Blending Kipling with stakeholders to gain Insight Advantage

Rudyard Kipling is an unlikely candidate as a guru of Insight Advantage. But as a Nobel Laureate for Literature, he understood the role curiosity plays in firing the imagination. Both curiosity and imagination are as important now as when Kipling was at his creative peak and wrote “I keep six honest serving-men” – essentially his recipe for creativity.

In our white paper on How to Improve Business Performance with POST-Digital Capabilities, Elliot Howard, John Batchelor and I outlined the importance of customer curiosity, a term first coined by Elliot. We wrote:

“Customer curiosity extends beyond simple customer centricity, it incorporates constant focus on improving insights into customers so that why they behave as they do is as well understood as the more easily identified what, where, when and how elements of behaviour. It requires a culture of experimentation. Experiments create new data and new insights. And ultimately customer curiosity is about creating an increasingly rich data profile for each customer.”

In essence, customer curiosity boils down to asking questions – more importantly, asking the right questions. And while customers are the most important stakeholder group a business has, they are not the only one. Insight Advantage stems from curiosity about each stakeholder group – how they can be better served and gain created as a result.

The second article in my series on Insight Advantage describes how you can blend Kipling’s honest serving-men with stakeholder theory to identify the questions that you should be asking, rather than simply asking the ones that you know can be readily answered.

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

Three ways to tell if your digital strategy is moving in the right direction

So you have a digital strategy in place and being implemented. It’s early days and things seem to be moving in the right direction… but you’re not so sure?

Here are some ways to help quickly assess if your planned business transformation will deliver the right customer and business benefits in the end:

1. Assess senior managers’ understanding of the agreed business case

Different managers and their business areas will need digital to deliver different benefits for it to be considered a success. But all should have a shared, consistent vision about why your business is making this major investment. Ask your senior team individually to briefly explain the key reasons and intended outcomes of your organisation’s agreed digital strategy – any material differences (or lack of understanding) could indicate some fundamental issues with implementation at this early stage.

Worse yet, if a senior manager answers by only referring you to your Chief Digital Officer (or equivalent) to explain what’s going on there could be some serious issues about their buy in to the whole enterprise!

2. Consider how dependent success is on mobile

SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) are arguably considered to be the key integrated capabilities businesses must have to successfully compete today. It’s likely your digital strategy will include these elements with a focus on mobile as the main platform to deliver the right customer and employee experience.

However, there could be a risk that your strategy makes your proposition to market too reliant upon mobile to remain competitive (while taking for granted or neglecting your wider value chain). This is especially important given this platform is subject to further disruption and challenges from other emerging technologies (most notably, wearables).

One way to test this is to review your strategy’s effectiveness without mobile  – how hard would other assets in your digital mix like social, analytics and cloud have to “sweat” to deliver a comparable (or better) customer experience? How adaptive are they to different platforms apart from mobile?

The customer is king; mobile is king. Removing this focus enables the identification of potential gaps in your digital strategy that could be turned into opportunities to integrate these wider SMAC capabilities deeper into your value chain to drive sustainable competitive advantage.

3. Compare your digital strategy’s transformation roadmap to your previous change programmes

Like any other large scale business transformation programme there is a risk you might be trying to deliver too much change too quickly – an initiative overload that results in failure.

Digital transformation is about adopting new ways of working using the right technology to differentiate the customer or employee experience and optimise costs – the same ultimate goals of any business strategy. This means you can and should regularly compare the progress of your digital strategy implementation to previous experience to assess its ongoing performance and feasibility. Continually applying your own baseline understanding/insight of your organisation’s people, processes and technology capabilities should help mitigate delivery risks and enable you to realise the right tangible business benefits from digital.

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Northern powerhouse: devolution steps up a gear

So what’s all this fuss about a Northern Powerhouse?

The phrase conjures up images of JB Priestley’s polluted industrial landscapes, dark satanic mills, flat caps and ferrets, but this could not be further from the truth. We are talking about corridors of power from Liverpool, through Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield to Hull and Newcastle, based on investment in better infrastructure and building upon the physical and cultural renaissance in the major northern cities.

Lord knows that the regular drivers of trans-Pennine M62 and the rail commuters from Liverpool to Hull will be crying hallelujah for the investment in the connections between cities. Never have so many people languished for so long in the packed carriages and car park mimicking roads of the UK countryside. In Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s words: “The transport network in the north is simply not fit for purpose.” It is quicker to travel the 283 miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that distance between Liverpool and Hull.

Within 40 miles of Manchester, you have Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire – a belt of cities and towns that contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London. Sopra Steria’s base in Cheshire supports activity in the public and private sectors, delivering digital solutions to global and regional business problems on a local basis.

But it’s more than investment in the physical environment, it’s also about the devolution of powers to the region. A Minister for the Northern Powerhouse working within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), a Teeside MP James Wharton, was appointed by government in February and he will oversee the devolving of powers over skills, housing, police, health as well as transport to the northern region. Within a month an interim Mayor will be appointed by council bosses to lead the Greater Manchester Combined Authority before the election of a successor in 2017.

Mr Osborne has promised just over £11m to invest in tech incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield to support SMEs to grow into the engine of the northern powerhouse. Further investment has been promised for a Fintech Innovation Hub focusing on the financial service. His Tech Nation report published in February, noted the 170,000 currently working in digital business. The Budget announcement detailed further investment and support that could be called upon to deliver:

More than ever before, the advantages that digital can bring will need to be applied with vigour. The perceived disadvantages of distance from the financial and business markets of central London will need to be foreshortened through virtual cosiness. The vibrancy of northern business will need to radiate across electronic networks to attract further investment and growth on a global basis to prevent leaching from other UK regions. Devolved development is all about placing the whole of the UK on a higher platform for economic performance.

The public sector could benefit from this burgeoning of local digital business and innovation as it will face major challenges to meet the demands of the northern citizenry while managing within an ever tightening public purse. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will be fully responsible for how this transformation of the public services unfolds, and the scrutiny of this change will be acute, particularly with the health and social care services at a cost of £6bn. Other regions, such as Wales, have felt this high degree of scrutiny over their stewardship of health services and been found lacking, so the achievement bar is high.

The potential is there for a Northern Powerhouse, supported by digital innovation, emerging and pioneering business and local democratic muscle, that develops its own wealth-generation and shapes public services to reflect the needs of their local communities.

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

New kids on the blockchain

At Sopra Steria we often talk about a world ‘beyond digital’. This is so that we can help our clients to prepare themselves and their organisations for the challenges they are likely to face looking out three to five years into the future.

I shared some of the topics we have identified for a world beyond digital with an audience of digital and eCommerce professionals at a Thought Leaders of the North West event a couple of weeks ago. Our themes seemed to resonate with those in the room prompting plenty of discussion and debate.

One theme attracting a lot of interest was the ongoing challenge we face in the world of Information Security, where we see protection from attack being built into new products and services from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

We also see an emerging era of unprecedented corporate responsiveness and agility as industry giants look to iterate their business models ‘on-the-fly’ in response to unforeseen threats and attacks in the way Sony Pictures did recently in immediately releasing ‘The Interview’ to digital channels and abandoning its plans for a full theatrical release.

Disintermediation is another concept having an immediate impact on the way we live, work and do business. Services such as Uber and AirB’n’B are already beginning to transform different aspects of the travel industry through their creative use of the crowd, the cloud and the semantic web.

In financial services we see the ‘blockchain’ threatening to disintermediate the traditional banking industry as Bitcoin continues to gain profile and transacting in such crypto-currencies nudges its way ever closer to the mainstream.

“whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”

It was in this field, at a second technology event I attended recently that I witnessed a tense debate between an established retail bank and an up-and-coming Bitcoin podcaster.

The bank, when talking about FinTech start-ups looking to establish themselves in the emerging global Bitcoin economy, outside of a traditionally regulated banking industry, suggested that “whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”, which is the kind of thing they used to say in the music industry in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the power of the ‘blockchain’, the virtual ledger where the crowd validates transactions without the assistance of traditional banking infrastructure and regulation, may actually be found beyond Bitcoin trading, as new and emerging use cases emerge for this technology bring it further into many people’s lives.

One such service which could be leveraged by the blockchain may be that of personal data broking, where citizens take control of the value of their own personal data and begin to firmly negotiate with local and global organisations alike based on the value of their own data as derived from their own connections, online activity and their extended social graph.

Sopra Steria is working with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups in exploring these concepts, as these ‘new kids on the blockchain’ begin to collaborate with us and our clients as, together, we continue to play a vital role in the transformation of business for a world ‘beyond digital’.

We’d love to hear how you think ‘blockchain’ technology will transform our lives. Leave a reply below, contact me by email, tim.difford@soprasteria.com or on Twitter, @timdifford

Photo: used and modified under Creative Commons license thanks to BTCKeychain

Virtual robot workers and the impact on my pension plan

Sadly, I’ve reached the age where I am beginning to count how many years it is until I can start to draw my pension. Most days it’s a number far too close as I generally still love my job, although occasionally other days do have me dreaming that it was tomorrow.

My years of experience (!) in designing and running large back offices in the banking sector have seen me live through the centralisation of these back office functions, their subsequent outsourcing, followed by panicked in-sourcing when the wind or accountable exec changed, the drive towards off-shoring and, most recently, the delight of handling an 800-seat partial on-shoring project for a client.

For each one of those, the primary business case rationale was a step change reduction in the cost of the operating model, with CX being a nice to have secondary benefit when the business case needed a more politically acceptable feel to it!

What I couldn’t see was “what next” in the step change evolution of the back office.

That was held to be true until I reluctantly deputised for my boss at a meeting last year and was formally introduced to the world of virtual workforce robots, and an epiphany happened!

At its most simple level this is a piece of software that emulates the actions of a human in an operational process – once configured/trained, each virtual instance of an FTE is fully scalable, 100% trained, 100% accurate, and is available up to 100% of each 24 hour day.

Depending on your cost base and its location, these virtual wonders can also do the same volume of processing for as little as 1/9th of the cost of a human.

With our partners at Blue Prism, Sopra Steria has developed a Lean Robotic Automation (LPA) proposition, coalescing our deep capability in Lean process management and Blue Prism’s software wizardry.

We are still at a relatively early stage in deployment both internally and externally but watch this space – every commentator and analyst in the marketplace recognises virtual robots as playing a significant part in all our clients thinking within 12 months.

As for my pension plans, they’re on hold for a while – I’ve a target audience in the UK alone of around 8,000,000 jobs to try and automate!

What do you think about the role virtual robots will play in operational processes? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Why I signed the Digital Participation Charter

I am a great believer that digital has the opportunity to reduce costs, improve services and change lives.

I had to renew my kids’ passports recently. My experience was that the on-line form was simple and quick to complete, gave me a copy for my own records by default and then a text message received to let me know that the form had been approved and the new document being printed. Left me feeling reassured and impressed by the government service. Not an outcome I was expecting I have to admit.

Sopra Steria is company that works with organisations to make best use of technology to support their business, reduce costs and implement digital solutions. We are advocates for the use of technology to reduce cost and improve services.

To me the public sector has no choice but to ‘go digital’. Not only does it give the opportunity for services improvement, such as the passport office example, it is also by going digital that we can reduce the cost of services, which unless we do we will be cutting services.

But in forging ahead we have a social responsibility to those who we are potentially leaving behind. We have to provide support to bring as many people with us as we can. To me, it is those who we often refer to as the digitally excluded who have the most to gain from digital participation. I have met carers who feeling isolated at home gained a support network on-line, older people with grandchildren far away being able to Skype chat and disabled people who can’t speak or write be able to communicate.

Sopra Steria has signed Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter to pledge our support to achieving this aim. As an IT services organisation we have staff with very valuable digital skills. Just giving a little of their time, could help someone get on-line or better still train someone who works with the socially disadvantaged on a daily basis.

So I urge all to sign the Digital Participation Charter. Be an advocate for bringing the opportunities that digital has to offer to as many in our society as we can. With as many of us doing what we can, we have an opportunity to make a big difference.

Mobile payments?

Oh no!” (I can hear you say) “Not another blog about mobile payments…” Well, yes… and no.

I’m probably as fed up as you are with a lot of the stuff that gets written about “mobile payments” – almost as fed up as I am with the nonsense that people write about “mobile wallets”, but that’s a whole different discussion.

Why am I fed up? Well, basically because many of the blog posts and articles and much of the commentary around mobile payments cast too wide a net and addresses products, solutions or developments that are way wide of the mark when compared against a proper expression of a mobile payment implementation. All of this noise helps to perpetuate the idea that anything which involves:

  1. a mobile phone, and
  2. a payment of some sort

automatically qualifies as a “mobile payment”.

So, if I take out my Samsung Galaxy S4 and use the Chrome browser to call up the Tesco Dotcom site, place an order for groceries to be delivered over the weekend and then pay for the goods by entering my credit card details, then that’s a mobile payment, right? Or if my friendly neighbourhood plumber fixes that annoying leak under the sink and he accepts my credit card payment (well, it was an emergency!) by using his iPhone connected to an iZettle card reader, I’ve just made a mobile payment, haven’t I?

Compare that to walking into your nearest Starbucks with your Starbucks Rewards app open on your iPhone and presenting the “Pay” barcode to the scanner at the till to buy a caramel macchiato and a chocolate muffin – see the difference? It’s not the best example of a mobile payment by a long way, but at least it’s heading in the right direction insofar as you haven’t had to supply any payment credentials at the point of interaction to effect the payment (as in the Tesco example above) and you haven’t had to provide your plastic card to complete the transaction (as in the payment to the emergency plumber). Instead, information related to a payment card – in this case, the Starbucks Rewards card linked to a pre-paid account has been transferred from your mobile phone to the point of sale terminal, and all you had to do was wave your iPhone screen in front of the scanner.

If you want to get technical about it, you had to open your iPhone, which requires a screen swipe and (hopefully) a passcode; then you had to look for and open the Starbucks app; then you had to click on the “Pay” button and then orient the iPhone screen in such a way that the barcode could be read by the awkwardly positioned laser scanner… But it was easy, wasn’t it? And you got a star for making the purchase with your Starbucks Rewards card (in your iPhone app). So maybe it wasn’t that easy and it could have been better designed to ensure a smoother, more convenient customer experience, but it’s still more like a “real” mobile payment than the other examples above, despite its sub-optimal implementation.

So, in my view, there are true mobile payment solutions and there are other implementations which are “mobile payments” in name only. But what makes a good mobile payment product, as far as I’m concerned? Well, there are a number of factors at play in building a fit for purpose solution in the mobile payments space, including security, functionality and ubiquity of acceptance, but most of them revolve around the customer and the customer’s experience of using the mobile payment solution. I talk about this aspect of mobile payments and what customers are looking for in a mobile payment product in my recent white paper on mobile payments as well as discussing what makes a mobile payment a mobile payment. Take a look at it: it might help you appreciate why I get fed up with some of the stuff that I read about “mobile payments”.

What do you think? Post a reply below, contact me by email at liam.lannon@soprasteria.com.