shifting.

Having a successful DevOps strategy isn’t just about having the right tools available, or having everyone sit in the same room – it’s about a complete cultural and procedural overhaul. Done right, DevOps can make life much easier for everyone and attract the best talent. Done wrong, DevOps is just another failed experiment that will get teams frustrated and falling back into time-consuming habits.

I’m working with who?!

One of the major obstacles to successful implementation of DevOps is cultural change. Siloes between operational, development, design and security teams should be broken and replaced by a product team, requiring a redefinition of roles and responsibilities. These teams should have cross-functional skillsets, and be small and self-organising. Thus, training and assessing the skills of the workforce is essential.

Whilst a pilot project can be a low-risk way of starting to implement DevOps, scaling this strategy can be difficult and slow. This is a major hurdle preventing large organisations from achieving the agility and speed that allows them to compete with the tech giants.

Create a flow

Improving workflows requires coordination between application delivery and backend infrastructure. Standards for each phase of the project – building, testing, delivery and monitoring – must be defined and agreed by the whole team. With the right approach to governance, a balance can be struck between flexibility and quality assurance.

Automation is the key to unlocking efficiency through DevOps. Using technologies such as microservice architectures will help to form a deployment pipeline for each service and lower the risk of code changes, whilst using Infrastructure as Code will increase the efficiency and repeatability of the build process.

Tic tac tool

Finally, whilst tooling isn’t the only thing taking you from monthly to weekly deployment, agreeing and using the right toolkit will ensure an efficient workflow. Whilst there are innumerable available tools, agreeing a toolkit that covers release, configuration management, orchestration, monitoring, testing and containerisation will ensure the team is able to provide robust service delivery and adapt to users’ needs in real-time.

The end goal

Of course, the real game-changer is the speed of delivery. Creating an efficient DevOps workflow is pointless if we are not considering the outcomes. But given the speed of change in technology, DevOps is about more than efficient operations – it’s about keeping up with your customers.

Call it what you will – continuous delivery, DevOps, or tech in the modern era – DevOps practices will be the line between those who survive the pace of digital, and those who don’t.

Why Digital Skills should be top of the class in today’s schools

What will the jobs market be like in 5 years’ time (or even in 1 years’ time) – given the rapid changes that are going on right now?

Robotics and Intelligent Automation are becoming mainstream, chatbots and avatars are taking over call centres and new fintech banks such as Monzo and Starling are turning the traditional banking market on its head.  People of all ages will have to start acquiring new skills and approaches to working if they want an interesting, sustainable and well-paid job.

It’s a fact that digital is transforming the jobs market.  People with digital skills and knowledge are in high demand and are commanding high salaries.  Data is the major differentiator – and understanding how to gain insight from the increasingly huge volumes of data that we are all generating is crucial to every business right now.  Universities and many Financial Services organisations have already started investing in digital and data.  There are a plethora of courses and training available – but until recently – digital wasn’t really taught in schools – leaving young people who didn’t choose (or couldn’t afford) to go to university woefully under skilled and unprepared for the new reality of employment in today’s demanding jobs market.

The first Digital School of Excellence

That’s why it’s great to see Newbattle High School in Midlothian launching the first Scottish-based Digital School of Excellence.  As well as teaching digital skills, Newbattle will be one of the first schools to also include Data Science as a core part of its curriculum. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics as well as local businesses like Sopra Steria are investing in this landmark Digital School as they know it’s the only way to get the right ‘talent’ and skills into the jobs market.  The school doesn’t just teach digital and data skills – it also encourages its pupils to be entrepreneurial, to challenge the status quo and to understand the creation process of great products as well as instilling the right skills and techniques to ‘sell’ their ideas to a sceptical and highly demanding audience.

The Unified Schools Programme

In Scotland, the financial services industry is working on its ‘Unified Schools Programme’ under the leadership of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and led by HSBC’s Colin Halpin. It’s an exciting project with a joint message about why financial services is an exciting, progressive and diverse industry to work in. The programme is focused on promoting the sector as THE digitally focused and customer centric place to be for young people, highlighting the advantages a career in digital can offer.

An SFE pilot project involving Newbattle High School and Queensferry High School kicked off in November 2018 to give young people opportunities to experience financial services through short placements. SFE members and Skills Development Scotland are fully supporting the initiative.  Why?  Big business knows it needs fresh talent and realises it needs to promote the financial services industry as a great place to work, highlighting the multiple opportunities that the sector can deliver if it’s to get the creative and talented people it needs to be future ready. There really is a job for everyone in financial services – and for young people with a positive attitude, creativity, enthusiasm and focus, it can be a fantastic first step into the world of work.

I used to be concerned for today’s young people facing an uncertain future in a demanding jobs market.  Now I can see exciting new career opportunities where the education system, with support from government and industry helps the next generation to think differently, to be brave and to create ideas that will shape our future.  Scotland is setting the pace for change – the question is – when will the rest of the UK catch up and put digital skills top of the agenda?

From East to West – the changing dynamics in retail

Have you come across Zozotown yet? It’s an example of a retail phenomenon that is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in omni-commerce – the dedicated online shopping channel. The business model behind Zozotown – known as Zozo to many of its users – represents a shift towards true unified commerce.

As well as being an online shopping marketplace, it provides both a warehouse and fulfilment for major and minor brands. Sellers ship their products for storage to a Zozotown warehouse. As there is no inventory risk for Zozotown, and since no initial fees are paid, a higher commission rate is charged compared to other marketplace businesses – in some cases, up to a third of the item price.

Getting personal in retail

The Zozo shopping experience is personalised and interactive, with a customer’s size choice remembered from purchase-to-purchase and styling ideas offered. This model, along with other retail innovations, began not with the online retail giants in the West, but in Asia where e-commerce is expanding at record rates. For example, China’s e-commerce sales are set to grow by £180bn in 2018 alone, which is £23bn more than the UK’s entire annual online spend.

This is the topic of a new opinion paper that I’ve recently published, ‘Retailers look East for digital inspiration’. In it I look at how technology is changing the face of retail and how much of the innovation in this sector has traditionally come from the likes of Silicon Valley in the US. That’s all changing. We are increasingly seeing retail innovations stemming from the East, several of which I describe in my paper. There’s a heightened consumer appetite for digital commerce. Even Japan with its ageing population sees 70 per cent of all the fashion sold online purchased via smartphones.

Putting the customer first

What lessons can the East share with the West? Perhaps the key one is the region’s focus on an effortless customer journey, where the experience is quick, seamless and continually improving. Innovations are very much attuned to the customer, for example with easy (mobile) access, multiple payment options and an almost ‘a la carte’ shopping and delivery experience.

As a consulting-led organisation, Sopra Steria retains a lively interest in developments like this. We constantly monitor disruptive new technologies and business models in the market. This enables us to see which ones are evolving and who is innovating at the fastest pace.

We’re also innovating ourselves. I am particularly interested in Sopra Steria’s development of a voice-enabled conversational chatbot proposition, known as Digital Customer Interaction. This ties in neatly with my earlier point about the need to build an effortless customer journey. It’s a trailblazing proposition in which a conversational bot uses real-time insight to provide a highly-tailored and personalised customer journey, regardless of channel used. From responses to frequently asked questions and automated customer identification and verification, to multimedia objects pushed to a smartphone for multi-channel interactions, our solution supports an end-to-end customer journey using natural language processing enabled by digital voice.

This is just one of the many exciting developments we are seeing in the retail sector, where digital is fast creating a level playing field globally. Retail pioneers in the West, such as Amazon and eBay, should now be looking closely at their peers in the East, where being customer centric is di rigueur.

I am looking forward to the next phase in the evolution of retail and feel sure it will have customer centricity at its core.

Download ‘Retailers look East for digital inspiration’’

For more information on Sopra Steria’s approach to delivering real and lasting value in retail, contact me on sylvester.eseigbe@soprasteria.com

Scotsoft 2018. Smart people, community and trees

Last week I was proud to continue the tradition of Sopra Steria’s support of the Young Software Engineer of the year award, since its inception 20 years ago.  Once again the entrants were outstanding (though I confess the technicalities of some project went right over my head!).   Can Gafuroglu’s winning  project was entitled  ‘Joint prediction and Classification of Brain Image Evolution Trajectories from Baseline with Application to Early Dementia Diagnosis’.  Our industry is about solving problems and this project underlines the significance of what can be achieved by the smart use of technology by #smartpeople.

 

The buzz at the dinner was incredible and underlined the spirit of ScotlandIS – that of #community.   Our Sopra Steria table was no exception, with a mix of SMEs, customers and advisors. Plus Alison McLaughlin – now on secondment to Scottish Government Digital as part of the Digital Fellowship Programme.

And, #trees.  Lizzy Yarnold was an inspirational speaker on the evening and reminded us all of the importance of belief, ambition and team work.  She spoke about a book “The Inner Life of Trees”: What they feel, how they communicate.  A brilliant parallel to business life – the need for constant communication, mutual support and networking.

Well done to ScotlandIS.  The Scotsoft conference has once again reinforced our Smart Young People, Our Community and that we are a well-connected forest.


by Mags Moore, Head of Government for Scotland and Northern Ireland.