Accessibility: The path less trodden

“Diversity is the world’s biggest asset and inclusivity is our biggest challenge.”

These are the words of the renowned design researcher Jutta Treviranus, and this powerful thought was shared at the recent Accessibility Scotland 2017 conference in Edinburgh. The event was a brilliant congregation of accessibility experts, enthusiasts and advocates. The topics ranged from the fantastic new innovations from the likes of Microsoft, to accessible ideas in gaming technology. Many insightful thoughts were exchanged in great spirit, making it a highly engaging event.

One of the interesting exercises tried out at the event was to have open discussions about accessibility matters of common interest. I was involved in the one about the implications of Brexit on laws and regulation around accessibility. Amongst the various arguments we made in this connection, there was one question that we all debated intently –

Should we have a culture driven by legislation or should it be the other way round – and have legislation empowered by common culture?

If the latter, we perhaps have to invest in a strategy on how to go about it. We should be encouraging learning on these concepts early on. Hence there is a need to perhaps develop awareness about inclusivity at schools and universities. We should also be ensuring that web accessibility is included in study materials for new recruits in companies. We definitely have a long way to go in making accessibility a default feature of all our work.

It is a well-known fact now that not many countries have been very successful in making accessibility an obvious aspect in their technology domain.  This less trodden path could very well be taken by the UK, to set an example to other societies. There are innumerable charities working across the country for this cause, which reflects the amazing work done here for the disabled community. We have a great opportunity in the world of technology too to become leaders on this front. This call goes out to everyone, irrespective of working in public or private sectors, to think about the impact we can potentially make by being inclusive – in our web designs, in our programming, in our testing and above all in our attitudes.

It is ironic that people with disability were one of the early adopters of technology (like speech processors etc.) but have been left behind as the new innovations are arriving in unbelievable speed. As the famous writer William Gibson has said,

“The future has arrived but it is not evenly distributed.”

Our world today boasts of advancement in technology which is beyond imagination but it is very much our battle of the moment to make sure it is in reach for everybody.

Read more about how Sopra Steria drives digital inclusivity through improved web accessibility.

Everything is connected. Don’t innovate in isolation

…These are the words Alberta Soranzo left the audience with as she drew the final keynote speech of this year’s UX Scotland conference to a close.

Alberta, who was recently appointed Director of End-to-End Service Design at Lloyds Banking Group, strives to make a real impact on the financial outcomes of people by taking a look at both the big picture as well as focusing on the very small things, which she believes ‘matter a lot’.

Alberta stressed the importance of nurturing diverse talent and stated that it is vital to foster a culture of continuous learning within a design team. This is something that resonated with me as a culture we are striving to cultivate here at Sopra Steria — through hiring a diverse range of people from a whole range of different backgrounds and with differing areas of expertise. However, most importantly, each of these individuals share a desire to learn and continually improve. This allows the design team to avoid the previously mentioned isolated innovation which Alberta warned about and work as a team to grow and develop.

Those who attended UX Scotland may well have met the various members of the Sopra Steria team who were there – either during the various workshops and seminars on offer or at our stand in the foyer. Some may even have entered our interactive competition which invited people to ‘step into out customers shoes’. Through sponsoring the stand we were afforded the chance to speak to a whole host of interesting people during our time at the conference, including a couple of people who have since interviewed for and accepted roles within the Service Design team at Sopra Steria.

Over the course of the three day conference we got the chance to experience a number of great talks by a range of different speakers. We were given the opportunity to hear from leading industry experts such as Jared Spool and Dana Chisnell. We were also able to take part in the various workshops on offer which allowed us to develop our existing skills as well as learning new ones.

With many of the talks and workshops occurring at the same time, there were understandably frustrating moments where we were unable to attend all the talks that we would have liked to. Thankfully, with so many members of the team present at the conference, we were able to minimise the effects of timetable clashes by spreading ourselves across the events which occurred at the same time. By taking notes during each session, team members were able to report back and share their knowledge with the team who were unable to attend.

Our Service Design team listening to Jared Spool’s keynote speech
Our Service Design team listening to Jared Spool’s keynote speech

 

This notion of shared knowledge strikes right to the core of what Alberta Soranzo was talking about during her Keynote speech. By avoiding innovating in isolation, and looking at development at a wider level, it allows the team to grow and develop their skills at a greater rate.

By allowing everyone to benefit from the knowledge gained at events like this, we help cultivate the culture of continuous learning and as the old adage goes, allow the team to become more than the sum of its parts.

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

“AI Neutrality”: A proposed manifesto for artificial intelligence user experience design

What makes a great artificial intelligence (AI) driven user experience? Here are my thoughts…

1. Design AI services end to end – the disruptors that have transformed the travel, holiday and retail sectors over the last twenty years succeeded by focusing aggressively on improving their own single channel online experience. AI user experience design must also adopt this strict one channel approach to service delivery – every user journey should be simple, relevant, no fuss and always getting better because it’s being delivered by an artificial intelligence end to end.

2. Go beyond mobile  The interconnectivity of AI enables any environment or physical object to positively affect all of our five senses (such as connected home technology like heating and lighting devices that responds to a user’s mood). AI design should always be pushing to transcend the user interface constraints of existing service platforms (particularly the visual and audio experience of mobile) to truly reflect and improve how we use our senses to interact with the world around us.

3. Addressable media is a key user journey –  AI has the potential to utilise a complex range of historic and contextual customer data to deliver targeted, personalised advertising – for example, UK broadcasters are adopting programmatic technology to deliver specific adverts at individual households in real time. Yet if designed poorly such disruptive engagement risks coming across like hard selling that overwhelms or irritates a customer (consider the negative reaction of customers to pop up web ads that apply a similar approach). Consequently, it’s vital that AI driven addressable media is treated as a form of user experience that requires research, design and testing to ensure customers are empowered to consume it on their own terms.

4. Hardwire ethics and sustainability –  the positive disruption to our lives from social media has enabled these services to grow rapidly and organically by billions of users worldwide. Yet this has also led to these platforms becoming so big it’s challenging for their service providers to effectively manage and safeguard the user content they share. Drawing from this experience, and combined with public calls for the proactive regulation of AI, it’s essential artificial intelligence products and services have the right ethics and sustainability values in their core design as they are likely to grow even faster and bigger than social media.

5. Champion “AI Neutrality” – artificial intelligence has the power to transform all our lives like the internet before it. A fundamental principle driving the success of the web has been “net neutrality” – that internet data services should be supplied as a form of utility (like electricity, gas, water) in a non-discriminatory way to all customers. Access to simple AI services should be similarly “neutral” – a basic human right that is complemented by differentiated, chargeable products and services from over-the-top producers.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.

One for all and all for one

Today, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness day, and I can’t help but mention about witnessing perhaps the most divisive times in our recent memory. While harmonious communities are at the brink of deep divisions and our collective thought process is ever preoccupied with the volatile political and social situations, it is perhaps a good occasion to remind ourselves of those who are most vulnerable. There is a need to come together to support them more than ever before. The technical community has always taken pride in transcending boundaries most effectively.

There is a greater responsibility on us now to operate in a manner which looks out for end users who are the risk of getting completely ignored.

Internet inventor Vint Cerf has recently called for it to be considered an offence if a web based service is not accessible. While the sentiment seems fully justified given the service providers can get away without doing much about web accessibility, his views seem to predominantly hold programmers / developers responsible for such aspects. In reality all roles in a software development life cycle need to contribute towards making a service accessible. Right from senior management down to the operational teams, there is an onus on every role to make the end-to-end accessibility a reality, which the accessibility experts have been highlighting all along. There is something we can all do no matter what our position is in the big IT juggernaut.

Recently, MP Dawn Butler created history by using sign language for her speech in Parliament – an utterly inspirational gesture about caring for every person in our audience and for making sure everybody understands what she was trying to convey. To think, ensuring everyone understands our work is actually a basic obligation to ourselves as it will give it most reach and recognition. Looking at the same idea with a business hat on, there is a very obvious commercial benefit to it. The more people understand / access the content the better it is for marketing and hence better for business. It is sheer common sense to make our work accessible.

In future, the new innovations may very well address these requirements completely. For example, the improved voice browsing technologies are a great alternative for people with visual or motor disabilities. But at the moment there is still a big need to build websites with consideration to the diversity in user communities. At Sopra Steria we have a full set of services to make this happen – see our dedicated website for accessibility services and service infographic.

Now is a time for all of us to renew our pledge to achieve complete accessibility in the world around us.

Improving digital services in health care

As I awaited with eager anticipation for the second day of the Digital Health and Care Conference in Edinburgh to see digital innovation and progression in the Scottish Health Sector, a sobering thought from one of the speakers on the first day came to mind.

Whilst many retail and banking sectors have embraced complete digital transformation in their operating models, I’m sure you’ll agree that many areas of the health sector lag behind. Indeed, according to the Department of Health only 2% of current interactions are digital.

Person-centred interaction will always be at the heart of health and care, but that interaction can be better informed, more efficient and better organised , if supported by data and technology? To clarify my point I wanted to provide some examples:

  • GP Referral to Treatment (RTT) – whilst we are progressing in providing information available to the patient, why is it still difficult to provide information to the citizen regarding all the critical points in their pathway? As a patient, the only information one currently obtains is by telephoning the appropriate Health Board, contacting your GP to get them to do it, or receiving one of the paper-based letters to tell you that you’re ready to be seen by the Consultant in XX weeks time.
  • Booking an appointment – online access to GP appointments is available, but if you’ve ever gone through the process with your GP practice (at least in Scotland) it is overly complex and convoluted. I consider myself to be IT literate, but this process doesn’t seem to have the most important person in mind – the citizen. In effect, this has made little impact on a citizen’s day-to-day experience with their practice and the business model within it.

At the risk of sounding obvious, these two examples – of which there are many more – cry out for a rethink of the way the citizen interacts with services. Do we ask how a user wants to interact with the RTT process? Well, here’s an example in point. One of my family members is going for a hip replacement sometime soon. I want to emphasise ‘soon’, as they don’t actually know when. I’m sure the medical speciality know, so why can’t we provide this information to the user who wants to know to be able to plan their life effectively? Indeed, can we take learning from other sectors e.g. retail where the user is able to track the progress of their product from purchase to receipt. Why can’t we make this possible for the above example…? And I’ve not even considered the potential financial savings.

How do you get into the hearts and minds of the citizen?

The challenge that most commercial organisations had when the digital revolution started was that they created brilliant online presences which nobody used. Picture technological tumbleweed… So, commercial organisations incentivised customers to use the online functionality by offering discounts, online-only tariffs, faster fulfilment, flexibility etc. But how does this transpose itself to health care?

Looking to our Nordic neighbours, Daniel Forslund, Commissioner for Innovation and eHealth, Stockholm County Council conveyed it so well during the conference. Digital has to become the new norm. However, in order to do so, we need to incentivise citizens to use these services. This means providing digital services that the public want to use, as  and when it becomes beneficial.

Using the GP appointments example above, citizens choosing to use digital services could be given preferential appointment times – i.e., most early session appointments could be reserved for online bookings, whilst still maintaining slots for other methods of booking later in the day. These early morning sessions could also be available to book using SMS facilities from the citizen’s mobile phone.

As many of the key speakers at the Conference mentioned, digital transformation doesn’t have to be difficult, but we have to focus on the value it brings to the citizen – what information do we expect, how do we want to interact, etc?

Using service redesign techniques with the focus on putting the citizen first will enable us to deliver transformational services. It’s been done in so many areas already, so why don’t we do more for our ‘Health Consumers’? Indeed, one of the delegates argued that it’s about applying good practice that already exists in other sectors and transforming its use to new areas. Whilst I agree partly with this, I don’t think a ‘one size fits all approach’ can be taken – what happens when good practice doesn’t exist for a similar service? For me, and it sounds obvious, driving the input from service users is the key to transformational change in the way citizens interact with Health, designed by the user for the user.

Interested in hearing more about our approach to transforming customer journeys through service redesign? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

The Art of Creativity…

It’s 2020, our customers are raving about our easy to use delivery process, within weeks our customers achieved their outcomes and upfront, decisions were made based on real insights that influenced how they would build their pipeline. New revenue was generated and huge savings were made. Customers, stakeholders and employees interact with our multichannel services, with ease and simplicity, gliding through systems, feeling delighted by the entire experience.

How did we do it?

We delivered solutions that use one basic formula.

Collaboration + Innovation

What does it equal?

Creative confidence

Our tools and methodologies enhance creative problem solving, they support scalability and automate the way we work, enabling our leaders and consultants to work at greater scale.

Our consultants transform business thinking by putting people at the heart of the decision process. Our technical gurus deploy systems within weeks not months. Our customers come back for more and the end user experience is seamless…

Oh wait… I’m not thinking about the future, this is now and it’s still 2017!

Our teams are already innovating and our customers are achieving their outcomes. Everyday we collaborate, our development tools have already reduced the time it takes to deliver an entire system. Our designers and researchers have improved quality of life. It’s not just technology and digital experiences, it’s:

  • Creating new approaches to health
  • Creating user-centred government services
  • Creating new ways of working for employees
  • Creating better ways to manage our money
  • Creating new ways for technology to help humans

We removed the fear of being creative and we made it familiar. Creativity is not special.

Working and delivering in a technical environment within an IT company is exciting. The opportunity to transform lives, enhance experiences – whether it’s the experience of the customer, the business or the employee has become cathartic. Technology has become the enabler. Design thinking is transforming technology. Design thinking is a core competency built for the future.

What next? Longevity

Find out how we at Sopra Steria have become masters of design thinking, integrating people into our IT process right from the start.

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

Digital Justice Scotland 2016: delivering 21st century justice

This year’s Holyrood Digital Justice Scotland 2016 conference held on 7 December, once again brought together some great speakers who laid out their vision and shared some of the challenges they continue to face in delivering against the objectives of the 2014 Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland.

As one of the co-sponsors we had the opportunity to present our approach to service design and discuss with the delegates its potential in delivering improved outcomes within the justice sector. Before embarking on the interactive session, we introduced the audience to the positive impact that service design can have on an end-to-end customer experience by firstly taking them through a simple example they would all be familiar with – buying a burger.

Then we presented a high level offender journey from being convicted to release back to the community and asked the audience to highlight the gaps and risks to the business and offender in the end to end journey. Our method was very visual, we kept the user journeys simple to plant the idea of service disruption by design and we challenged the participants to focus on how offenders are interacting with services and what outcomes are needed at each stage of the journey.

Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016
Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016

The session highlighted a number of areas where digital technology could be used to improve ways of working, for example:

  • Offender self-service access to services such as money management, organising visits, buying essentials, scheduling education and work activities etc.
  • Reducing repetitive administrative tasks for Prison Officers and freeing them for more value adding face to face services for the vulnerable
  • There was also a strong theme of improving information flows, both on arrival at prison and exit back into the community.

Common Themes

Several strong common themes kept reoccurring through the day:

  • Progress on delivering the vision of the Digital Strategy for Justice has been slow since its publication in 2014. The Rt Hon Leonna Dorrian said “we need 21st century attitudes” and that “it’s not about tinkering” when considering the much needed policy and cultural changes required to transform justice processes.
  • Austerity is having a significant impact on the ability to deliver digital transformation but I believe a positive aspect of this is that it is forcing a closer look at what can be re-used within an organisation with integrated services helping to leverage current investment.
  • Empowerment is an important driver in the delivery of services for staff and victims / witnesses / offenders within justice processes. In the last session of the day Susan Gallagher (Acting Chief Exec at Victim Support Scotland) demonstrated how far they’ve come in digitally transforming the charity to be truly focused on user (victim) needs. Interesting that a charity can move so quickly compared to government organisations…

Sopra Steria’s service design approach puts the user at the heart of the process. It challenges you to examine the pain points, map out the business needs and customer expectations and identify the required outcomes. It enables you to understand what is needed to change ways of working.

If you’d like more information on our approach to service integration or service design please get in touch – leave a reply below, or contact me by email.