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

Julie is a robot! The rise of digital automation

I love talking with colleagues, clients and partners about the new ideas and technologies that are defining our digital business world. As a result, I’m thrilled to be part of ‘Aurora’, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, where we discuss some of the key topics which are going to shape our world in the next three to five years.

We love sharing our ideas, and we want to widen the conversation with like-minded people interested in listening to what we have to say. So we’ve turned our round table discussions into a series of podcasts and you can listen to the first one where we focus our attention on digital automation – the displacement of human work by machines (or robots), the impact it’s having and the resulting societal challenges.

We discuss “Julie” Richard Potter’s ‘virtual assistant’ who – alongside the likes of ‘Siri’ and ‘Cortana’ – demonstrates an area of robotic technology that’s transforming the workplace, and Ben Gilburt’s interesting experience of a webchat with a high-profile media company. This began as an obvious interaction with a robot then, when his questions became too complex, in stepped a real person which posed the question, how and when does human intervention take place within a robotic process?

We talk about a specific example in the insurance industry where regulatory reports could be compiled using automated intelligence. Although each report would contain different data and results, the language used would be similar across every report provoking a potentially irrational response from the regulators that the reports weren’t acceptable.

These, and other questions around our readiness for faceless interactions with computers and whether robotics as simply another delivery channel would meet customer expectations, is discussed in our podcast, “Julie is a robot!”

To learn more about Aurora, and the six 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

Fostering innovation in Government

Efficient, personalised public services require innovation to be part of everyday business. That requires an approach which incentivises and encourages learning, change and improvement but which does not crowd out local innovation with central direction. We know from the experience of working with government to deliver business process and technology transformation that a focus on outcomes is critical.

Innovation starts with a responsiveness to the public and to users. More and more, the public’s ideas, ambitions, aspirations and resources are the source of inspiration for how public services can change. We must help unlock a different kind of relationship between government and citizens. Choice and competition are important ingredients. But we must move beyond consultation to conversation and collaboration. The success of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their digital transformation agenda is a relentless focus on users and their willingness to have a dialogue leading to change, rather than a culture of ‘we know best’.

Second, we know government is full of talented and passionate teams who are committed to radically improving the services they deliver. But processes and systems can sometimes prevent good ideas from taking root and spreading. Innovators at all levels of government – local leaders, service professionals and citizens themselves – need more support to flourish. In other blogs we have highlighted the work of our Digital User Experience team, that adopts and extends the standards set by Government, working to meet customer expectations by researching target markets, rapidly prototyping and helping civil servants to visualise ideas, create usable and intuitive designs and delivering multi-platform solutions.

Third, we have to make sure that government at the centre is supporting innovation. The UK must be the best place in the world to run an innovative public service. As budgets are squeezed, new approaches are even more vital to improve the efficiency and quality of services, tackle strategic challenges and build new kinds of services for a new global economy. Innovative approaches will be focused on addressing long-term challenges, such as the need to reduce re-offending and promote social cohesion. For example, we are working with private and third sector organisations to explore how digital and mobile technologies can promote nudge behaviour and promote self-help within the offender community.

Finally, changes in people’s expectations and knowledge, combined with technology are revolutionising the way people find solutions to problems and support each other. Much innovation in society is undertaken through new channels such as online communities. For example, hundreds of thousands of people share practical ideas through sites such as netmums.com or moneysavingexpert.com. These and other channels could enable the public to engage with government much more effectively. Government must move further from traditional one-way consultation to a genuine two-way conversation and collaboration with citizens. And better engagement is needed for service redesign, encouraging front-line public servants to come forward with their own ideas on how to cut waste and continually improve services, along the lines of ‘lean’ initiatives.

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

Anticipating our workplaces of the future

An introduction to Aurora – Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning radar

Have you wondered why it’s getting harder to anticipate the future?  Do you ever wonder what our workplaces will be like five years from now?

Today’s digital world is changing more rapidly than ever. New ideas and technologies are now being created and released so quickly that patents and copyrighting can no longer keep up. A new pattern is emerging of hyper innovation – a collaborative approach to innovation where open relationships and co-operation is the key to competitive advantage.

Navigating through this constantly changing landscape has never been more difficult, and with new, potentially game-changing technologies appearing on a near daily basis it’s vital to be able to focus on what is important, to concentrate our efforts on these areas to work towards a successful future.

Here in the Aurora horizon scanning team we add that all important layer of focus to technical innovation. Through identifying a handful of the key topics which are going to shape our world in the next three to five years, we can nurture the innovative thinking and help seed new ideas which will remain relevant in this future.

Our work could not be successful were it not for the input from our colleagues, clients and partners and we are always interested in speaking to like-minded people.

To read a little more about the Aurora team, and to find out about the six topics that we are researching, please read our brief opinion on the world beyond digital.

If you’d like to get in touch and let us know your vision of the future, leave a reply below or email aurora@soprasteria.com.

Service design should create a positive and cohesive experience

At Sopra Steria we create digital experiences that people choose to use. Service design is thinking about a holistic experience, engaging with the user at various different touch points and ensuring it’s not just seamless but meaningful too.

Understanding the changing market environment, analysing customer behaviour and how the customer will use and experience different services, we can gather insight that enables our digital teams to develop effective and innovative ways to engage with the customer. Our innovative thinking is nimble and we want to make sure our customers get the best competitive advantage when it comes to creating and building solutions.

Technology can provide the tools at every touch point, providing lean customer centric experiences. Such tech services can range from mobile and tablet devices that allow the user to interact with a service without the need for staff, or wearable tech that can personalise data and content just as they enter a certain location. Whatever the tech solution, understanding how and why the customer will use the service in context will ensure that the service connects on a visceral level.

Intrinsically motivating the customer creates loyalty and trust to a service or brand. Bringing the data and the tech together means that we can deliver a service that is enjoyable for the customer. So when we want to be innovative with our thinking and quickly respond to market trends, the customer trusts us and sees value in the service we are providing.

This is why I believe it’s not just about the product or the great piece of tech, it’s about the process. Whether the business goal is to save operational costs, support customer retention or enable staff to solve problems more effectively, the end result is simple – to create a positive and cohesive experience for the customer and the employee.

How do we even begin to ensure the process is right? Collaboration…