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

Solving organisational challenges in partnership

On Monday 14 January, I and seven colleagues spanning all areas of our delivery – from the training room to the web team and the data team – attended a Tech for Good Hackathon with some fifty Sopra Steria graduates and mentors.

We know that if our charity is to continue to grow both in its impact and its reach we need more effective and efficient systems, and to achieve this will require a greater focus both on problem-solving within our current workflow as well as implementation of new digital solutions.

hackathon monatge

Focussing on the student journey, from enrolment, on-course support to completion, we were hugely impressed by the enthusiasm, professionalism and team-work that the Sopra Steria graduates showed, tackling what often appear to us as quite intractable operational challenges.

The opportunity for me and my colleagues to simply take a day out to reflect on current practice was in itself hugely helpful, and one that we don’t otherwise find the space for: but to marry that opportunity with the creative ideas and plans put forward by the Sopra Steria graduates really made it a worthwhile day, giving us the clarity and focus this piece of work deserves.

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll begin implementing some of the ideas from the Hackathon, and can’t wait to see how those ideas develop.


Anthony Harmer – CEO, ELATT

Looking Ahead to Customer Experience Design in 2019

As we get into the new year here’s a look ahead at some things I hope to see more of in Customer Experience Design during 2019.

Conversational Graphical User Interface (GUI)

While voice UI continued to be a big focus in 2018 and will no doubt carry on advancing in 2019, I hope to see more GUI’s taking a steer from conversational design, chatbots replacing forms for common interactions with an organisation (like updating stored details) and even guiding customers in product selection and decision making instead of traditional navigation structures. Add a dash of AI and you could see apps and websites becoming more and more like virtual assistants – with or without voice enablement – making digital experiences feel ever more natural and personal.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Virtual Reality (VR) is still finding its place in the world of commerce and although we have some great examples of VR applications in training and recruitment (including some developed by our colleagues in Shared Services Connected Ltd for the Ministry of Justice) I expect AR to really come into its own next year, with a multitude of possible uses in a variety of fields such as commerce, government, and healthcare. Although mobile AR has been around for some time I can see it becoming more widely used as product designers recognise the untapped potential in the device we all carry around every day, so that AR capabilities can be brought into everyday experiences, not just preserved for those with specialist kit.

Hyper-Personalisation

Again, not a new fad but something that has been steadily building for a few years. As we continue to take more of a holistic view of customer journeys – designing the service not just the digital product – I can see the application of big and dynamic data to tailor end-to-end journeys to the specific needs of an individual. At the micro level, when designing products I expect to see less segmentation by traditional demographics and more thought given to mindsets, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, underpinned by data. If we are going to be given permission to keep collecting customers’ data we need to be very quick to use it to improve their experiences and demonstrate value back to the customer.

Investment in Customer Experience

And at a market level, it is becoming clear that brands will increasingly compete on Customer Experience in coming years, with an Econsultancy report this year showing that 69% of companies believe they will be competing on customer experience by 2020*. As experience becomes a key differentiator I expect more focus on the skills and tools needed to deliver great experiences, with design becoming a core part of any Digital Transformation programme and organisations continuing to build their own in-house capability to support this. External creative teams (such as ours) working with client organisations, will need to demonstrate how we can establish and support blended in-house/external teams, with a strong focus on DesignOps and close collaboration, ensuring that we can provide the right support and specialist skills to complement existing teams. Nelson Hall recently announced that Sopra Steria have been identified as a ‘Leader’ their NEAT assessment for UX/UI services and we are continuing to focus on this vital capability to make sure we deliver world-class experiences for our clients and their customers.

2019 looks set to be a bumper year for customer experience design, and I’m really excited about what we can achieve with a renewed focus on improving lives by putting customers at the heart of digital transformation.

For more information about how Sopra Steria can help you get closer to your customers and design transformative experiences, please contact:

Bethany Jarroussié
Digital Practice Director – Experience Design
bethany.jarroussie@soprasteria.com

* ‘Bridging the customer experience gap’ 2018 by Econsultancy and Zone

 

Is DevOps dead?

In certain circles, DevOps has become a dirty word – an outdated, ‘of the minute’ trend that was banded about in the tech world without anyone having a solid idea of what it means. It’s very easy to say you’re doing DevOps, but often, everyone is on a different page.

For many, DevOps has stopped being something to shout about – it’s what we expect as a minimum and it’s business as usual. In a fast-paced digital world, taking months to deploy your code or respond to customer feedback is no longer good enough. With the likes of Amazon deploying code an average of every 11.7 seconds, the expectations of customers are shifting.

Having a successful DevOps strategy isn’t just about having the right tools available, or having everyone sit in the same room – it’s about a complete cultural and procedural overhaul. Done right, DevOps can make life much easier for everyone and attract the best talent. Done wrong, DevOps is just another failed experiment that will get teams frustrated and falling back into time-consuming habits.

I’m working with who?!

One of the major obstacles to successful implementation of DevOps is cultural change. Siloes between operational, development, design and security teams should be broken and replaced by a product team, requiring a redefinition of roles and responsibilities. These teams should have cross-functional skillsets, and be small and self-organising. Thus, training and assessing the skills of the workforce is essential.

Whilst a pilot project can be a low-risk way of starting to implement DevOps, scaling this strategy can be difficult and slow. This is a major hurdle preventing large organisations from achieving the agility and speed that allows them to compete with the tech giants.

Create a flow

Improving workflows requires coordination between application delivery and backend infrastructure. Standards for each phase of the project – building, testing, delivery and monitoring – must be defined and agreed by the whole team. With the right approach to governance, a balance can be struck between flexibility and quality assurance.

Automation is the key to unlocking efficiency through DevOps. Using technologies such as microservice architectures will help to form a deployment pipeline for each service and lower the risk of code changes, whilst using Infrastructure as Code will increase the efficiency and repeatability of the build process.

Tic tac tool

Finally, whilst tooling isn’t the only thing taking you from monthly to weekly deployment, agreeing and using the right toolkit will ensure an efficient workflow. Whilst there are innumerable available tools, agreeing a toolkit that covers release, configuration management, orchestration, monitoring, testing and containerisation will ensure the team is able to provide robust service delivery and adapt to users’ needs in real-time.

The end goal

Of course, the real game-changer is the speed of delivery. Creating an efficient DevOps workflow is pointless if we are not considering the outcomes. But given the speed of change in technology, DevOps is about more than efficient operations – it’s about keeping up with your customers.

Call it what you will – continuous delivery, DevOps, or tech in the modern era – DevOps practices will be the line between those who survive the pace of digital, and those who don’t.

Sopra Steria Welcomes ELATT

On Monday 14 January Sopra Steria Graduates will take part in a Tech for Good hackathon for our London charity partner, ELATT. In a day-long hackathon event, our grads will work in teams with Sopra Steria coaches to create solutions to one of ELATT’s critical business challenges. At the end of the day, the best ideas will be selected by the senior team from ELATT, and the charity plans to implement the solution or solutions that best meet their needs.

2p9a0968

This event is co-sponsored by the Early Careers, Community, and Digital Innovation teams, and is part of our Tech for Good Programme, which is focused on using our digital, technology and business expertise to create positive impacts in the world.  It is also an important part of our hands-on, impact-focused approach to learning and development in our Graduate Programme.

ELATT is an award-winning digital skills training college offering opportunities for learning and qualifications to under-served people, helping them get the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Anthony Harmer, CEO of ELATT, said,

‘As an education charity with big ideas but limited resources, this Hackathon provides us with an invaluable opportunity to draw on the insight and expertise in the Sopra Steria team to help us improve our services for our students and turn our ambitions into reality.’

Kaila Yates, Sopra Steria Chief Marketing Officer and board sponsor of our Community Programme said,

‘We know that digital technologies are transforming organisations every day.  We believe that our charitable partners like ELATT will be able to do more with digital, and helping them make a difference for their students and the London communities they serve is an exciting opportunity for us and a great example of our Tech for Good programme.’

For more information please contact Laura Lucas (Early Careers), Jen Rodvold (Community & Tech for Good), or Morgan Korchia (Digital Innovation).

A more caring conference: ITSMF 2018

The key themes at this year’s ITSMF conference were about ensuring the ongoing relevance of IT Service Management (ITSM) and the importance of the people that work in the profession  These themes were constant throughout the various sessions be they digital transformation of the year or the debate on the future ethics of AI.

The keynote opening speech was delivered by the Mental Health charity “Sane”, which was received like no other I have witnessed before at an ITSMF conference.   It really is OK to talk about mental health and loudly applaud a speaker who opens up on issues which some may see as a taboo.

Of the 46 sessions that ran this year, 29 of the sessions were people focussed.  Personal journeys, the support and benefits of being in the profession.  It really was People first at ITSMF 2018 and not the usual People, Process and Technology Mantra.  Whether it was process automation or chatbots, the focus was on the people using these technologies or enabling them.  Some of my personal highlights from the conference are below:-

The Great Relevance Debate

This was the headline panel session with industry experts including our very own Dave Green.  The debate centred on the relevance of ITSM in the digital age.  The conclusion was that there would always need to be an approach for managing IT Services.  The principles of ITIL, COBIT, Lean, IT4IT etc. will therefore remain relevant.  VeriSM, (a service management approach for the digital age) and the forthcoming ITIL4 demonstrate the evolution of best ITSM practice thinking and alignment to the digital age.  In the future, key ITSM activities will be automated, accountability will be pushed to the coalface and metrics will be based on the customer experience.  There will though still be a need for operational frameworks and ITSM professionals measuring and improving service.   It was also noted by the panel many organisations are tied long term to Bi-Modal operations.   Legacy systems may best be managed with the disciplines of what we can call legacy ITSM.  In short, ITSM is still relevant but not in the same way as it was 10 years ago.

Experience Level Agreements (XLA) – Kicking the KPI habit

This session was all about creating measures of IT performance that are relevant to the End User of the Services.  The customer experience will become the critical success factor in the truly digital world.  It is driving a power-shift from the business to the customer, so to drive higher user demand businesses need to understand customers and their expectations. It’s important, therefore a means of effectively measuring the customer experience needs to be in place. If XLAs are not in place, customers may go elsewhere even with all the IT Metrics green. IT Metrics should be kept for IT and relevant XLA metrics developed for the end customer.  An XLA is created through starting with a targeted end result and re-engineering backwards.  A key principle was that IT shouldn’t just be looking to align to business, it should be aiming to ENABLE business. More information can be found here https://xla.rocks/

The New Management of Service – Joining up the Enterprise

This session talked of the New Management of Service, joining up the Enterprise and the concept of Enterprise Service Management rather than just the ITSM in isolation.  The speaker talked of 2 key concepts.  The first being the benefits of applying best practice ITSM techniques to the wider enterprise.  The HR department could use the technologies and processes of the IT Request Management was an example cited. The second concept was of everything as a Service and the mapping of customer journeys end to end across all organisational pillars; IT, finance, sales, marketing, procurement, customer support, facilities management, HR.  Break down the silos and manage enterprise services end to end from the customer’s perspective to reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase organisational efficiency. Other speakers at the conference championed the concept of Enterprise Service Management.

Going digital isn’t Transformation, its evolution

The speaker stated that 22% of companies think they completed their digital transformation, which indicates they do not understand the nature of being a digital business.  There were several sessions on digital transformation at the conference but this session had some good pragmatic content.  The speaker stated that business users often have better IT at home than at work as home IT doesn’t get business priority.  Going digital by just changing the front-end is not transformation, it’s like a new coat of paint on a building, only the 1st step in refurbishment that needs to move on to other areas like flooring, wiring etc.  I especially like the term GADU to describe the expectations of the digital consumer.  It must search like Google, order like Amazon, be packaged/bundled like Dell and track like UPS for each step of the activity (GADU).  Anything less than GADU capability is viewed less favourably by the customer.  I also liked the speakers view that there is no such thing as the cloud just someone else’s computer J.  The speaker also talked of the importance of properly marketing digital transformations in the same way an organisation would market a new product.  This applies to both internal and external digital transformations.

The Ethics of AI

There has been a lot of talk about AI and the ethics around it as we approach “the 4th industrial revolution”. The speaker had some interesting ideas on empathy engines that could take Siri and Alexa to the next levels.  The speaker talked of the emergence of “Robophyschologists” as persons that would bridge the gap between human and machine learning and interaction.  They would create algorithms that would enable machines to learn in the same way a human babies do.  This all felt a little far off for me but the speaker cited things that are happening now around the ethics of AI.  Laws already enshrined in Germany ensure AI favours human life over anything when making emergency decisions for example.  A very thought provoking session.

Overall I felt the ITSMF 2018 conference to be forward looking and compassionate but still with a nod to the past.  I met the man who first coined the terminology “Incident” and “Problem” whose lanyard displayed the words Malcolm Fry “ITSM Legend”.

Why Digital Skills should be top of the class in today’s schools

What will the jobs market be like in 5 years’ time (or even in 1 years’ time) – given the rapid changes that are going on right now?

Robotics and Intelligent Automation are becoming mainstream, chatbots and avatars are taking over call centres and new fintech banks such as Monzo and Starling are turning the traditional banking market on its head.  People of all ages will have to start acquiring new skills and approaches to working if they want an interesting, sustainable and well-paid job.

It’s a fact that digital is transforming the jobs market.  People with digital skills and knowledge are in high demand and are commanding high salaries.  Data is the major differentiator – and understanding how to gain insight from the increasingly huge volumes of data that we are all generating is crucial to every business right now.  Universities and many Financial Services organisations have already started investing in digital and data.  There are a plethora of courses and training available – but until recently – digital wasn’t really taught in schools – leaving young people who didn’t choose (or couldn’t afford) to go to university woefully under skilled and unprepared for the new reality of employment in today’s demanding jobs market.

The first Digital School of Excellence

That’s why it’s great to see Newbattle High School in Midlothian launching the first Scottish-based Digital School of Excellence.  As well as teaching digital skills, Newbattle will be one of the first schools to also include Data Science as a core part of its curriculum. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics as well as local businesses like Sopra Steria are investing in this landmark Digital School as they know it’s the only way to get the right ‘talent’ and skills into the jobs market.  The school doesn’t just teach digital and data skills – it also encourages its pupils to be entrepreneurial, to challenge the status quo and to understand the creation process of great products as well as instilling the right skills and techniques to ‘sell’ their ideas to a sceptical and highly demanding audience.

The Unified Schools Programme

In Scotland, the financial services industry is working on its ‘Unified Schools Programme’ under the leadership of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and led by HSBC’s Colin Halpin. It’s an exciting project with a joint message about why financial services is an exciting, progressive and diverse industry to work in. The programme is focused on promoting the sector as THE digitally focused and customer centric place to be for young people, highlighting the advantages a career in digital can offer.

An SFE pilot project involving Newbattle High School and Queensferry High School kicked off in November 2018 to give young people opportunities to experience financial services through short placements. SFE members and Skills Development Scotland are fully supporting the initiative.  Why?  Big business knows it needs fresh talent and realises it needs to promote the financial services industry as a great place to work, highlighting the multiple opportunities that the sector can deliver if it’s to get the creative and talented people it needs to be future ready. There really is a job for everyone in financial services – and for young people with a positive attitude, creativity, enthusiasm and focus, it can be a fantastic first step into the world of work.

I used to be concerned for today’s young people facing an uncertain future in a demanding jobs market.  Now I can see exciting new career opportunities where the education system, with support from government and industry helps the next generation to think differently, to be brave and to create ideas that will shape our future.  Scotland is setting the pace for change – the question is – when will the rest of the UK catch up and put digital skills top of the agenda?