2017: An exceptional year of change

In recent years digital technologies have driven an extraordinary pace of change in the way we do business, live our lives and interact with each other. According to a report conducted by digital and marketing intelligence group eMarketer, e-commerce sales will this Christmas exceed 20% of total retail sales during November and December, an estimated £16.9 million of online sales. This continues a year on year upward trend for retail digital transactions that shows no signs of slowing.

The challenge for Local Government is to keep up with this trend and match the expectations of their citizens who increasingly want digital solutions to all of their business interactions.

For many reasons 2017 looks to be a pivotal year for Local Government.

New structural changes such as Devolution will give both opportunities and challenges, particularly in the way that large scale infrastructure projects are commissioned and delivered. Transport improvements will offer not only a major boost to the construction industries throughout the development phase, but upon completion will deliver the connectivity – both nationally and internationally – needed for economic growth.

Key customer-facing services such as the delivery of welfare benefits are at the forefront of the introduction of digital services to both improve the point of contact with the customer but also to streamline the delivery of crucial benefits to those in need. Likewise, the pressures on health services are increasingly being addressed with digital solutions that can help to relieve the unsustainable demands placed on our doctors and nurses.

But as well as the transformational changes that we are seeing in the way that we do business, 2017 also brings us exceptional political change.

A Trump presidency and Brexit are likely to overshadow both world and domestic politics for many years to come.

As we enter this year of change, we offer – by means of a short video – a few thoughts on some of these issues.

What is absolutely certain is that by the time we reach 2018 we will be entering a very different world to the one we leave in 2016. The period of change in between will be 2017 – so be ready for a roller coaster ride!

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

From Records Management to Knowledge Management

The amount of information we generate is growing exponentially.  For most organisations a lot of this is ephemeral, but amongst the junk will be nuggets of irreplaceable knowledge – the organisation’s unique intellectual property.  Managing it is generally recognised as a critical process, so why are we so good at managing other key assets like finance, property, vehicle fleets and human resources, but so bad at managing knowledge – the asset that makes our business unique?  It should be the goal of every organisation to create an environment in which the value of knowledge is well understood by everyone, and information is reliable, shared appropriately, readily accessible, and being used to benefit the business.

In the public sector, and in regulated industries, keeping records and destroying them when they are no longer required is enforced by legislation.  Hence the need for Records Management (RM):  to keep records as evidence of financial probity; to document what decisions have been made, what happened, and why; and to provide proof of compliance with obligations.

To manage records throughout their life cycle, many organisations have introduced Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) to help them to fulfil their obligations under the various Public Records Acts.  EDRM systems preserve records with integrity for as long as they are needed, and then trigger their disposal after a predetermined retention period.

Sopra Steria’s work with the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) is a great example of this.  The project was the largest document and records management installation in northern Europe.  The system now manages over 36 million documents, offering greater efficiency in handling and sharing information.  Ten years from launch we still manage the service in line with NICS governance policies, ensuring that information is always available when needed, and conforming to the latest assurance standards.

In the wider context most organisations also use their EDRM systems to manage all their digital knowledge including those assets that are not covered by legislation – their intellectual property, standards, methodologies, business processes and working practices.  This is where we move up to the world of Knowledge Management (KM).  Significant value can be achieved here by:

  • making the most of scarce expertise, ideas and experience widely available beyond individual networks;
  • ensuring consistency of approach; and
  • avoiding valuable staff time being wasted on repeated mistakes and “reinventing the wheel”.

By using such knowledge stores properly, dramatic improvements can be made in the organisation’s productivity and effectiveness, and significant efficiency savings can be realised.

There are lots of tools for managing explicit knowledge – information that is set out in tangible form.  Even if content is initially received in hard-copy form it is easily scanned and if necessary converted to convenient text form by Optical Character Recognition (OCR).  EDRM systems have been in common use for more than fifteen years.  Collaboration tools such as MS SharePoint have been growing in popularity for project teams and communities of interest.

Unfortunately explicit knowledge is also very easy to mismanage.  E-mail, instant messaging and social media make it very easy to conduct business online and to communicate ideas and news quickly, but their very convenience makes for poor record-keeping.  Once upon a time the organisation’s registry clerks kept copies of every communication with customers and suppliers and managed the filing system, but they’re long gone and we all have to do our own filing now.  Few organisations provide that kind of training for digital documents, and most of us aren’t very good at it.  Social media is particularly uncontrolled from an information governance point of view.

Still at least explicit knowledge is (by definition) available in digital form.  Rather more of a challenge is implicit knowledge; that is, information that is not yet set out in tangible form but could be made so.  Doing so is mostly about discipline.  Do your staff keep their calendars up to date, and are the calendars open to their colleagues?  Do your sales team record their leads, customer visits, every phone call?  This where contact management and customer relationship management systems come in.  Making every salesman’s customer knowledge explicitly available would make the whole sales team more effective.  Unfortunately for many organisations the incentives operate the other way: my bonus, indeed my worth to the company, may depend on me keeping my customer knowledge to myself.  The knowledge capture tools are there but the culture works against sharing.

Hardest of all to manage is tacit knowledge: information locked in people’s heads that may be extremely difficulty operationally to make explicit: skills and experience that people develop over time and may not even appreciate are knowledge; the little tricks and workarounds you learn that aren’t in any manual; the best sequence in which to carry out certain tasks; how to jiggle a component to fit it into an assembly.

Tacit knowledge walks out of the door when experienced staff move on.  Are too many of your most valuable and knowledgeable staff getting close to retirement?  Are you having to make redundancies?  Knowledge Harvesting is the process of gathering tacit knowledge from leavers before it’s too late.  It requires experienced interviewers to explore the leaver’s skills and experience with him, and it takes time.  The leaver must be given the headroom and resources to make his tacit knowledge explicit or pass it on to his successors in other ways.

To summarise, there are essentially two approaches to improving how your organisation captures and shares its hard-won knowledge:

  • Codification – capturing and storing content in a well-structured way so that everyone in the organisation can locate and access the knowledge it represents easily – obviously this works best for explicit knowledge and is virtually impossible for tacit; and
  • Personalisation – connecting people and thereby building knowledge networks. We all tend to do this naturally to some extent, but tools are available to make the process much more effective.  This is clearly the best solution for tacit knowledge.

These two approaches deliver business value in different ways.  Codification makes explicit knowledge widely available across the organisation.  With well-structured file plans, good metadata schemas, and powerful enterprise search tools users can often find everything they need to know at their workstations in seconds, hugely boosting productivity and work turnround times.

Personalisation is there for tacit knowledge and implicit knowledge that has yet to be codified.  Everyone has an informal knowledge network but in large organisations no one can know everyone.  Therefore it makes sense to provide tools to help you in Belfast find someone who may know the answer to your problem, whether they are in London or in Edinburgh, Hong Kong or Sydney.

In addition an individual user can approach their search for knowledge in two ways:

  • they can exploit the organisation’s information architecture (digital content or human network) by a directed search, or by use of metadata, tags or text strings; or
  • they can explore using his intuition and the names of file plan folders or communities as his guide.

Combining these gives the matrix below, with examples of tools and processes in each case.  (This model, and the summary terms Harvest, Harness, Hunting and Hypothesise, were proposed by Tom Short of IBM Global Services).

matrix describing

Conclusions

  • It is gradually becoming accepted that knowledge is a key business asset. Organisations need to bring in the working practices and disciplines required for the powerful new tools to support knowledge sharing.  Otherwise  many opportunities to boost productivity will be missed.
  • Effective knowledge management delivers significant business value by making the most of scarce expertise, ideas and experience; ensuring consistency of approach; and avoiding valuable staff time being wasted on avoidable errors and “reinventing the wheel”.

Share with me any experiences you have of successful Records and Knowledge Management and any tips on how you’ve made it work in your organisation.

Discover more about our experience working with NICS.

Transforming local public services through use of innovative technology

Delivering differently, delivering digitally

Local authorities face growing challenges to continue to deliver more for less. In recent years they have had to cope with decreasing budgets, growing demand and higher citizen expectations bringing us to a position today where Council Leaders need to consider a radical approach to service delivery.

Technology has the potential to provide tools which support new ways of working, enhance existing capabilities and provide a platform for innovation and transformation that meets the needs and expectations of citizens.

We can consider the ways that technology can support local government under three broad categories:

  • Supporting a flexible and modern workforce
  • Improving the delivery and efficiency of processes
  • Providing simple access to services

The ever-growing capabilities of technologies enables a new approach to support these categories and leads us to consider some key technologies that local government could introduce to support positive transformation.

Supporting a flexible and modern workforce

The local authority workforce wants systems which are easy to use and which help them to deliver their roles effectively. To create a flexible environment which supports workforce development Cloud, or on-demand, solutions offer transformational changes in the way that employees, and citizens, can engage and consume services.

Key technologies that local authorities could consider to create a new digitally forward organisation include

  • On-Demand Services – to enable employees, managers and citizens to access the technology and services they need
  • Choose Your Own model – provides a more flexible and responsive IT function to support employees to do their jobs more efficiently and productively
  • Device agnostic services – removes the barriers to individuals accessing the facilities they need, when they need them, through whatever means works best for them

By providing easy-to-use tools, systems and services which are fast and reliable, on whichever device an employee chooses to use, the modern workforce can be equipped to be more productive, customer centric and adaptable. Using technology smarter provides employees with the most valuable commodity of all – time. This released time can then support improved service delivery where it is most needed. Sopra Steria has helped councils like Eastbourne Borough Council to review their working practices and to develop new more agile operating models that both reduce cost and improve the delivery of services through a better use of available technologies.

Delivering through efficient and informed processes

Any service improvement plan must consider the process layer and how this can be improved through the appropriate implementation of technology. Emerging technologies can improve processes and how services are delivered; these include these key technologies:

  • Machine Learning – to help provide a more personalised experience which is agnostic of service delivery channels
  • Micro Services Architecture – changes the way services are designed to remove the complexity of large system redevelopment
  • API First – provides a more dynamic approach to systems integration

The emergence of Artificial Intelligent based technologies including robotics, cognitive computing, machine learning, natural language processing and data processing techniques give local government new options for radically improving existing and new processes.

The opportunity such technologies provides can allow local government to re-envisage processes – so rather than just replicate from old technology to new, they can ask ‘if we were to do the process today how would we do it.’ Sopra Steria is currently introducing this thinking and technology to help Shepway Council to improve its Revenues and Benefits processes. The benefits that the Council will see are a reduction in delivery cost and the ability to free resources to concentrate on more complex cases.

Providing simple access to services

In today’s fast digital environment local government needs to be adaptable and offer services which are simple, easy to use and meet the needs of a changing society that is increasingly comfortable with new technologies. The growth of smartphone usage, for example, has opened up new opportunities for citizens to engage with the local authority, increasing the ability to create small consumable services that are smarter and more targeted towards citizen needs. Using large scale legacy technologies to deliver services is something which is no longer cost, or service efficient with the technology typically constraining which services can be made available.

Citizens are becoming more tech savvy and expect quick and easy access to services, just as they do from other sectors. Local services need to become smarter and personalised as much as possible to allow users to quickly access the information and/or service needed. Sopra Steria has supported the residents of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to interact more efficiently with the council by introducing ‘my Hinckley’ web access. This recognises the resident by the use of their post code, and then personalises the content of the website to provide only relevant information.

Introducing digital services at scale

It can be seen from the few examples above that there is no doubt that technology has a significant role to play in helping local government achieve both savings and service improvements, but it’s introduction is best considered within a strategic approach to best realise the potential benefits of delivering digital services at scale.

Councils must begin to think differently from the traditional approach and should see external suppliers as partners tackling shared challenges. They shouldn’t be afraid to embrace a more agile and outcome-defined service delivery model that incorporates both internal and external skills and capabilities working towards common goals.

Combining new digital technologies with innovative thinking will help forward-thinking councils to fundamentally break the mould of traditional ways of working for the benefit of their customers who are ready for change and are themselves embracing new technologies in their everyday lives.

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

This blog was also published as a techUK Insight article on 9 September, 2016

Is Blockchain in the MASH for Local Government?

In their latest insight briefing, SOCITM pose the question, Blockchain technology: could it transform digital-enabled councils?

They urge councils and wider public sector authorities to follow developments around blockchain Distributed Ledger technologies with a view to experimenting with their potential use in the development of future service transformation plans.

It is safe to say that blockchain is currently one of the hot technology topics trying to establish itself as a new way of handling trusted transactions. The rise and publicity surrounding BitCoin has driven this current hype and whilst the underlying technology of blockchain is very appropriate for financial-based systems, it is still unclear what viable (and practical) uses there will be across other sectors.

UK Government has issued a number of articles and papers regarding this topic, and they are actively investigating the potential of the technology to support a number of public-facing services. But the challenge is: ‘what is the use case that can exploit the capabilities of blockchain?’.

As an organisation, Sopra Steria sees the potential of this technology to provide immutable chain of evidence based systems and we are actively working on a number of potential use cases across a number of sectors.

The opportunities for Local Government need further investigation to consider how blockchain could be used to improve services, reduce costs, or help tackle fraud. As the SOCITM article suggests, these opportunities have yet to be clearly defined and articulated. Whilst G-Cloud 8 now shows services related to blockchain, there are only two of any real substance – one from a leading provider of blockchain Distributed Ledger Technologies, and the second a consultative service on what, and how, to use blockchain.  The others simply make reference to blockchain – so there is still a substantial way to go before there are pre-defined services available for Local Government.

Should Local Government be investigating the opportunities for blockchain/Distributed Ledger technology?  Absolutely!

There are a number of potential areas where the ability of providing chain of evidence based capabilities could be used, but the challenge for Local Government is to define the business and application processes needed to use blockchain. One of the areas in which we see major opportunities is the ability of coordinating MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs) by providing a means of identifying master records across different agencies. The ability of establishing a clear data level trust relationship is going to be critical to delivering successful MASH services.

Sopra Steria supports SOCITM’s call to identify the appropriate uses and applications of blockchain which will stand the test of time. As an integral part of their design process, councils should now be considering the advantages of using both blockchain, and other emerging technologies, when shaping future transformation programmes.

Take a look at our paper, “Blockchain: harnessing the power of distributed ledgers”, earlier posts on this topic on our blog or leave your thoughts on this subject below.

Game Changer: Giving children the opportunity to lead a healthy and physically active life

I started my local reading group a number of years ago and since then we’ve become good friends, so when I announced at our meeting the other night I’d spent the morning at a primary school, they were rather surprised. “You work for an IT company, don’t you?” Asked Katy. Not quite I thought, but I’ll save our digital transformation partner credentials for another conversation… I then got on to explain about how I’d had such an inspiring morning and about the strategic partnership with Widnes Vikings Rugby League Club, Halton Clinical Commissioning Group and Cheshire and Merseyside Women’s and Children’s Partnership Vanguard and how that had taken me to Weston Primary School in Runcorn for the launch of Game Changer, a programme with the ambition to make a significant impact in raising physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles in children and their families.

Physical activity is a critical part of Game Changer, as is healthy eating and the goal is to change habits. To kick off the programme at Weston Primary School, the entire Widnes Vikings team came along to put the children through their paces with a series of fun exercises and games. It was incredible to see how the children responded to the rugby players and so encouraging to see how they really wanted to get involved and take part in the physical activity sessions.

Sopra Steria’s involvement in the programme started a few months ago with discussions about how technology could support the Game Changer programme. Our role as technology partner is to develop the applications and web site side of things, which combined with a wearable device is looking to provide a fun environment for monitoring exercise levels, support gamification to encourage participation and link to important advice for leading a healthy lifestyle. With the data that is downloaded from the wearable devices, Liverpool John Moores University, another partner, will be able to develop statistics that can be fed back to the children and schools in a fun way, to encourage further participation.

In September Game Changer will reach out to 36 schools across Halton and each one will be looking to unlock an extra 15 minutes of physical activity each day. It is an incredible programme, I’m now asking myself how I can find an extra 15 minutes a day for exercise… Can you find the time too?

Find out more about Game Changer.

How innovation can drive change in Local Government

I have been recently considering how innovative technology can support the future of health and care services as part of the contribution that Sopra Steria is making to Lord Patel of Bradford’s report ‘Breaking Barriers’ that was released on the 28th of June.

This consideration led me to look again at some of the recent innovations that Sopra Steria has introduced and particularly to reflect back upon the annual Sopra Steria innovations awards ceremony that I attended earlier in the year. I was very impressed by the number and quality of solutions that my winning colleagues across the world had developed through a wide range of innovation projects. In this blog I highlight five of the projects that seem to particularly resonate with the provision of our own local public services.

Our overall innovation winners came from France with a project to assist schools and pupils to plan the school day.

Pack ‘n’ school – the connected schoolbag

This project provides a small device to incorporate into a school bag that links with the pupil’s timetable in the ‘cloud’. At the beginning of the day this device checks the contents of the bag and ensures that the pupil has all the books needed for the day’s lessons.

This simple solution would be a valuable aid to help teachers to deliver lessons more efficiently by ensuring pupils are ready to start learning at the start of lessons.

Another team from France proposed an inspection module that could be mounted on a drone to automatically detect variances from blueprints and plans.

The Foreman Drone

This innovative project equips a drone with software that can 3D scan a project under construction, make a real time comparison with a digital plan and detect discrepancies.

I can see a number of inspection and maintenance uses for this project in Local Government within services such as building control and planning, Street Scene management and Highways management, allowing a much more efficient usage and targeting of resources.

An interesting project from Spain provides a game to support better recycling.

Green World Gaming

Citizens can play the Green World Game alone, with friends, family or neighbours. Points are awarded for the frequency and amount of recycling undertaken and then points can be converted to rewards.

The Green World game provides a novel way for Local Government to promote recycling and to attain targets.

Our colleagues in India have provided a project to build a real time water pollution monitoring system.

Real time water pollution monitoring system

This solution combines innovative software with a network of quality monitoring probes installed directly on waste outlets of factories to measure the quality of the water entering the main sewerage system. The data is then tracked and compared to defined norms, immediately highlighting all violations of pollution standards.

This innovation provides a clear opportunity for improving the efficiency and inspection routines of environmental services combining both immediate alerts with an accurate record to support potential prosecutions.

The final example I’d like to share is an excellent project from the UK, where biometrics, the internet of things and cloud technologies are combined to provide a solution to track and monitor farm animals.

The Connected Cow

This project uses biometric tags and tracking technologies to monitor farm animals, this tells the farmer immediately if an animal is sick, poisoned or simply lost. The immediate access to this data allows the farmer to react quickly to give the best chance of remedial treatment.

But how does this help Local Government you ask?  Well, the next development of this product would be to move it into the health care sector. By the use of wearable monitors such as smart watches the same technology can be used to monitor vulnerable citizens. If set parameters are broken such as heart rate or body temperature carers can be alerted to take immediate action to support the vulnerable individual. This could become an invaluable aid to health and care services and a life saver to vulnerable people.

These few examples will I hope stimulate some debate about how digital solutions can support Local Government. The range and number of innovative ideas produced this year have been exceptional and solve so many problems across so many areas of life.

Why don’t you challenge us to find a solution to support your own business, somewhere across the world, we will definitely have someone who has an answer just for you. Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

SMEs are the engine room of the UK economy but they need large firms to succeed

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are a crucial engine of economic growth. There are 1.2 million SME employers in the UK who are responsible for fourteen million jobs. And, over the past twelve months, half of these SMEs have launched a new or innovative product or service. The UK compares particularly well internationally in its percentage of small high-growth technology firms.

But too many viable businesses fail or do not reach their full potential

Typical obstacles include inadequate finance and managerial shortcomings. The Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, recently called for ideas on how Government can support entrepreneurial activity and promote digital innovation. In our response we highlighted the Government’s role in creating an open and supportive framework for SMEs to grow and providing specific support to those with the most growth potential.

This framework includes recognising that SMEs do not grow in isolation but in partnership with larger companies. For example, SMEs rely on larger firms at the top of supply chains for new opportunities and for the commercialisation of their ideas. In return larger firms benefit from new types of breakthrough innovation developed by SMEs that can deliver superior outcomes for customers, and even shift a market.

How can SMEs and large firms work together?

Like other large firms, Sopra Steria maintains a diverse supplier base including SMEs. During the first half of 2015 we spent over £18 million with over 500 SME suppliers across the UK. We work hard to foster long-term relationships with smaller businesses that bring creativity and add value to our own skills and capability.

But large firms also need to understand that late payment is a frequent bugbear of SMEs. We are proud of our reputation as a responsible business partner and our responsible business practices. That is why we signed, and comply with, the strict standards of the Prompt Payment Code. This means that we give clear guidance to suppliers and pay suppliers on time.

Large firms are already working with Local Enterprise Partnerships, universities and other partners to put in place local solutions to help SMEs to grow. This includes business support through Growth Hubs, loan schemes to finance expansion activities and advice on export markets through UKTI. Devolution through City Deals and Growth Deals will encourage more growth and innovation.

Large firms can support this growth through events that highlight opportunities to work with them and their partners. In Cleveland (where we have a strategic partnership with the police) we run supplier open days, including bidding advice surgeries, and we attend meet-the-buyer events. This can make a tangible difference to an SME; a good example is a local firm that received coaching and went on to win a contract with the police to provide specialist uniforms.

Please get in touch by email to share your thoughts on SMEs and large firms working together, particularly if you have ideas or experience of the obstacles or enablers of partnership working. Or visit the Sopra Steria website for further details about how we conduct business with SMEs and other suppliers .