What digital transformation can learn from the Hollywood Studio System

The past still matters in our digital age

If anything, we should be learning as much as possible from the industries of yesteryear to understand how they used new ways of working and technology to drive competitive advantage.

One example that provides such insight is the so called “Studio System”, where major Hollywood studios dominated the North American film industry during the first half of the last century. The ways they achieved this and how this “Golden Age” came to an end could help shape an organisation’s competitive strategy today. Here are some ideas…

Value chain dominance

The major film studios owned or controlled the production, distribution and exhibition of films in North America during this period. They achieved this vertical integration of their value chains by effectively combining mass film making technology with a production line approach to content creation.  This meant they could lever significant economies of scale to control costs end-to-end to deliver sustained profitability.

However, their competitive advantage was contingent upon them being able to maintain a monopolistic position with limited government intervention. This led to a federal antitrust suit that forced these studios to give up control of film distribution in the late Forties – effectively ending their monopoly of the North American market.

Today we can see examples of companies being scrutinised about how they leverage digital capabilities to exert ownership or control over value chains. For example, Internet search engine providers have recently been challenged by the European Union about alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the way they handle product search results.  They also find themselves subject to other forms of government intervention relating to their collection of personal user data.

The drive for value chain dominance is set to continue with the expected explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) predicted for 2016. This technology potentially enables a company to capture and use data solely to control any aspect of the customer experience end to end. Consequently to mitigate the risks of government intervention, such a company may wish to embrace game theory approaches such as “coopetition” – collaboration with competitors to deliver IoT services in mutually beneficial ways – to avoid being perceived as monopolistic.

The captive audience

At the height of the “Studio System” era, collectively the major film studios were producing over five hundred feature films a year. Such production at scale was essential in meeting audiences’ thirst for new content (especially given they had limited choice for entertainment apart from studio-controlled cinemas). But such volume of throughput made it difficult for the studios to maintain consistent quality – A grade pictures would often be exhibited to audiences with lower quality budget “B movies” to help drive sales of both.

This cost focus, non-differentiated approach to producing high volume content became a key strategic issue for the majors as the popularity of television surged in the Fifties.  Audiences now had more entertainment options and became increasingly discretionary about their viewing habits.  Television was a “disruptor” – it was materially cheaper to produce quality TV content (and easier to distribute) than film. The majors now faced an unforeseen challenge that exposed their films to materially greater risks of being financial flops as audience demand for higher quality content rose and their switching costs to this rival media channel was virtually nil. The “Studio System” would never recover from the impact of television.

Many of today’s companies face a similar challenge – the risk of competitors stealing customers by using disruptive technology to lower switching costs while simultaneously trying to exploit the same approach themselves to cost effectively deliver quality products or services to sustain market share.  We can see this in the once monopolistic Telco industry, where 3rd party digital-enabled video, voice and text messaging data service apps have arguably decimated incumbents’ revenue from their own telecommunication services.  As a result many existing players are aggressively adopting Agile ways of working to diversify into new digital markets (from app development to over-the-top content).

Is the effective adoption (and adaption) of Agile by companies essential to them delivering as the disruptor and market incumbent simultaneously to drive profitability?

The talent advantage

Many quality actors (or “bankable stars”), directors and writers were contracted to work only for specific film studios during the “Studio System” era.  Effectively a barrier of entry, such a move enabled a major to exploit (or sweat) these assets to their full commercial potential with no risk of them being poached by competitors.

But as the majors lost their control over distribution and the competitive pressure of television grew, these assets increasingly became their main source of differentiation.  Unsurprisingly “the talent” themselves exploited this position through demanding higher salaries and a profit share from their own pictures. Such a move impacted the majors’ ability to turn a profit, further contributing to the demise of the “Studio System” and the emergence of new business models for the North American film industry.

Today a lack of digital talent is a major risk for many companies – with notable examples being the limited labour market supply of experienced DevOps, Data Scientists, Agile Coaches and User Experience Designers. This highlights the critical requirement for organisations to adopt a resource-based view on digital strategy to help grow their existing people capabilities and leverage external market opportunities to pro-actively address skills gaps.

Although such resources are perhaps not “Hollywood Stars”, the scarcity of such skilled talent can mean they can be relatively expensive resources to hire and retain. That’s why it’s essential for an organisation to have an effective talent management function to manage these cost challenges and develop capabilities in-house to reduce long-term dependency on external labour supply. Without such an approach, a company could face spiralling wages not dissimilar in impact to the effect felt by the majors of the “Studio System” era.

If you would like more information about how Digital Transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Capturing tone of voice through role play

During a recent project redesigning an absence booking system, ethnographic research kept telling us one thing about the current system: its users didn’t always understand what was happening, or what was being asked of them through the journey.

While sitting observing the users navigate the current system, they made it clear that most of the copy in the journey did not help them to understand what they were doing, or explain what they should be doing. Terms such as ‘forecast balance’ and ‘absence compensation’ weren’t received well by the users, criticized for being ‘too technical’ and ‘unclear’. This left us wondering…

How could we make the journey more natural for the user?

In order to make any improvement to the system, we first had to understand the following:

  • What the system needs to know
  • How the user expects to be asked this information

The first part is not too difficult to determine. There are set questions the system needs to know in order to book an absence (the general what, when, where, why) along with some business-specific questions, such as including additional comments. For the most part, these were taken directly from the current system.

Things then started to get a little more interesting

We knew we had to create a system that could be used by everybody in the company, from top-level programmers to entry-level graduates, and become something that everybody could understand. We believed that finding a more natural tone of voice and a natural progression through the questions would allow us to create a journey the user would better understand.

In order to capture tone of voice, and the flow of the journey that the user expected, we set up a small experimental role-play exercise. Two participants were each given an envelope with a scenario in it. One participant would be acting as the ‘requester’ and the other be acting as the ‘grantor’.

CF workshop2The ‘requester’ was given the details of the absence they wished to book, including the type of leave, the date, the duration and the location.

The ‘grantor’ was given a list of details they had to find out, including the type of leave, the date and the duration. They were also provided with some information about the user, including their remaining holiday balance.

CF Workshop1How the two participants asked the questions, which questions they asked, and in what order, was entirely up to them. They were provided with the scenarios and a selection of post-it notes, pens, paper and calendar templates, and allowed to use as much or as little of it as they saw fit.

We ran five scenarios in total, each targeting a slightly different aspect of the current system, allowing us to hear how the participants would interact when booking an absence. Two of the scenarios included errors which allowed us to see how the participants would communicate to each other when something wasn’t possible to do (i.e. having no allowance left to take).

The results highlighted a number of observations

  1. Deciding who went first in the scenario varied. Two groups started with the ‘requester’ asking to take an absence, and three groups started with the ‘grantor’ asking the ‘requester’ if they would like to take an absence. While not directly important to the journey (the ‘requester’ will always go first as they will have to launch the app/webpage) it was interesting to see how they decided this. In most cases the participants stated they didn’t think about who went first, and just started the exercise
  2. The order in which the questions were asked varied from group to group, but remained relatively similar. Most groups followed the flow of asking the date, the duration, the absence type then asking if there was reason for taking the absence. One group however checked what type of leave the ‘requester’ wanted to take first. There was nothing unexpected from the order that the participants picked
  3. The language used by the participants was far more natural than that of the current system. In one instance the ‘grantor’ started the exercise with “Hello Nick! What date would you like to take off?” This showed a far more personal approach compared to the current system. Other phrases used that were more natural included “What type of leave would you like to book?” as opposed to ‘Select absence type’, “What date would you like to take off?” as opposed to ‘Start date’ and ‘End date’ and “What dates do you want to remove” as opposed to ‘Cancel’.
    While in some instances these phrases may be too long to use on a form (think mobile), the more personal tone of voice used in each instance, helped the ‘requester’ understand what they were doing more clearly
  4. How the participants chose to communicate to each other varied between groups, with one group opting to use the printed calendars to pass the dates to each other rather than speaking verbally. This allowed them to visualise what each other was trying to accomplish. Another group followed the same principle, but using post-it notes instead. This ensured that they both knew exactly what was being asked/told. Other groups stuck to the traditional verbal communication, taking private notes to remember what the other participant had said. The visual methods were interesting, with all users stating that having a way to see what they were doing would be beneficial

Overall, while this exercise didn’t provide us with any ground-breaking or divergent ideas, it did allow us to hear first-hand how the users would interact in person, and gave us direction for creating the journey and making it more natural for the user. It allowed us, through a relatively simple task, to understand to a far greater depth what language was most appropriate for the system to use. Having this information is incredibly beneficial to the project, and allows us to create an experience that will be more user friendly.

For further studies, it would be of benefit to get a broader set of users to participate in the workshop, as the pool of users who participated were of similar persona. While there were a lot of similarities in response, the tone of voice did vary slightly; therefore a more varied group of participants may help us make the language more accessible for a greater amount of people.

What is your experience of using role play in system design? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.

The use of technology to improve health care outcomes

Knowledge, it is said, is power. The advent of wearable health monitoring devices is being seen as an enabler to promote healthy outcomes through the use of technology. Giving one the ability to track a diverse range of health indicators from sleep patterns and calorie monitoring has meant we now are capable of having real-time personal monitoring tools that potentially could improve our health and well-being outcomes.

However, unlike the next consumer gimmick, these devices are already beginning to have an impact on the health sector, with the ability to disrupt the traditional reactive patient treatment health care model. Recent studies show that the use of healthcare apps for Apple devices is growing more than 80% faster than the apps in the entire mobile industry.

But that’s not all…the use of these devices and the data harnessed by them has the potential to reach out and revolutionise patient care, to a much greater audience than those who want solely to measure their day-to-day exercise progress or calorie intake. Numerous examples are out there, but there are a couple that I want to share with you:

  • Accessing a patient’s electronic health record and broadcasting it to Google Glass, for example, allows a clinician to view patient data, including lab data and vital signs without the need to divert away to a computer
  • Linking a patient’s personal health data recorded on a wearable device to an electronic patient record (epr) in a clinic/hospital setting. Apple is working with a number of suppliers, towards transferring data between Apple’s Health Kit platform and the epr. Medical professionals could use the ‘right data’ to detect patient warning signs more easily and prevent diseases and complications before they worsen rather than reacting to them after they occur
  • Intel’s funded partnership with the Michael J Fox Foundation to research into improving the monitoring of Parkinson’s disease. Through the use of wearable technology, patient data is collected to measure symptoms and track the disease’s progression. Data collected from patients, for example, following a new therapy routine or taking new medication and the effects this has on movement frequency may lead to further insights into the disease

Whilst wearable device technology is attracting much interest in the health sector, it’s important that we do not lose sight that technology alone will not solve the sector’s problems – I have seen this many times where today’s tech becomes tomorrow’s doorstop.

The sector needs to look at ways to ensure that through the use of technology, society at large will benefit (…and assuming regulatory issues, buy-in from heath care professionals and personal privacy concerns amongst others can be resolved – but that’s for another blog!).

There needs to be a clear focus on the “meaningful” data to be targeted to improve specific health outcomes, otherwise the market will remain dominated by fad and noise and more big data. Technology should be aligned to areas e.g. chronic illness such as diabetes, or epilepsy where it can help shift from a reactionary care model to predictive and preventive care, leading potentially to a reduction in patient visits to surgeries/hospitals. This may in turn aid to the reduction in long term patient health costs.

Finally, it’s worth noting that at a recent conference I attended one of the speakers outlined that just under 2% of Scotland’s population account for approximately 50% of health expenditure; many of these will be chronic patients for whom these technologies may benefit greatly.

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

Why gaining real insight into user needs is the key to great service design and delivery

If government is to deliver better services with less money, it needs to meet the public on their terms, offering services which users recognise as being for them, and accessible to them. Civil servants must put user needs at the heart of digital (and non-digital) service design and delivery. They have to be outward looking and pursue a match between what the user needs and what government can provide.

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Figure 1: 61% of civil servants either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they had a good understanding of their typical service users or customers. Just 13% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015

In our Digital Trends Survey, undertaken earlier this year, we asked civil servants to assess how ready they are to deliver user-focused digital services. The good news is that government has come a long way since the days when ‘take it or leave it’ service delivery was commonplace. A majority of civil servants (66%) said they had a good understanding of their typical service users.

However understanding is not the same as insight

Insight is about developing a ‘deep truth’ about the user based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs and needs, and then being able to bring about behavioural change. The survey results on user insight were mixed. While over half of civil servants said that they gathered information about service users, just 39% use custom data to help design services.

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Figure 2: 39% of civil servants either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they use custom behaviour data to help design our services. Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015

A lack of insight will be particularly significant when delivering services for users without the ability, skills, motivation or trust to go online. We found that a significant minority of civil servants (36%) said that their customers or service users lacked the ability to use online services.

Putting ourselves into the shoes of the user – a quick guide

We recognise that the civil service is at the beginning of a journey and there is a challenge in unearthing user insights. Our User Experience (UX) consultants, using a kit bag of methods and tools, are able to slip into the customer’s shoes and understand the individual user experience in context. Here are some simple rules that they apply every day, which can get you started on the road to achieving real user insights:

  1. Kick off with UX research: the requirements of the end user are made explicit from the start. Throughout the project the team challenges business requirement with user needs. In the process the likelihood of being able to generate a win-win solution is enhanced (and trade-offs are made explicit)
  2. Target key users: an understanding of user demographics – gender, age, socio-economic group and lifestyle factors – must inform project design. Resources need allocating to desk research, user surveys, ethnography, focus groups
  3. Understand the context: there is no short-cut to meeting users and watching how they interact with a system or service on their turf. For example, we can consider the design needs of a community worker using a mobile application in their office, working with teachers in a school or with young parents in a Children’s Centre
  4. Accessible design is good design: users might not have a choice in interacting with a government service. So the relentless focus on user needs must address accessibility. This starts with an improvement in the quality of written content and extends to addressing issues of access, skills, motivation, trust and disability. Accessibility must never be an afterthought
  5. Capture and communicate what you learn: journeys mapping is a vital tool in revealing user behaviour and the end-to-end experience of accessing services. It will reveal important intersections and hand-offs between organisations and services. It allows the UX team to visualize a compelling story that creates empathy and understanding

Our experience shows that simple observation and engagement will challenge assumptions. It provides the rich insight needed to create something that both delights and engages the user. And the process never ends – iterative testing and updating of service designs based on feedback is best practice.

Your thoughts

Are you working on a digital transformation programme in government? Or working on a project that depends on putting user needs at the heart of policy-making or service delivery? Tell us what you think in the discussion thread below.

More about the Digital Trends Survey

In previous posts we’ve highlighted other issues raised in the survey including the setting of robust and relevant measures of success and digital skills. The full survey report ‘2015 Digital Trends Survey‘ is also available. And we’ll repeat the digital trends survey at regular intervals to track the progress of the civil service as it seeks to meet the ambitious commitments made in the Civil Service Reform Plan.

Interoperability and information sharing

Experiences of early adopters in information sharing have not found the path to be as straight forward as first envisaged. Through their efforts and lessons learnt, we can now share some of the pain points and critical success factors encountered along the way towards a holistic approach for treatment. These lists are not exhaustive but provide some of the inputs and opinions collated.

Pain points:

  1. Who is driving the change – e.g., dominance of health “medical model” over social “care model”
  2. Differing work cultures between health and social care
  3. Financial funding arrangements of agencies
  4. Inadequate technical infrastructure to enable a cohesive working
  5. IT skills gap for some workers
  6. A major concern around confidentiality, data protection and privacy of the patient/ client
  7. The costs and risk factors associated with integrating data
  8. Constructing large databases

Critical success factors:

  1. Developing integrated datasets and information systems
  2. Alignment of financial incentives, and sharing benefits and risks
  3. Developing an integrated workforce and culture
  4. Scope defined and managed by a centrally governed design authority
  5. Enterprise Architecture operations within transformation program governance
  6. Anticipate the demands of the business transition
  7. Deep and wide stakeholder involvement
  8. Mature Digital platform – application integration and ‘model office’
  9. Developing IT service operating models for end-to-end not just a single client organisation

Considering both these pain points and critical success factors show us that for successful information sharing, we need a set of standards.

For years NHS England, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and their previous incumbents have been advising on interoperability standards. As a result the development of the Interoperability Toolkit (ITK) was introduced for the NHS. This has been beneficial to system integrators by adopting the standard through ITK compliance. Further developments have seen a shift towards Open Interoperability and suppliers of systems providing Open APIs, which have become necessary as the ITK was initially developed for healthcare systems.  However in the age of Digital Integrated Care it has become necessary for disparate systems particularly in social care, community services, OOH/111/999, etc., for information sharing to be accessible at the point of need.

The creation of a virtual record enables vital information to be retrieved in real-time, a care plan formulated, and appropriate actions taken to provide immediate help.  This implies that retrieval and collation of the above information to form the virtual record resides on the end-user health and social care systems. In this context, following a period agreed by partners (multi agency/professional teams…) – for example 24 hours – the virtual record will expire, and no database or repository has been created.

The initiatives and approach in Scotland (the refreshed eHealth Strategy 2014- 2017) and Wales (Health Social Care and Wellbeing Strategies 2011-14) are also good examples:

  • Scotland Ayrshire Councils, in partnership with NHS Ayrshire, have developed a system (AYRShare) enabling effective, timely and secure sharing of information to help address concerns about the well-being and protection of children and young people
  • The Welsh Government is seeing real progress through the ‘Community Care Information Solution’ which allows information to be shared “instantly” across different Welsh health and social services. The first deployment is scheduled for later in 2015 in Bridgend County Borough Council to health, social services, mental health, therapy and community services. Other projects that have benefited Wales are data sharing and matching trial to identify vulnerable citizens
  • NHS England has also started exploring some of the processes and ways of working for adoption in their own programmes

Citizens and patients are willing to share information across care settings if they feel it benefits their health and well-being, but are keen to still have the option of opting in/out.

These guidelines provide an Information Sharing Framework to work with and a set of early learnings from others that are collated below for easy reference. Each section contains a list of key considerations:

  1. Business requirements – ensuring that agreement is reached by stakeholders, estimating the size of the project and how much it is going to cost. At the enterprise level it must meet the organizational objectives and still be solution independent
  2. Outcomes – the results of the work carried out in delivering a solution and could be, for example, supporting the integration of care across a health and social care – a Portal Solution
  3. Governance – this context would be around Information Governance and that all parties involved in meeting the requirements of minimal data persistence for the portal solution
  4. Agreements – in most cases the framework agreement as part of a selection criteria process during the tender phase and prior to the supplier being awarded the contract
  5. Legal Considerations – generally applying to and covering
    – consent/informed refusal
    – opt in/out
    – beginning of life
    – end of life care
    – safeguarding
    – accountability
    – negligence
  6. Organisational considerations – aligning their IT Strategies, roles and responsibilities, maturity
  7. Informatics considerations – data sharing and migration planning – the information systems (data and application) and technology architectures

We share information every day of our lives through social media and the internet, but yet when it comes to sharing health and social care information we see and experience blockers. In addition, there exists an age divide in terms of competency in the use of technology, particularly in the elderly as mobile interoperability becomes a the more accepted way in sharing of this information.

What do you consider as some of the critical success factors and pain points in the delivery of Integrated Care? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Why do we design “mobile first”?

What does mobile first mean?

Mobile first design refers to the philosophy that the solution should be designed for smaller screen sizes before creating design solutions for larger screen sizes. This is based on the underlying idea that is it much easier to scale a design up than it is to try and squeeze elements into a smaller area.

This concept came from the development and design approach of responsive web design. This uses “break points” at specified widths in the document to display a different design or layout in response to the width of the browser in which the document is being viewed. This allows for the same codebase to display different layouts in response to the width of the document.

Why mobile first design?

When the responsive design approach first began, many designers were so used to creating designs to be used on desktop or laptop devices that they instinctively started with that type of layout when creating a new design.

This caused a lot of issues and complications, as the information being displayed in a large screen format didn’t display well when being forced into a much smaller screen space. Important information was lost, hidden down a long scrolling screen, or removed altogether as designers decided that users only needed limited information on smaller screens or mobile devices.

The approach of designing for the mobile first, or from the smallest screen size up, means that the designer has to think consciously about the importance of content in the information architecture. As the screen size increases the areas of content can expand and be realigned into layouts that make more use of the screen’s real estate.

Focusing on the information architecture from the beginning means that the most important and noteworthy information is presented where it is easily discoverable. Information of less importance is displayed in areas of slightly less importance, and so on.

This approach lets the presentation of the content in relation to its importance guide the layout of the system.

But the system doesn’t need to work on mobile?

“Mobile first” is simply a name. It was coined when the philosophy was first developed to clearly articulate the need to design websites for mobile devices such as phones and tablets before designing layouts for larger screened devices such as laptops and desktop. Even in such a short period of time the name has become antiquated, but is still in use, even when “smallest screen first” makes more sense.

Even though a system is not to be built to work on mobile devices, the philosophy of designing for the smallest screen that it could be displayed on first, before scaling up to larger screen layouts remains. Thinking about the information architecture in detail before beginning any design will always provide better results.

What are your thoughts on website design? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Wired for sound: what are the next ‘big things’?

My colleagues and I in the horizon scanning team are constantly looking at stories from around the world about the technologies that are shaping our lives and digital workplace. But it doesn’t beat experiencing creative, insightful and inspirational speakers – such as those at Wired2015 in London last week, described as “…the innovators changing the world and promoting disruptive thinking and radical ideas…”.

We were so inspired by what we heard that we recorded a short (8-minute) ‘at event’ podcast in which we each summarised the highlights… they range from quantum physics, art installations and test labs to space rockets powered by antimatter, smart cities and whether our noses will become big data devices!

Listen to what excited us about our digital future and what is on the horizon that will shape our lives in the next few years and for the next generation.

To learn more about Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, and the topics that we are researching, read our brief opinion paper on the world ‘beyond digital’.

  1. Digital automation
  2. Augmented human
  3. My Data
  4. Disintermediation
  5. Securing the net
  6. Hyper innovation

What are your thoughts about robotics and the future of digital? Leave a comment below or contact the Aurora horizon scanning team by email