Blockchain – survival of the fittest

Recently, I took part in a discussion on blockchain broadcast by Digital Leader’s DLTV team. Guided superbly by the BBC’s Kate Russell, myself and three others (Maja Zehavi, Anish Mohammed and John Bertrand) wandered through the latest thinking and future possibilities of the world of distributed ledgers.

And it left me with something really quite striking.

Blockchain is complicated – we know that. It relies on a vocabulary that includes sophisticated cryptographic terminology and brain-aching concepts around decentralised consensus models. And yet, the principles are beguilingly simple. Aside from the complexity of the solution, the concept of everyone involved in a transaction having open, trusted access to a distributed ledger is something that a rapidly expanding community are eagerly pursuing.

And it’s the speed at which this community is collaborating that is so striking. We are at very early days in the development of this technology. (Never mind the applications, many of the core protocols are still being debated.) Despite its formative state, research and development around blockchain is distinctively collaborative, with start-ups, big business, regulators and academia all openly sharing knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

In the programme, one of my co-speakers, Anish described this as being ‘Evolutionary’, in a Darwinian sense. Progress is being made through collaborative experimentation and a form of natural selection that enables progress to be made at speed through ‘generations’ of iteration.

It’s an approach that reflects our digital times. The value of knowledge is now ephemeral. It’s the application of knowledge that is key. The accessibility of digital technology – be it blockchain or otherwise – invites us to develop new use cases, test solutions and refine them. Openly. Collaboratively. And rapidly.

And in the end the fittest ideas survive. ‘Distributed Digital Darwinism’ in action courtesy of the blockchain.

Why not watch the episode on YouTube? and read our latest thought leadership paper “Blockchain: Harnessing the Power of Distributed Ledgers”.

Sopra Steria is proud to support Digital Leaders – helping to organise and host digital salons for Digital Leaders Scotland and Digital Leaders Northern Ireland. Learn more about Digital Leaders.

What are your thoughts about blockchain? Leave a replay below or contact me by email.

Power your competitive advantage using digital thinking

Digital Thinking – the ability to disrupt markets using cloud-enabled big data and analytics capabilities – can positively transform how an organisation differentiates itself from competitors and optimise costs.

So how can an organisation maximise the benefits of Digital Thinking? Here are some ideas…

The Mirror Technique

A digital disruptor turns a sector on its head by making it a lot harder for incumbent players to strategically identify, assess and respond to the threats they pose. For example, Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit don’t buy or supply the services in the sectors they compete in – they are not direct competitors in a traditional sense. Rather they are convenient intermediaries that offer both customers and suppliers faster, smarter ways to transact with each other using their own monetised cloud services.

Arguably for many organisations (large and small) Digital Thinking like these outlier disruptors can be challenging, particularly where barriers of entry to their sector are considered to be high. To help validate any threats or opportunities from such market innovation, an organisation can apply “The Mirror Technique” – no matter how impossible or unfeasible it looks, what would be the exact reverse of its current approach to market or operating model? What would be the impact on the organisation and its customers if a direct competitor or new entrant implemented this approach first? And critically, how fast could available cloud capabilities realise these potential disruptive forms of competitive advantage?

This application of scenario analysis can help an organisation identify and assess the risks and opportunities it faces from previously unforeseen cloud-powered Digital Thinking – could it be standing on a burning platform or an untapped goldmine?

Big Data Learning

Gathering large volumes of unique data about customers and operating model performance is emerging as a key source of competitive advantage for many organisations. For example, UK high street retailers are capturing data about customer buying behaviours across their physical/in-store and online channels to better personalise their offerings against the experience delivered by Digital Disruptors like Amazon.

A key challenge is learning how to yield these disjointed, complex data sets into something coherent that delivers effective moments of delight for an individual customer using an efficient value chain. Furthermore, by an organisation treating its big data capability as a barrier of entry for competitors, there is a risk of delaying the time to market of any resulting initiatives because it’s having to learn by itself, in isolation, how best to use this form of Digital Thinking.

One way to potentially accelerate and de-risk this learning process is to for an organisation to collaborate with its partners or suppliers in the gathering and application of big data using a cloud platform. In addition, it may even want to consider coopetition with its competitors where participants share their experiences and capabilities together for mutual benefit – “Big Data Learning” enables greater competitive advantage for all the more its shared.

The face to face test

Digital disruptors exploit analytics to inform the design of new forms of personalised engagement including customer centricity, social media and media content. Combined with their ability to offer competing services with lower (or even zero) switching costs for customers; such Digital Thinking risks rendering an organisation’s established market offerings obsolete.

Another outlier disruptor vividly illustrates the competitive advantage of such a move – FaceBook’s $16 billion acquisition of cross-platform mobile messaging service WhatsApp. Not only has WhatsApp decimated Telcos’ revenues from text messaging services, these incumbent players will have no direct access to this huge Social Media channel (estimated 900 million global user base) and the customer insights it generates – Facebook is using Digital Thinking to create an unbeatable barrier of entry as well using this unique analytical capability as a platform for future growth.

However, unlike many traditional organisations, disruptors arguably have no experience of physically serving customers directly to inform these capabilities. This weakness can be exploited by using “The Face To Face Test”, where an organisation applies its own tacit, historic experience of customer engagement to develop a new disruptive market approach using analytics. This test asks questions about how one of their own real life customers would react if a digital service was delivered to them physically by an employee. Example questions include: what information should your employee intuitively, instinctively know about this individual customer before they start serving them? What things shouldn’t they know or ask about? How can your employee genuinely surprise and delight this long standing customer every time?

By applying analytics as a representation of a physical employee drawing from real world experience, an organisation can arguably personalise their customer engagement approach in ways beyond the reach of digital disruptors.

If you would like more information about how cloud-enabled big data and analytics can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

What will be disrupting our world in the next 3 – 5 years?

In 2015, we used this blog forum to talk about how our future digital business world is being shaped by some key technologies, what impact they are having and the resulting societal challenges they are bringing about. You may have listened to the podcasts from ‘Aurora’, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team that discussed digital automation and human augmentation.

In 2016, we are broadening our research and focusing on three areas of disruptive technology and the effect they have on us as individuals, the world of work and the planet as a whole. We are even more fascinated by where these stories interconnect, as shown on the matrix below:

(See end for text description of this image
Aurora horizon scanning: our six areas of research in 2016

Listen to our first podcast of 2016 where we describe the approach for our research and an insight into areas that we are interested in – and getting excited about!

We are hoping to include guest speakers for our future podcasts, so let us know your ideas for them and thoughts about our areas of research for 2016.

Leave a reply below or contact us by email.

Don’t forget to follow the team on Twitter:

@timdifford
@richpotter_
@ben_innovates

And enjoy our Flipboard magazine on iOS, Android and Windows devices.


Description of Aurora’s six areas of research in 2016

  1. The digital human: interacting with services and each other through ubiquitous devices and data-driven experiences
  2. The organic enterprise: flexible, distributed, collaborative and networked organisations
  3. The connected planet: a crowded, ageing, more connected and fluid world
  4. Intelligent insight and automation: the increase in the application of prescriptive analytics and automation to augment or displace human activity
  5. Ubiquitous interaction: the growth of sensing and interface technologies that make interactions between humans and computers more fluid, intuitive and pervasive
  6. Distributed disruption: the growth of decentralised processes enabled by the adoption of technologies which assure and automate security and trust

 

The Liquid Big Data Platform – a digital business model for all organisations?

A Liquid Big Data Platform uses cloud technology and agile ways of working to enable organisations to share and analyse large volumes of data together for their mutual benefit.

If this model is scaled to a global level where any organisation (both large and small) anywhere in the world could use it collaboratively, what new business models could potentially emerge?

Here are some ideas…

Accelerated design advantage

Many organisations are already exploiting Big Data driven Machine Learning to improve their services in real time (such as search engine optimisation, medical diagnosis and fraud detection).

In the so-called “arms race”, big name tech, automotive and pharmaceutical companies are reportedly spending billions of dollars annually to realise their own IP in this area of Artificial Intelligence. A potential strategic implication is that these first movers will create barriers of entry that prevent other competitors (including small or medium sized enterprises) using AI as a disruptive source of rapid, responsive service design and organisational agility.

A global Liquid Big Data Platform could enable a form of co-opetition between these competitors to realise shared Machine Learning capabilities as a source of competitive advantage that would be unfeasible using their own limited resources. Also, by sharing with each other data or insights about their customers or services could lead to forms of innovation first movers can’t deliver in their silo positions.

Public sector power house

In the UK, health and social care organisations are exploring ways to share Big Data collaboratively to deliver better outcomes for their service users and wider society. A key technical challenge they face is interoperability – the ability of different systems to talk to each other effectively – as their data is often on different legacy networks and applications arguably not originally designed for such a cross-boundary approach.

A cloud-based Liquid Big Data Platform could enable these organisations to overcome these technical barriers to focus on the real value of this business model – joined up preventative and reactive care delivery. Also, if this platform is scalable it could enable organisations with the right analytical capabilities to efficiently power such services in other countries – global collaboration as a source of public service improvement.

Global cost optimiser

Many organisations are migrating their IT assets to cloud to enable cost savings and increased market responsiveness. This includes applications, data and other digital assets that are the source of their competitive advantage. For example, many digital disruptors exploit cloud capabilities to create platforms for services across different countries or the emergence of government transactional services on one shared platform.

An agile Liquid Big Data Platform could continually optimise such benefits by seamlessly moving these assets to different geographies or markets that offer the lowest costs and best support.  For example it could be continually transferring hosting services to different countries with the most favourable exchange rates or where there are higher skilled technical development resources.

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

The #snow must go on – the story of Project: Barry

Recap

This is the tale of a bunch of graduates, their first forays into projects and the trials and tribulations found within. “Project: Barry” is a Graduate project created to map snow worldwide using data pulled from Twitter, and this is the end of it’s saga – catch up on the full story here.

When it snows it pours: late November, two weeks since presentation

During this time, GIS moved to complete the mapping section of the project. The server would comprehend the information being sent to it by Barry, store it in a database and then map it in real time. The viewpoint of the map would be updated to the location of the most recent tweet, creating an interactive experience.

Next we put together a buffer for notifications, making them more useful. This allowed us to stack up tweets over some time, then send one notification with a number of tweets and a selection of locations involved.

Things were moving smoothly and ahead of schedule when we received word that the final presentation would be on the upcoming Friday – not in several weeks like the original deadline.

Whiteout: beginning of December – presentation time

Due to several issues, the date had changed but thanks to the Agile methods, we had a working program ready to be put into production at the end of each week. This allowed us to simply cancel later features (sorry GUI and web crawling!) and tidy up.

This iteration of Barry (v0.1) was at the point of being run on a server, sending information to the database in real time to be mapped and sending buffered notifications to the group – and this was what was presented in the beginning of December. The presentation was open to the entire Edinburgh office and saw a full room ready to interact with Barry and the mapping system in real time.

Participants were able to tweet using the word ‘snow’ and have their name, (embarrassing) display picture and location appear on screen as the map bounced around showing the locations of tweets from around the world. See the example below for a first hand look at Barry in its natural habitat! (You may need to click on the image to start its animation)

Animated image showing snow-spots around the globe on a map of the world

Outcomes

It’s safe to say each Barrista (demonym for those of Project: Barry) was glad to have been a part of the project. Gaining project experience alongside book learning was a huge addition to being part of Sopra Steria’s Graduate programme. Working alongside other streams really makes you think for others and seriously improves your knowledge.

Expanding and developing the project has proven to be incredibly fruitful, both in terms of improving our standing within the company (recognised as being “Those guys who made that Twitter thing”!) and increasing our effectiveness when stepping into the Real World™. Experiencing real deadlines, shifts in scope and late notice changes really gave us a chance to prove our worth and flex our skills.

After the thaw

After the end of the project, the Barristas have since moved to other projects – but the legacy of Barry will live on…

Barry’s real time mapping component is to be utilised to provide visual representation of activity on a potentially company wide basis… so stay tuned!


This is just one example of the innovative projects Sopra Steria graduates get involved with. If you are, or someone you know is, graduating in 2016 and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme.

There’s no business like #snow business – the story of Project: Barry

This is the tale of a bunch of graduates, their first forays into projects and the trials and tribulations found within. This is the first of two blog posts – which can, and will be, officially regarded as a saga – so keep an eye out!

Outline

“Barry” is an application developed to track snow using Twitter, alerting users through phone notifications and mapping the information worldwide in real time. Barry has been used to track weather movements and is accurate when compared to traditional reports.

And some stats about the project:

  • Five graduates from Sopra Steria’s October 2015 intake
  • Three Java, plus GIS and Project Management streams
  • Seven weeks to compile the project as a side task
  • Two presentation dates with open invites to everyone in our Edinburgh office

Story Time

Outlook optimistic: mid October, end of week two with the company

Post-induction, post-presentations and post-welcomes, the Java graduates were looking for something with a little more bite. During one of our first meetings with our stream lead, it was tentatively proposed that we create a programme to grab information from Twitter and send a notification to your phone. This would become “Project: Barry”.

Naturally, the Java grads were keen for the opportunity to put our book knowledge to the test and stick a figurative toe into the sea of development. We decided to follow the general idea and the topic of snow was chosen; the temporary name of “SnowStalkers” was toyed with and we began putting our heads together.

The notification system came first, starting with the software Pushbullet, which is used for pushing notifications between devices. We developed a cheap and cheerful prototype and with that in place, we set our sights a little higher.

Clouds building: start of November, one week of work on project

We decided to open the doors of the project to other streams and in a quick series of conversations, we simultaneously increased and slimmed down our workload. We brought in a GIS graduate (Geographic Information Systems – it’s OK, I had to ask too), to expand into mapping the data we were gathering. Alongside this we picked up a Project Management graduate (yes we have those, and yes it’s viable), to whip us into shape and bring more structure to our project.

This was a big step towards making this idea into a serious project, as it was originally Java only – bringing in others allowed them to get more experience and working with other knowledge bases only improves your own learning. This is when Project Barry got its name; with a slip of the tongue, our GIS grad Brian was dubbed ‘Barry’ for the day and, as they say, the rest is history. We began structured meetings with agendas and began putting together our own scope – putting down features we must, should and wanted to have implemented.

First flakes: early November, under two weeks since the project expansion

Twitter integration working smoothly, mapping prototype running, and notifications flying – it was time for the first presentation, six weeks since starting the job. At the time Barry (v0.0) would grab one tweet based on snow and send a notification to the group. The presentation was to a few members of the Java team at Edinburgh, with all major points covered in under seven minutes (Pecha Kucha style).

With the first presentation completed, we made the change to Agile Sprints. We put together a trimmed feature list which at the time included:

  • Automation (continuously running without human input)
  • Twitter streaming API (similar to automation, but for Twitter)
  • Mapping (do you have to ask?)
  • Web crawling (grabbing information from websites linked in tweets)
  • Graphical User Interface (an interface to enter data)
  • Notification buffering (collecting tweets to send fewer notifications)

The aim was to implement one feature per week – taking us up to our apparent week 12 (since starting with the company) deadline with a week to spare. Java graduates brought automation and Twitter streaming into fruition soon after the presentation – Barry was continually running, pulling down tweets in real time and sending (far too many) notifications.

Next time on Project: Barry…

Read about the fate of Barry – its actionromance improvements, the twist in the tale and lessons learnt.


 

This is just one example of the innovative projects Sopra Steria graduates get involved with. If you are, or someone you know is, graduating in 2016 and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme.

Wired for sound: what are the next ‘big things’?

My colleagues and I in the horizon scanning team are constantly looking at stories from around the world about the technologies that are shaping our lives and digital workplace. But it doesn’t beat experiencing creative, insightful and inspirational speakers – such as those at Wired2015 in London last week, described as “…the innovators changing the world and promoting disruptive thinking and radical ideas…”.

We were so inspired by what we heard that we recorded a short (8-minute) ‘at event’ podcast in which we each summarised the highlights… they range from quantum physics, art installations and test labs to space rockets powered by antimatter, smart cities and whether our noses will become big data devices!

Listen to what excited us about our digital future and what is on the horizon that will shape our lives in the next few years and for the next generation.

To learn more about Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, and the topics that we are researching, read our brief opinion paper on the world ‘beyond digital’.

  1. Digital automation
  2. Augmented human
  3. My Data
  4. Disintermediation
  5. Securing the net
  6. Hyper innovation

What are your thoughts about robotics and the future of digital? Leave a comment below or contact the Aurora horizon scanning team by email