A sneak peek inside a hothouse sprint week extravaganza

Most public and private sector leaders are acutely aware that they are supposed to be living and breathing digital: working smarter, serving people better, collaborating more intuitively. So why do front line realities so often make achieving a state of digital nirvana feel like just that: an achievable dream? The world is much messier and more complex for most organisations than they dare to admit, even internally. Achieving meaningfully digital transformation, with my staff/ customers/ deadlines/ management structure/ budgets? It’s just not realistic.

That’s where the Innovation Practice at Sopra Steria steps in.

I count myself lucky to be one of our global network of DigiLab Managers. My job is not just to help our clients re-imagine the future; anyone can do that. It’s to define and take practical steps to realising that new reality in meaningful ways, through the innovative use of integrated digital technologies, no matter what obstacles seem to bar the path ahead.

This is not innovation for the sake of it. Instead, our obsession is with delivering deep business performance, employee and customer experience transformation that really does make that living and breathing digital difference. Innovation for the sake of transformation taking clients from the land of make-believe to the tried and tested, in the here and now.

The beautiful bit? The only essentials for this process are qualities that we all have to hand: the ability to ask awkward questions, self-scrutinise and allow ourselves to be inquisitive and hopeful, fearlessly asking “What If?”.

Welcome to five days of relentless focus, scrutiny and radical thinking

The practical approach we adopt to achieving all this takes the form of an Innovation Sprint: a Google-inspired methodology which lets us cover serious amounts of ground in a short space of time. The Sopra Steria version of this Sprint is typically conducted over 5 days at one of our network of DigiLabs. These modular and open creative spaces are designed for free thinking, with walls you can write on, furniture on wheels and a rich and shifting roll-call of experts coming together to share their challenges, insights and aspirations. We also try to have a resident artist at hand, because once you can visualise something, solving it becomes that bit easier.

The only rule we allow? That anything legal and ethical is fair game as an idea.

Taking a crowbar and opening the box on aspiration

Innovation Sprints are the best way I know to shake up complex challenges, rid ourselves of preconceptions and reform for success. I want to take you through the structure of one of the recent Sprints we conducted to give you a peak at how they work, using the example of a Central Government client we have been working with. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics we discussed, names and details obviously need to stay anonymous.

In this Sprint we used a bulging kitbag of tools to drive out insight, create deliberate tensions, prioritise actions and, as one contributor neatly put it, ‘push beyond the obvious’. That kitbag included Journey Maps, Personas, Value Maps, Business Model Canvases and non-stop sketching alongside taking stacks of photos and videos of our work to keep us on track and help us capture new thinking.

Before we started, we outlined a framework for the five days in the conjunction with two senior service delivery and digital transformation leads from the Central Government Department in question. This allowed us to distil three broad but well-defined focus areas around their most urgent crunch points and pains. The three we settled on were ‘Channel shifting services’, ‘Tackling digital exclusion’  and ‘Upskilling teams with digital knowhow and tools’.

Monday: Mapping the problem

We kicked off by defining the problems and their context. Using a ‘Lightning Talks’ approach, we let our specialists and stakeholders rapidly download their challenges, getting it all out in the open and calling out any unhelpful defaults or limited thinking. In this particular Sprint, we covered legacy IT issues, employee motivation, citizen needs and vulnerabilities and how to deliver the most compassionate service, alongside PR, brand and press challenges, strategic aims and aspirations and major roadblocks. That was just Day One! By getting the tangle of challenges out there, we were able to start really seeing the size and shape of the problem.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Diving into the molten core

This is where things always get fluid, heated and transformation. We looked in turn at the  three core topics that we wanted to address, following a set calendar each day. We would ‘decode’ in the morning, looking at challenges in more detail again using ‘Lightning Talks’ from key stakeholders to orientate us. Our experts shared their pains in a frank and open way.  We then drilled each of our key topics, ideating and value mapping, identifying  opportunities to harness innovation and adopt a more user-centric approach to technology.

At the heart of this activity we created key citizen and employee personas using a mixture of data-driven analysis and educated insight. An exercise called “How might we…?” helped us to free-think around scenarios, with key stakeholders deciding what challenges they wanted to prioritise for exploration. We were then directed by these to map key user journeys for our selected personas, quickly identifying roadblocks, testing or own assumptions, refining parameters and sparking ideas for smarter service design.

On each day we created Day +1 breakaway groups that were able to remain focused on the ideas generated the day before, ensuring that every topic had a chance to rest and enjoy a renewed focus.

Friday: Solidifying and reshaping for the future

On our final day, we pulled it all together and started to make the ideas real. We invited key stakeholders back into the room and revealed the most powerful insights and synergies that we had unearthed. We also explored how we could use the latest digital thinking to start solving their most pressing challenges now and evolve the service to where it would need to be in 3-5 years’ time. Our expert consultants and leads in automation and AI had already started to design prototypes and we honestly validated their potential as a group. Some ideas flew, new ones were generated, some were revealed to be unworkable and some were banked, to be pursued at a later date. We then discussed as a team how to achieve the transformations needed at scale (the department is predicting a rapid 4-fold growth in service use) while delivering vital quick wins that would make a palpable difference, at speed. This would help us to secure the very senior buy in our clients needed for the deeper digital transformations required.  To wrap up, we explored how we could blueprint the tech needed, work together to build tight business cases, design more fully fledged prototypes, strike up new partnerships and financial models and do it all with incredible agility.

Some photos from the week

Fast forward into the new

My personal motto is: How difficult could that be? When you’re dealing with huge enterprises and Central Government departments devoted to looking after the needs of some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our society, the answer is sometimes: Very! But in my experience, there is nothing like this Sprint process for helping organisations of all stripes and sizes to move beyond unhelpful default thinking and get contributions from the people who really know the challenges inside out. With this client, we were able to map their challenges and talk with real insight and empathy about solutions, in ways they had never experienced before. We were also able to think about how we could leverage Sopra Steria’s own knowledge and embedded relationships with other government departments to create valuable strategic synergies and economies of scale.

A Sprint is never just about brainstorming around past challenges. It’s about fast-forwarding into a better, more digital, seamless and achievable future, marrying micro-steps with macro-thinking to get there. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience for all involved and one that delivers deep strategic insight and advantage, at extreme speed. And which organisation doesn’t need that?

Let’s innovate! If you’d like to book your own hothouse sprint week extravaganza or just want to know more about the process, please get in touch

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.

Successful public service transformation – what works and why?

Everyday governments face the question – evolve or transform? Focus on well-defined shifts in ways of working within one department. Or radically transform government through new technology enabled business models.

Public service transformation was the subject of a recent Institute for Government (IfG) roundtable, sponsored by Sopra Steria, where senior civil servants identified principles for successful transformation. A lack of focus or clear objectives, inadequate resources, unrealistic timescales, departmental silos, limited insight from service users, unpredictable and changeable political agendas. The reasons for failed transformation programmes were many and varied.

But there were examples of successful transformation. Civil servants cited automatic enrolment to workplace pensions (more people are now saving for retirement), Getting it Right the First Time (reducing unwarranted variations in medical care) and Making Tax Digital (digitising the reporting of tax). There were also many examples – such as Universal Credit, NHS Vanguards and School Academisation – were it is just too early to reach a sound judgement. Transformation can take time.

In reality, high performing government agencies do resemble well-run companies. Both have worthy goals; well designed, rational processes; strict accountability; and effective leaders. But the profound differences in their purposes, their cultures and the contexts within which they operate conjure up different obstacles.

Transformation across government is arguably more difficult than the private sector. It is not possible to exclude a ‘difficult’ service user. Priorities change with new political leadership. Traditional structures tend to be hierarchical rather than flexible and agile. There is increasing political and media oversight. And there might be public opposition to novel efficiency initiatives such as remote video hearings or online pleas for minor offences or even divorce applications.

This means that transformation, through flexible new operating models designed around users and data, requires new thinking across government. Civil servants told us there was no ‘magic bullet’. Instead there is a need for empowered teams that deliver an agreed vision and work through a detailed plan. They have cross government support to remove systems and structures that undermine progress. There is a willingness to experiment, with pilots and early wins building credibility. And incentives, positive and negative, drive behaviours, including ‘invest to save’ schemes and the use of behavioural insights.

The suggestions made will play a formative role in the development of a ‘Transforming Public Services – 2020 and beyond’ research programme. I’d welcome comment on the this or any other issues raised in this post. And you might want to know more about our recent research with NIESR, where we asked whether the recent more upbeat assessment of the public sector finances was realistic.

Why telcos are getting smart with their process automation

If you’re a telecoms operator providing services into consumer and business markets, you will know how important customer experience is to your business. Whether you’re providing connectivity (fixed, mobile, converged), unified communications and IT services into Enterprises, or quad-play offerings to consumers, you will know the importance of an increasingly digital experience and efficient and effective processes.

It is often the case though, that the experience for the customer when trying to work with you is less than they have become accustomed to with organisations who have been born in the digital era. These companies have changed the paradigm for customer experience and set a new bar height to which organisations now aspire. But these organisations do not have to carry the weight of process complexity, and challenges that the myriad of systems within a multi-decade year old IT estate create.

So against this backdrop, how do you make the complex simple? How do you take what your customer expects to be easy and make it so? How do you achieve significant operational cost savings, especially in back-office functions, whilst the work of your customers continues to exist? Moreover, how do you deliver all this, stay true to a digital strategy that makes you fit for the future, AND improve today’s customer experience in the process?

Turning to process automation

Can you afford the cost? In today’s increasingly commoditised telecoms industry, where every opportunity to reduce operating costs is being pursued, it’s no wonder that telcos have been investing in process automation for some time now. For heavily process-driven businesses, process automation brings significant benefits, from improved efficiency and heightened productivity levels, to reduced operational costs and assurance of compliance – not forgetting greater customer satisfaction.

Now this automation is becoming smarter, more intelligent. Self-learning, self-healing, intelligent process automation that leaves only genuine business reasons for exceptions to require expert human intervention. It has the potential to deliver significant savings and productivity increases. To quantify this, let’s say that you took 80% of your standard customer transactions and fully automated them, using Robotic Process Automation. But with Intelligent Automation, your ‘robotic process engine’ uses Artificial Intelligence in order to analyse data and apply continuous learning to optimise processes. So, in other words, it becomes increasingly smarter.

Adding up the gains

What you’re left with is the 20% of more complex customer requirements better handled by human agents, with these ‘exceptions’ reducing as the intelligent automation is applied. This not only cuts costs through enabling significant people savings in back-office functions (you get the work done, but with a fraction of the resources), but it also has a positive impact on customer experience. How? Expert human decisions remain integral to the end-to-end process for personal contact where required, but customers can quickly and easily carry-out those standard transactions in a digital and frictionless way. With the option of presenting the customer choices of interface, including voice integration into the same intelligent automation engine, your customer experience is improved, whilst your operational processing costs are reduced.

Using intelligent automation to reduce manual processing also increases accuracy levels by removing errors and issues with data quality. The less human interference, the less human error. Customers are now achieving more than 5 x processing speed benefits with 99.5% accuracy from customer service processes using intelligent automation. All this with the ability for the robotic engine to be accessible 24 x 7 within vastly reduced operating costs.

The other benefit is that of systems integration. The intelligent automation platform becomes the means by which different systems are accessed and data transferred between them in real-time, and with quality assurance occurring on the fly.

A platform for rapid adoption

At Sopra Steria, our Intelligent Automation Platform (IAP) offers a way for clients to fast-track their adoption of intelligent automation. IAP learns ‘on the job’, fine-tuning people-less processes to continuously improve the level of straight-through processing available, and reducing the requirement for human intervention. For organisations with global entities, such as telcos, it is fully scalable and geographically independent. This means businesses can link up processes from previously disparate parts of their organisation.

Intelligent automation really is a game changer. It enables automated and intelligent decision making, using real-time business insight. Whether the process is to on-board new customers or suppliers, transact for services or enable change management, or deal with in-life operational support, the ability for intelligent automation to underpin a digital customer experience and transform front and back-office processes is incredible. It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but organisations, especially those heavily dependent on systems and processes such as telcos, will be increasingly looking at intelligent automation as part of their digital strategy.

Get in touch

To find out more about our Intelligent Automation Platform, please contact me via jason.butcher@soprasteria.com

3 tips for accelerating digital transformation in telecoms

The telecoms industry is no stranger to change. After all, the leading players in this sector have delivered network connectivity and devices that sit behind many of the world’s game-changing digital innovations. Take digital pioneer Uber as an example; it simply wouldn’t exist without the proliferation of smartphones and underpinning mobile network engines. But there’s a problem for the telecoms companies providing the networks and devices enabling these new business models. These telco giants need to accelerate their own digital transformations but, unlike digital start-ups, they have made massive investments in legacy IT over the past few decades and can’t simply ‘switch on digital’.

Nonetheless, business leaders recognise that, as consumers increasingly demand a digital customer experience, one that offers instant gratification, they must embrace the digital economy. Failure to become a truly digital company, is not an option. You only have to look at the number of big name companies that have gone out of business in recent years because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, transform.

So, how can traditional telecoms companies survive in today’s fast-changing digital economy? Not known for their agility, how do they forge ahead quickly with digital transformation programmes that ensure their business models and operations are fit for the future? There are many recommendations for accelerating transformation, embracing technical, operational and process change, but I’m going to focus on just three in this blog.

Tip 1 – Modernise legacy applications, rather than dispose of them

At Sopra Steria, we encourage those clients with a heavy investment in legacy assets to modernise what they’ve invested in over the years, while ensuring they also keep pace with modern, cloud-based developments. It’s clearly not feasible to replace decades-old systems and applications in their entirety. That’s especially so in an industry experiencing significant pressure on revenues and margins (e.g. decreased roaming revenues, commoditisation and price erosion) and needing to continue investing in their networks (SDN/NFV & 5G, etc). So, my recommendation is to adopt an evolutionary approach. Ask what you need to do to extract more value from existing IT assets in line with a digital strategy. Then look at the real business triggers for legacy applications to become redundant or the option to replace with new, cloud-native ones. Be selective in your investments and opt for projects that give a rapid ROI. Modernisation offers a quick win as you accelerate your digital transformation.

Top 2 – Use Agile coaches to turn DevOps from theory into reality

We all know that speed to market with new services and products that give customers the digital experience they’re looking for is vital. To achieve this, organisations recognise that they need to transform their software development processes. Traditional lengthy waterfall-style development must be replaced with a DevOps culture that enables rapid, frequent releases through Agile sprints. This is typically a strategic top-down decision that sounds good in theory. The message is clear: we need to release fast, often and with assured quality; and we need to be agile so that we can respond quickly as the market changes. Yet that message becomes lost as it filters down through the management layers and those people expected to put theory into practice struggle to make it happen. I’ve seen enterprises overcome this by embedding Agile coaches at different layers of the organisation. These are people with practical experience of DevOps and Agile, able to lead and demonstrate this new way of working. This is a case of ‘don’t just tell us how to do it, show us as well’.

Tip 3 – Address adoption challenges with a defined vision and value position

Even with Agile coaches embedded in the end-to-end DevOps cycle, we still see instances where an organisation has implemented a new system or launched an innovative app that fails to gain traction with users. Let’s say, for example, you want to launch a mobile-front end on your Oracle DB system, enabling your employees to access what they need, where and when they need it. Or you might have invested millions in a new cloud platform for better visibility and control. If you want to avoid this being money down the drain, you must encourage user adoption. This requires communication of the ‘vision for’ and ‘value of’ your investment. So, it’s not just a case of communicating what the new capability is for (the vision), but clearly articulating the benefit it will bring both to the business and the users themselves (the value). If it’s a sales application, why would your salespeople use it if they perceive that’s it’s just a management tool for tracking what they do? How much more enthusiastic would they be if they understood how it will help them to sell more, faster? It sounds a simple tip for ensuring successful adoption of new digital tools, but the lack of a defined vision and value proposition can so easily stand in the way of you achieving your desired business outcomes.

Get in touch

The above three tips are just a flavour of the new thinking and approaches that telcos must take on board to survive in today’s digital economy by accelerating their digital transformations.

To find out more please contact me – jason.butcher@soprasteria.com 

Shifting from analogue to digital public services – citizens want joined up public services

I highlighted the positive view citizens have about digital public services in my last blog. And their appetite for more. I now want to address some of their concerns and why doubt the ability of government to continue to deliver.

The digital disruption brought about by new technologies is transforming the interaction between citizens, business and the public sector.

Citizens compare public services with innovative platform business models provided by digital trendsetters like Apple, Google and Amazon. I expect simplicity and even friendliness when I talk to Alexa or Siri.

What did we find? Government needs to join the dots

This year’s research shows that digital public services fall short of the best commercial services. While 64% of UK citizens said digital public services were advanced this falls to just 30% when they are asked to compare them to commercial services.

The UK Government can take some comfort from the comparison with France (18%), Norway (19%) and Germany (20%). And of course, we understand that governments face unique challenges, as ‘customers’ often have no choice when using public services that can be a last resort.  Governments need to address complex and long term needs like the reduction of re-offending or the treatment of chronic health conditions.

But citizens told us of their frustrations about the need to input information many times, including various passwords, the multiple steps needed to access services and an inability track progress. Some of these issues are being addressed by the UK Government, including through new platforms such as Verify and Notify. And they have flagged an intention to ‘improve citizen service across channels’ through a new Transformation (not digital) Strategy.

However, too often governments fail to meet citizen’s expectations when it reproduces its analogue bureaucratic procedures in a digitised way. Siloed service delivery approaches, with multiple websites and fragmented service delivery, organised around internal institutional structures are no longer acceptable. Which is why the number one priority for 44% of the UK citizens surveyed was the creation of a one-stop digital portal for undertaking interactions which need to be performed with multiple agencies (and this was a common priority across France, Norway and Germany).

Improving the experience of citizens in a revolutionary way

Citizens expect their public services to be designed with a user-driven perspective. And to adapt to different user profiles and needs. Through intelligent re-use of data and information previously generated or provided by citizens, governments can shift from reactive to proactive service delivery practices.

In a reactive service, the citizen is always responsible for starting the service demand, properly identifying herself and providing the required information. In a proactive service, the public sector knows its citizens, knows their life circumstances and current needs, and provides them the space to voice and signal their requests and preferences.

This enables the public sector to serve citizens in a personalised fashion about their rights, their duties and the services available. And to reach out to them to receive the authorisation to complete the service on their behalf.

This capacity to collect, combine and process data in a coherent way to better serve citizens must be a key feature of digital public services. And this needs a whole-of-government effort to exchange information across the public sector. With the key building blocks – common architecture, interoperability framework, digital identity system – in place to enable integrated service delivery.

Developing a user-driven approach also implies that the public sector’s capacities, workflows, business processes, operations need to be adapted to the rapidly evolving digital age. The challenge is not to introduce digital technologies but to integrate and embed them right from the start into efforts to modernise services.

I’d like to hear your views on how policies can be made digital by design, mobilising new technologies to rethink and re-engineer processes or open new channels of communication and engagement with citizens. And feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information on our research with Ipsos.

Citizens can feel the benefits of digital public services but are concerned about the ability of government to keep pace with their needs

As companies have transformed themselves with digital technologies, citizens are calling on governments to follow suit.

By digitising, the public sector can provide services that meet the evolving needs of citizens, even in a period of tight budgets and complex challenges.

This is the second year that Sopra Steria has asked the researchers at Ipsos to conduct a survey of 1000 citizens, from a broad range of social groups and across the United Kingdom, to understand their experience of and expectations for digital government. The same survey took place in France, Germany and Norway. So we have an opportunity to compare how citizens in the UK experience digital with others across Europe.

What did we find?

Citizens expect public services to be designed and delivered in a simple and intuitive way.

This year’s research shows that citizens recognise the efforts made by governments to use digital channels to streamline their interactions. 64% of the UK citizens surveyed described digital public services as advanced, compared to just 42% in Germany, 66% in France and 75% in Norway. The UK Government should seek to learn from experience of Norway, which has long used technology to streamline processes.

We asked citizens to describe the current degree of digital service development across Government

Citizens continue to support investment in digital public services. 75% of citizens surveyed in the UK said government should press ahead with plans to digitise public services. 25% described this as ‘an absolute priority’. Health is judged the most important public service to digitise in the future. 54% of citizens in the UK said health was the priority for investment, an increase of 5% in the 12 months since the last survey.

The research found that citizens also recognise the positive impact digital is having on the quality of public services. 58% of the UK citizens surveyed said that the introduction of online channels and services had improved the quality of public services, compared to 53% in France, 65% in Norway and 57% in Germany.

So far, so good – but what about the future of digital public service delivery?

Governments are working on simplifying access through the development of simple organisational hubs for digital government services. Fully developing this approach requires governments to achieve significant levels of interoperability of public sector information systems and, at times, cross-organisational service solutions.

Citizens are cautious when asked about the prospects of making further progress. 47% of the citizens surveyed said they did not believe the public sector had the necessary skills to make progress (which is similar to our own survey of civil servants last year). And France is the only country surveyed where citizens expressed confidence in their government’s will AND ability to continue to make progress.

We asked citizens for their views on the will and ability of governments to make progress with digital public services

The UK might learn from France and other countries that are seeking to introduce incentives across the public sector to help bring down cultural barriers in hierarchical and centralised administrative cultures. And develop a human resources strategy that helps develop, attract and retain vital data skills that facilitate collaboration.

In my next blog I will be looking in more detail at why citizens are so cautious about future prospects for digital public services. And how governments can address their concerns and shift away from the ‘vending machine’ model of service delivery.

In the meantime I’d like to hear your thoughts on the survey, including great examples of digital public services and how obstacles were overcome. And get in touch if you would like further details of the survey.