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 .

How can Local Government move more towards a digital operating model?

In a recent blog the Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, seeks ideas from the public and industry to support and inform the UK’s digital strategy, ‘The next frontier in our digital revolution’.

Mr Vaizey recognizes that in the past five years the UK’s digital economy has changed beyond recognition and is now boosted by around £145 billion a year from digital technology. He now campaigns for the future of the UK to be synonymous with digital – a place where digital technologies transform day-to-day life, the economy and government.

In certain sectors this digital revolution has been extremely visible. The retail sector, for example, has embraced the digital revolution, with shopping over the internet continuing to increase year on year. In 2014 at the peak Christmas shopping period, online retail accounted for almost one-quarter (23.4%) of Christmas buying.

The certainty that records will again be broken over the recent Christmas period is supported by substantial online retail market growth already in 2015. The Centre for Retail Research tells us that the online retail market has increased by 16.2% throughout the whole of 2015. Estimates of expenditure show an increase of 11% on Christmas Day and 22% on Boxing Day compared with the 2014 totals for the same periods.

In recent years, Sopra Steria has embraced the digital revolution and supported our clients to help increase the pace of implementation of digital solutions to support their own businesses. An important sector for this digital growth has been Local Government where many Local Authorities are providing citizens with digital access to services that both improve the end service but also crucially reduce the cost of delivery to release funding to local projects which support the quality of life for local citizens and increase opportunities for local businesses.

Amongst many recent digital projects, we have supported our own Local Government clients to:

  • Develop digital strategies
  • Introduce new and flexible ways of working
  • Provide access to services over the internet and through mobile devices
  • Increase self-service and automation of process
  • Make better use of management data through the use of business analytics

Mr Vaizey recognises four key ingredients for the success of the digital revolution:

  1. Unlocking digital growth
  2. Transforming government
  3. Transforming day to day life
  4. Building the foundations

I welcome his approach and agree particularly with his comments regarding the building of strong foundations and the recognition of the transformation required to drive the digital revolution.

Sopra Steria recognises four key ingredients for success which concentrate on how the digital revolution can transform the way Councils and their citizens can both provide – and receive – services. They recognise that the revolution needs careful planning if it is to provide real, useful and usable alternatives to the current service methodologies.

Revolution creates the change that is needed but to succeed, it must leave a lasting and sustainable legacy that genuinely improves Citizens’ lives and futures.

Our four stage approach to digital transformation steadily builds upon current delivery models to create a digital alternative. This approach provides a planned and affordable methodology to control and direct the revolution towards an appropriate digital operating model.

1.  Make the most of existing technology

The first stage focuses on long term planning, and encourages the immediate use of facilities already available within existing technology applications and platforms to ensure that current investment is used to its full potential. This approach encourages quick wins at low cost.

Activity to achieve this may include:

  • A baseline review of existing technologies
  • The development of a roadmap to introduce digital initiatives that maximises the potential of the existing application estate
  • Implementation of immediate digital initiatives

2.  Small step transformation

At stage two, we start to enhance the physical service delivery with digital content, taking small manageable steps towards digital transformation. The intention is to enhance the customer experience by increasing the ability to interact with the council online and to start to introduce new ways of working.

Activity in this stage may include:

  • Online data collection through electronic forms
  • Simple automation
  • Increased self-service and the creation of a more personalised, consistent customer experience

3.  Re-imagining delivery

Stage three makes greater and greater use of the redesigned web presence to replace or extend existing physical processes with digital operations and digital enablers. This would be visible through continuous customer improvement processes that increase customer contacts through digital access channels and offers the digital fulfilment of service requests. Where appropriate, the web will become the default channel of choice, allowing greater service time and funding to be diverted to supporting more vulnerable citizens.

This activity will

  • Enable increased self-service
  • Provide “One and done” transactions
  • Support delivery of consistent, accurate digital data and information
  • Reduce the reliance on telephone and face to face channels

4.  A digital business

The final stage of the digital transformation is to develop new digital business and operating models that reach the full potential of the digital environment without just reflecting and duplicating existing physical process.

The activity would be to redesign existing business structures to take full advantage of a digital approach to service delivery. This may take the form of working with partners to improve business outcomes by sharing data and processes. It may consider new commissioning models that are not restricted by traditional barriers but that continue to improve service delivery whilst also reducing operating costs.

The challenge

Local Government needs to fully embrace the digital agenda to deliver an improved future that grows and improves services for citizens within an affordable cost envelope.

As Mr Vaizey points out that the world is changing and the digital revolution will change the way that we all do business and receive services. This revolution needs to be embraced and the new world recognised. In another five years we will look back, in the same way that Mr Vaizey does today, at an unprecedented period of change. But we will also again be looking forward to the next revolution  – whatever that may be.

We must ensure that we are ready to embrace the next revolution having fully achieved and embedded the digital revolution that we recognise now.

The clock is ticking.

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