Sopra Steria collaborates with The Scottish Government for a DevOps Hackathon

Today we are welcoming The Scottish Government Department of Agriculture and the Rural Economy (ARE) to our Edinburgh DigiLab for a DevOps Hackathon.

We are hosting this event in a similar manner to the internal hackathons we did a couple of months ago and we are very excited to have ARE on board to take them on this journey with us, using DevOps technologies including Red Hat OpenShift.

Today we will be providing a developer’s perspective, getting our hands dirty with the basics of DevOps using OpenShift and walking the attendees through a variety of tasks from the creation of projects and build of applications through to the use of pipelines for application deployment as well as processes to assist with application/environmental maintenance.

The attendees in our office today range from infrastructure analysts to technical management and developers – an open invite was distributed throughout ARE and we are very pleased to have a variety of skills on-board.

We are looking forward to sharing our knowledge of the platform with ARE and we hope to run a series of these hackathons, so watch this space!


Shehzad Nagi, Senior Technical Architect
Caitlin Toner, Architect

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.

Harrow’s Heroes – A look into a brilliant evening

A splendid evening with around 250 people in attendance enjoyed a night of celebration of the volunteering community in the borough of Harrow.  Ray Baker and myself were fortunate enough to share a table with the Leader of the council, Cllr Graham Henson and his wife, and fellow councillor Maxine Henson, amongst others.   Canapés and bubbly were shared beforehand with a  photo booth and a rousing introduction from the exuberant, The Worshipful The Mayor, Councillor Kareema Marikar.

Dinner was delicious range of Indian food and the compere moved things along briskly as the awards started being presented.  Each group of nominees were called forward and the winner was invited onto the stage to receive their award from the guest presenter for the category.  Runners up received a certificate extolling the virtues and winners a rather lovely glass trophy.

The Sopra Steria sponsored award was presented to the overall winners of all of the categories, i.e. the Volunteers of the Year.  I was honoured to be invited on to stage to present this to the Infant Feeding Volunteers Peer Supporters.

Overall it was a fantastic evening that really celebrated the true nature of volunteerism and I’m proud that Sopra Steria can support this great work being done and I look forward to our continued involvement going forward.

By Lee Westwood

The Promise of Platforms – Joined up outcomes and better value

One of the often-quoted benefits of digital transformation is the improvement in the ways government departments interact with citizens and business. Departments aim to use the same systems and shared data to avoid time consuming and repetitive tasks. But the reality often falls short of expectations. So, in this blog I take a look at why cross-cutting activity is rare and how digital platforms might help.

Why are public services so siloed?

The current departmental structure brings together and manages most areas of government business through a top down, vertical management structure. This approach is highly effective in delivering many of the government’s key priorities. It provides a single, clear line of accountability and keeps tight control over resources.

However, vertical structures also have many disadvantages:

First, issues or problems which straddle departmental boundaries are neglected. Budgets tend to be allocated on a departmental basis rather to policies that cross boundaries. And mechanisms for reconciling conflicting priorities are weak.

The result is that policy makers can take too narrow a view of the issues. They fail to look at problems from the perspective of the user. And they focus on what is easiest for government to supply, not what makes sense to the service user.

Second, departments also fail to recognise that local authorities have separate lines of accountability to local voters and may not share their priorities. So, departments tend to be overly prescriptive, in specifying the means of delivery as well as the ends.

And third, there are real obstacles to effective cross cutting working on the ground. It involves complex relationships and lines of accountability. Costs tend to fall on one budget while the benefits accrue to another. If appraisal systems are incapable of identifying and rewarding a contribution to a successful cross cutting project, the risks are one way.

So how do we join up government?

My experience is that cross cutting interventions work best when government makes clear their priorities and when champions at Ministerial and Permanent Secretary level (and / or chief executive and senior management team in local government) have a lasting effect on behaviour.

Also, with these supportive conditions, the adoption of digital technologies will enable cross-cutting work. For example, emphasis in UK government is now quite rightly focussed on how digital can support business transformation through, for example, the creation of shared components (such as Verify, Pay and Notify) and common workplace tools . The common link is, of course, information technology: co-ordination involving multiple providers that both depend on compatible IT systems and common data collection and architectures.

But perhaps just as significantly, digital approaches can promote dialogue with citizens and service users.

There are two aspects to this dialogue. First government needs to provide digital channels for information and views to reach them, which are not constrained to departmental silos – people and organisations should not have to tailor their views to fit Whitehall’s structure. People often want to be involved in shaping services, particularly at a local level, not just choosing between them. Open source methods that involve users in designing services have become commonplace in business and have always been common in civil society.

And second, government needs to shift the quality of the relationship between citizens and the state, so services are shaped around the individual’s needs rather than being too standardised. The commitment to make services more personal can mean little more than having someone – a teacher or a doctor – to talk to face to face. But it can mean a different curriculum and programme for every pupil. Or a different pattern or modular options of care for every patient.

Where are we see the benefits of joined-up government?

The harbingers of the future can be found where governments face the most intense pressures. This includes the increasing incidence of chronic conditions, as an ageing population and changes in societal behaviour are contributing to a steady increase in common and costly long-term health problems. Mental illness is equally significant, accounting for over 30% of all GP consultations and 50% of follow up consultations.

As a result, in the UK we now spend over £24 billion on disability and incapacity benefits for over 3.5 million working age people.

Chronic and other complex conditions are not easily administered or treated either through a traditional clinical lens or prescriptions. Much of the care is provided by families and friends and is too expensive to be provided by formal structures and by highly paid doctors. Most of the most important knowledge about how to handle these long-term conditions resides with other patients rather than just doctors.

So, part of the answer lies with giving people control over how money is spent and support structured to meet their needs. This means giving service users direct power over money and new structures of advice, often through simple but powerful online platforms/

At its best, these approaches bridge the bottom-up and top-down, paying attention to the worlds of daily experience rather than seeing people as abstract categories. Networks and platforms can help the state track behaviours, highlighting ‘what works’, and make it easier for people to band together and take control of their care.

Still making difficult decisions – the Spring Statement

In 2010 the coalition government started with the objective of eliminating the structural current deficit by 2014-15. It introduced a package of savings, a public sector pay freeze, welfare reforms and significant reductions to every department’s administration budget. There was still a desire to protect the most growth-enhancing capital spending.

The target originally set by George Osborne when he imposed austerity on public services was only achieved this year. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the deficit reduction was still ‘quite an achievement given how poor economic growth has been’.

What are the lessons of the last eight years?

As the Chancellor gives his ‘no frills’ Spring Statement this week, and prepares more far reaching plans for tax and spending through his Budget in the Autumn, it is worth drawing some conclusions on how the government eliminated the deficit and what aspects of the austerity agenda should remain:

  • The government maintained a clear and measurable fiscal target (the Chancellor has made a ‘pledge of fiscal responsibility, to borrow no more than two per cent of national income by 2020-21) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should continue to assess publicly whether this is likely to be achieved.
  • The departmental spending review prioritised areas with benefits to a broad sweep of society – next year’s review should promote growth (like transport and education) and fairness and social mobility (providing routes out of poverty for the poorest, improving incentives for work and tackling ‘wicked problems’ such as the increasing public health hazards of air pollution).
  • Eliminating a sizeable deficit was not a normal budget exercise and a more open and inclusive approach is required – government should consult widely, beyond departments, asking public sector workers and the public to suggest ideas, convening expert advisory groups and holding regional events to listen to people’s views.

Of course, external conditions are now favourable and the reforms introduced in 2010 (including spending controls, back office shared services and commercial reforms) have been sustainable. But the United Kingdom cannot rely on external conditions to remain as favourable as they are now. Particularly as uncertainty lingers about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union and the economic costs of divergence with the EU become clear.

What needs to change? Meeting the UK’s future challenges

The squeeze on public services is showing up in higher waiting times in hospitals for emergency treatment, low satisfaction for GP services and a staggering decline in prison safety. The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that local councils are at financial breaking point. If they keep draining their reserves at the current rate, one in ten will have exhausted them in just three years’ time.

The improvement in the public finances gives the Chancellor some leeway to spend in his Spring Statement. But the expected £5bn to £10bn windfall is not going to transform the delivery of public services. It is not enough to solve the UK’s long-term fiscal challenges. For example, demographic change will demand either a significant increase in taxation or a radical change to the funding of health and pensions. There is an immediate need to put the funding of social care on a sustainable footing

Achieving better internal efficiency is a necessary but not sufficient part of public service reform. At the same time public services must come up with innovative, less resource-intensive and more effective ways of achieving the government’s aims. In the Spring Statement, the Chancellor should provide funding and direction:

  • To move away from the traditional tools of legislation, regulation and taxation – which can be expensive to design and implement – and develop and apply lessons from behavioural science (designing policy that reflects how people really behave).
  • To renew the transparency agenda, as a way of achieving ‘better for less’ – by consistently releasing data into the public domain, individuals are able to draw their own conclusions on the way public services operate, incentivising efficiency through accountability, and stimulating innovation through ‘information marketplaces’.
  • And, where appropriate, for public services being open to a range of providers competing to offer a better public service, with a greater emphasis on outcome-based contracts, and joint work with the private sector to access private capital and expertise to make fuller use of core public assets in an enterprising way.

A final thought – accountability and public services

I appreciate that the third suggestion is not shared by everybody. Over the past five or six years problems have emerged in the UK public service market, particularly in the commissioning of complex services. This came to a head with the liquidation of Carillion.

The reality is that the public are more pragmatic than the politicians. For example, sixty-four per cent of people do not think it matters who runs hospitals or GP surgeries ’as long as everyone has access to care (Populus poll, January 2018).

But we still need to recognise that one of the most important differences between a private and public service is the different and often enhanced levels of accountability for the delivery of that service to a broader range of stakeholders. Private sector organisations that want to deliver public services have to be aware of, and work within those boundaries.

There is an urgent need for a more transparent and robust way of measuring the quality of services provided by the public and private sector. The Chancellor should ensure the rapid implementation of Sir Michael Barber’s report into improving value in public spending.

A Digital Future for Joined Up Local Services

Originally published as a guest blog on techUK Insights

We now view the world through a digital lens, with social media, smartphones and the internet creating a complex future that we must all embrace to survive. We see disruptive technologies, not just changing, but in many instances totally replacing the previous world order. For councils this is leading not only to an immediate need to adapt the way essential services are delivered, but it also raises additional questions about how councils provide community leadership, local democracy, economic growth and cultural change in a constantly and rapidly changing environment.

Councils have a long and successful history of adapting to meet the regular challenges placed before them. In recent years we have seen councils rise to the challenge of delivering crucial and critical services in times of deep austerity. These financial challenges still continue and the world around us is changing with citizens’ needs, demands and expectations increasing, often driven by new technologies. To meet these new challenges the ‘council of the future’ no longer just needs to change the way it delivers traditional services but it also has to reconsider its very role and purpose.

Councils are beginning to forge new rules of engagement, realising that when we talk of a digital future it is not just about technology change but also about social, cultural and business change. The ‘council of the future’ must provide the local leadership to successfully navigate these rocky waters on behalf of and alongside their individual communities.

At Sopra Steria we observe digital change across all sectors and would make the following observations as to the key factors that will support the ‘council of the future’.

Strong leadership is essential to managing change that will be predominantly measured by community outcomes. We see the priority for councils being their continued development as the primary leaders of ‘place’, coordinating and organising effective partnerships across all agencies to provide whole life, effective services that fully meet citizen expectations. Citizens increasingly demand joined up services and will increasingly expect seamless delivery paths. Key areas to address are seamless health and care journeys, increasing citizen confidence in law and order and effective integration of local transport.

This view of the future is supported by the annual digital government survey that IPSOS undertakes on behalf of Sopra Steria to understand citizen expectations of digital services. Consistently the highest priority in the UK has been the ‘creation of a one-stop digital portal for undertaking interactions which need to be performed with multiple agencies’.

Data is the bedrock for change – effective management of complex data will support not only the effective delivery of services, but it will allow greater interoperability between agencies. Clear information dashboards will both inform management processes but also improve democratic transparency.

Digital platforms need to be implemented that use cloud based technologies to reduce the dependence on fixed infrastructures which will reduce the cost of change and allow the development of agile and dynamic solutions.

Automation, robotics and Artificial Intelligence will increasingly be introduced to improve business processes, improve digital communication channels and to release human resources to higher value activities. An example of a successful implementation of this was the introduction of self service and automation to support the delivery of Shepway Council’s Revenue and Benefits service.

Social engagement will increasingly use social media as a channel of choice for the solving of community problems, provision of information and to enhance the democratic process.

For many the digital future has already arrived so the ‘council of the future’ needs to prepare to lead their community and place to a new prosperity based on new technologies, new cultures and new ways of delivering business that fully meet the demanding expectations of their citizens.

Join the discussion on #CounciloftheFuture To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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

Using digital technologies to address complex problems – what can we learn from other governments?

It goes without saying that governments face incredibly complex challenges. Sustaining cohesive communities in the face of demographic, economic, security and other challenges will test the ingenuity of politicians and civil servants.

In recent blogs I’ve questioned the industrial-age organization of government and highlighted how the private sector is improving services through digital technologies. Now I would like to shift the emphasis and highlight how governments around the world employ digital technology to drive problem solving.

And I will start by looking at the one of the most significant problems facing individuals, families and communities – mental health.

Nearly one fifth of the UK population have a mental health condition

Mental health conditions cover a wide range of disorders and vary from mild to severe problems. The most common types are anxiety and depressive disorders (9% of all adults). More severe and psychotic disorders are much less common.

Recent research has found that a third of fit notes (they used to be called sick notes) issued by GPs are for psychiatric problems. The employment rate for people with mental health conditions is 21% compared with 49% for all disabled people and over 80% for non-disabled people.

Almost half of benefits claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England are receiving payments as the result of mental and behavioural disorders. Recent independent studies estimate that cash benefits paid to those with mental health conditions are around £9.5 billion a year and administrative costs are £240 million.

This illustrates the financial costs of mental health conditions. But it fails to address the personal impact on individuals, their families and the wider community. That is why the NHS is putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.

Using technology to create community solutions

Although overall spending on mental health will rise by over 4% in 2017/18, many areas of the country are under pressure to provide enough high quality services.

We also know that mental health is a very complex problem that goes beyond the capacity of any one organisation to understand and respond to. There is disagreement about the causes of the problems and the best way to tackle them.

Which is why Creating Community Solutions is such an exciting project.

In the US, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Obama administration launched a national dialogue on mental health. It soon became clear that, while mental illness affects nearly every family, there is a continued struggle to have an open and honest conversation around the issue. Misperceptions, discrimination, fears of social consequences, and the discomfort associated with talking about such illnesses all tend to keep people silent

The challenge facing the administration was how to convene a national participation process that would help Americans to learn more about mental health issues, assess how mental health problems affect their communities and younger populations, and decide what actions to take to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities.

Officials from across the administration collaborated under the umbrella of Creating Community Solutions. They designed an online platform and process that integrated online / offline and national / local levels of collaboration. The platform has promoted a nationwide discussion on mental health. It has given Americans a chance to learn more about mental health issues – from each other and from research. For example, in December last year, and all over the country, hundreds of thousands of people used their mobile phones to get together in small groups for one-hour discussions on mental health.

What can we learn from the US?

Creating Community Solutions is an amazing example of how technology can be used overcome barriers, give access to relevant information and promote participation and mutual support. As a platform, rather than a conventionally structured project, it straddles traditional administrative boundaries and provides support in a distributed way.

I’d like to see our government adopting a similar approach, using technology to break down hierarchical barriers and using platforms to promote collaboration across public services and with communities.

I’ll be writing about other innovative ideas in future blogs. In the meantime, do you know of other innovative solutions to complex public problems? What are the exciting ideas informing your own work —particularly if you are working in the public sector – and how are you implementing them?

Let me know in the comments below or contact me by email.