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

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

 

Sopra Steria to host 2 internal hackathons in Edinburgh and Glasgow!

Sopra Steria are hosting 2 internal hackathons this week across our Edinburgh and Glasgow offices where participants will be making use of DevOps tooling to deploy and manage applications on InnerShift. InnerShift is Sopra Steria’s internal container platform based on Red Hat OpenShift and will be used to facilitate the deployment and management of containers, standalone pieces of software that include everything needed to be able to run an application – from code and runtime to system tools, libraries and settings.

Attendees will work in teams of 3-4 people and will have 3 hours to work through a list of pre-defined objectives such as deployment through source to image and the creation of CI/CD pipelines. The teams will be required to make changes to their application/InnerShift to make use of some of the rich feature sets available within the platform. The teams will be encouraged to work together and experienced Sopra Steria architects will be in attendance to support and help with any issues that may arise.

The main aim of these events is to help our employees upskill in the area of DevOps/OpenShift and facilitate knowledge transfer from more experienced employees to members of staff who may be new to the company or who may not have worked with OpenShift before. The events are open to all colleagues and our RSVPs so far range from graduates and developers to business analysts and UX consultants.

Sopra Steria are always working to roll out innovation across the organisation and we are sure that the output of these events will help to establish innovative uses of technology that we can share with both coworkers and clients alike. A blog will be published on the Sopra Steria website post-event that will discuss the content of the evenings – watch this space!

Containers: Power & Scale

by Richard Hands, Technical Architect

In my last blog post, we looked at the background of Containers. In this piece, we will explore what they can do and their power to deliver modern microservices.

What can they do?

Think of containers on a ship.  This is the most readily used visual analogy for containers. A large quantity of containers, all holding potentially different things, but all sitting nice and stable on a single infrastructure platform, gives a great mental picture to springboard from.

Containers are to Virtual Machines, what Virtual Machines were to straight physical hardware.  They are a new layer of abstraction, which allows us to get more ‘bang for our buck’.  In the beginning, we had dedicated hardware, which performed its job well, but in order to scale your solution you had to buy more hardware. This was difficult and expensive. Along came Virtual Machines, which allowed us to utilise much more commoditised hardware, and scale up within that, by adding more instances of a VM, but again, this still came with quite a cost.

To spin up a new VM, you have to ensure that you have enough remaining hardware on the VM servers. If you are using subscription or licensed operating systems, you have to consider that etc.  Now along comes containers. These containers literally contain only the pieces of code, and libraries necessary, to run their particular application. They rely on the underlying Infrastructure of the machine they are running on (be it physical or virtual).  We can typically run 10-20x more containers PER HOST than if we were to try putting the same application directly on the VM, and scale up by scaling the number of VM’s.

Orchestration for power

Containers help us solve the problems of today in far more bite-sized chunks than ever before.  They lend themselves perfectly to microservices.  Being able to write a microservice, and then build a container that holds just that microservice and its supporting architecture, be it spring boot, wildfly swarm, vertex, etc., gives us an immense amount of flexibility for development.  The problem comes when you want to orchestrate all of the microservices into a cohesive application, and add in scalability, service reliability, and all of the other pieces that a business requires to run successfully.  Trying to do all of this by hand would be an incomprehensible challenge.

There is a solution however, and it comes in the form of Kubernetes.

Kubernetes is an open-source platform designed to automate deploying, scaling, and operating application containers.” (http://kubernetes.io)

Kubernetes gives us a container run environment that allows us to declaratively, rather than imperatively define our run requirements for our application.  Again let’s look back to our older physical or VM models for the imperative definition:

“I need to run my application on that server.”

“I need a new server to run my application on, and it must have x memory and y disk”

This approach always requires justifications, and far more thought around HA considerations such as failover, as we are specifying what we want our application to run on.

Most modern applications, being stateless by design, and certainly containers, don’t generally require that level of detail of the hardware that they are running on. They simply don’t care as they’re designed to be small discrete components which work together with others.  The declarations look more like:

“I want 10 copies of this container running to ensure that I’ve got sufficient load coverage, and I don’t want more than 2 down at any one time.”

“I want 10 copies of this container running, but I want a capability to increase that if cpu or memory usage exceeds x% for y% time, and then return to 10 once load has fallen back below z

These declarations are far more about the level of application service that we want to provide, than about hardware, which in a modern commoditised market, is how things should be.

Kubernetes is the engine, which provides this facility but also so much more. For example with Kubernetes we can declare that we want x and y helper processes co-located with our application, so that we are building composition whilst preserving one application per container.

Auto scaling, load balancing, health checks, replication, storage systems, updates, all of these things can be managed for our container run environment by Kubernetes.  Overall, it is a product that requires far more in depth reading than I can provide in a simple blog post, so I shall let you go and read at http://kubernetes.io

Last thoughts

To conclude, it is evident that containers have already changed the shape of the IT world, and will continue to do so at an exponential pace.  With public, hybrid, and private cloud computing becoming ‘the norm’ for both organisations, and even governments, containers will be the shift which helps us break down the barriers from traditional application development into a true microservices world. Container run systems will help us to break down the old school walls of hardware requirements, thus freeing development to provide true business benefit.

Follow Richard Hands on Twitter to keep up to date with his latest thoughts.

Containers: Why the hype?

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Now you might be wondering ‘why all the hype’ about containers?  The truth is you probably got to this blog from a container without even knowing it. As far back as May 2014, Google were proudly announcing that ‘Everything at Google runs in a container’.  Your searches, Gmail, Calendar, apps, all of it. In 2014 Google was starting over 2 billion containers a week, which if you do your maths, averages out at over 3,000 containers started per second!  And that was in 2014, can you imagine, with the growth of the mobile phone market, how many containers they start per second now?

Containers aren’t exactly new anymore, but they’re definitely a buzz-word of the moment. They are of extreme importance in both our industry, and to the IT world at large, so let’s take a look at where they came from.

Where did they come from…

Containers started back in the early noughties, when Google donated the cgroups technology to the Linux Kernel and it was accepted.  Combining the segregation/aggregation capabilities of cgroups with network namespaces, and LXC or LinuX Containers were born.

Containers back then, however, required an expert level of tech knowledge to utilise, and sat on the back burner until start-up company Docker was formed. Docker took the approach of creating a standardised API, and promoted ease of use to the community to build libraries of containers which were portable. This is when container technology really became accessible, interesting, and started to grow.

Why they are cool…

The true power of any technology to become fully utilised in the market is for it to seamlessly replace older ways of doings things, without the major populace being aware. Containers have definitely fit this bill at Google, and many other companies around the world are doing the same.

 

I’ll be touching on what Containers can do and the orchestration for power in my next blog piece. Follow Richard Hands on Twitter to keep in touch.

Game, set, match!

Off we go… 3 workshops, 31 teenagers, 100 post-its, 60 Sharpies, bundles of energy, and ideas and innovation to bounce off the wall.

Wow, it was a great day at #DigiInventorsBootcamp at CitizenM in Glasgow, the final stage in the #DigiInventorsChallenge, in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute, to create a new digital health innovation.

When you ask a teenager to join a bootcamp to help them develop a pitch that could sell their idea to Mark Zuckerberg, that’s quite a workshop to organise for 45 mins. My task was to get our young Digi-Inventors to think about design thinking, or whatever you want to call it, service design, UX, prototyping, role playing.

Partnered with the Glasgow School of Art, I got the pleasure of working with Sneha Raman, a Research Associate at the art school. When we first discussed the idea of the workshop we both agreed that the first thing to do was look at how we can help a group of teenagers learn innovative ways of working that will change their view on IT and on how digital experiences are created (putting people and context first). We wanted to give them the creative confidence to look at creating a digital solution a little differently. It wasn’t about a PowerPoint presentation telling them what to do – we needed a hands-on approach giving the team a meaningful experience using design thinking.

In case you haven’t heard what design thinking is, it’s about taking a human centred approach to accelerate innovation. In fact, IDEO (leading the way) sum it up rather nicely…

“Taking a human-centered approach to translating ideas into tangible strategies and offerings. Design thinking accelerates innovation, helping create better solutions for the challenges facing business and society.”

Design Thinking is something Sopra Steria has been focusing on for the last four years and I wanted to translate the experience and the knowledge we have across our business into an energising and practical workshop. Sharing how IT can create an incredible impact on citizens, employees and organisations using design thinking techniques with the Digi-Inventors was a great privilege.

So what did we do in the workshop?

We created a scenario to work from around promoting healthy ways to commute to and from university. Thinking about who and what people do at university and their everyday lives, the students had to:

  • create profiles of different people
  • map out stories in context of their lives
  • put in context the positive and negative experiences they have throughout a day

 Using this knowledge and insight, the students then looked at different ways to travel and what could enhance their experience, using the data that they had gathered on people. Very quickly, we prototyped and mapped out the experience using props. We made it real, fast. This was the best way to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

As the 45 minutes drew to a close, the teams had to think about their pitch, how would they communicate their idea? They didn’t pitch the technical idea using a cool piece of tech, they pitched an entire experience, a service, and the impact it has on changing someone’s life for the better. They shared outcomes and they shared WHY they are creating a better experience.

Hearing their great storytelling at the end of the workshop gave me that fuzzy feeling inside that we achieved creative confidence in the Digi-Inventors.

Good Luck Digi-Inventors!

Find out more about Sopra Steria’s experience in design thinking and service design, and about the inaugral #DigiInventorsChallenge and the six shortlisted teams.

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.