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.

Mixed gender teams are more successful

.. And it has been proven by academic research. Single sex teams do not show the same flare or creativity as a mixed team and therefore are less successful. It’s not an earth shattering headline until you realise that only 13% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) jobs in the UK are occupied by women.

Equality in the tech workplace, it seems, still eludes us and the reasons for this start early with girls tending to choose topics at school and university that are less male-dominated. The statistics show that social norms and societal expectations are pressure enough to drive girls into careers where their gender is less noticeable.

It is not all bad news though, as women become successful leaders in their chosen fields and as the world of business cranks up the opportunity provided by digital innovation, women and technology become reacquainted. Fifty women were identified last year through Inspire Fifty, a pan European initiative to encourage, develop, identify and showcase women in leadership positions within the technology sector: of these women, 17 lived and worked in the UK. So women are finding more opportunity in the UK in comparison with the rest of Europe, but there is no room for complacency.

It’s known that women are generally not so good at pushing themselves forward and believing in their own capabilities. A man is much more likely to “go for it” than a woman. Harriet Minter, Editor of the Women in Leadership section of the Guardian recommends that girls and women to “proceed until apprehended”, to not ask for permission before doing something that we believe in but to just go ahead and do it.

As a woman working within the field of technology I have had the full range of experience from being the sole woman in a peer group meeting (only red dress in a sea of grey suits), being mistaken for the lady who does the coffee at a meeting (I’m not bad at making coffee but that was not why I was there), leading a team where the dominance of women inadvertently silenced the only male member, to being part of a mixed team that was diverse, energetic and high performing.

I also have the experience of talking to people about developing their careers as a coach and mentor. Most of the coachees were women – wonderful women with incredible skills and abilities who were not sure how or whether they should make the next step in their career. The key is always to step past the fear of failure and do something, but it helps to have an ally or a mentor that will help you along the way when you feel a wobble in your intentions.

It is for many of these reasons that Nadira Hussain, president of Socitm, is keen to give women in the IT industry more visibility and recognition to become the role models young girls can aspire to be. Socitm is setting up a Woman in IT Network to offer coaching, mentoring and open discussions about career choices in both the public and private sectors . Getting involved in these networks can help guide women and young girls into an exciting and rewarding career within an industry that is growing rapidly. For the industry to be at its best we need diversity at all levels up to the board room.

What’s your view? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

The next digital disruption: buying B2B services using social media channels?

Digital Transformation is changing how businesses interact with customers and each other.

In this environment business-to-business (B2B) service providers face the constant threat of “digital disrupters” – new entrants who don’t fundamentally change the underlying product or service but win (or steal?) market share by leveraging new ways to interact with customers/clients and suppliers.

But couldn’t an existing B2B service provider become the digital disrupter by leveraging social media to create a new, differentiated approach to market engagement to deliver sustainable competitive advantage?

Here are some (radical?) ideas…

Customer led innovation: clients could potentially benefit from best practice about digital transformation being shared rapidly from different sectors (for example, the innovative work in UK central government and retail). A service provider could use its social media channel(s) to enable this sharing in an intuitive, dynamic way tailored to specific client needs. Furthermore, the provider could use gamification to incentivise the sharing of insights, advise directly between companies (such as discounting its services for clients providing such support). This would help position the B2B service provider’s brand as a collaborative thought leader in digital transformation.

Deepening personalisation: a provider could engage directly in all the social media activity of a client (at all levels including organisational, team and individual). Although there is a risk of appearing intrusive, it’s a way of building more intimate relationships with existing clients and sourcing new ones. This would also pro-actively complement and enhance other sales and account management approaches it uses.

Intensifying responsiveness: undoubtedly radical and reputationally risky, clients could post their complaints, issues and other feedback directly on a B2B service provider’s social media channels. The value comes from how the provider deals with these issues openly in this public space; a positive opportunity to explicitly demonstrate its strong commitment to quality service delivery.

Buy buttons: underlying these social media channel approaches would be the tools to enable a client to contact a sales representative immediately to purchase the provider’s services. Depending on the agility of the provider, potentially these services could be bought and stood up on the same day – now that’s digital transformation!

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.

Solvency II – a day well spent

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the Insurance ERM conference “Data for ERM & Solvency II“. The focus of the day was firmly on data and its importance in the risk management of insurers, something of a personal hobby horse of mine, now that I’ve spent the last 18 years of my working life on that very topic!

It was particularly pleasing to find that many of the insurers attending the event were looking beyond the regulatory compliance aspects of data management and saw the governance and maintenance of their own data as key to the success of their organisations in the digital age. David Lodge (Allianz) gave an excellent presentation on taking a pragmatic approach to implementing a Data Governance framework. A quote he attributed to his CEO explained that their organisation only had two unique assets “people and data”. It’s worth taking a moment to consider to what extent your business strategy is aligned to leveraging your own unique corporate assets, which I’d argue as a minimum should include those two.

image-exhib-stand
Sopra Steria’s Slaven at Data for ERM & Solvency II 2015

My colleague Slaven (pictured) proved a big hit during the coffee breaks and not only on account of the bowls of Haribo at our table but also his demonstration of our fully featured software solution for the last mile of Pillar 3 – SOLVARA-QRT, which will be used by over 250 insurers to get their Solvency II ducks in a row.

Later in the day I enjoyed the panel discussion with Richard Charlton (Phoenix Group) and Dominic Rau (Swiss Re) who highlighted the challenges of coping with both the variety of data required by an ‘internal model’ and also the subsequent maintenance of robust and detailed documentation of that model.  The “simple” logistics of maintaining and operating an internal model have too often only been considered in Solvency II programmes as an afterthought. The initial rush to implement exciting and exotic new algorithms has understandably been a key focus though, ultimately, the BAU success of an internal model is tied to its usability.

Recently we have helped a number of our clients implement data and knowledge management solutions to ease the headache of model updates and meet the requirements of the ‘use test’.

The conference closed with an insightful presentation delivered by Peter Telford (Legal & General) on the division of data management responsibilities between the first, second and third lines, but not before he’d won our prize draw for an iPad Air 2!

Thanks to all at Insurance ERM for organising a very entertaining and informative conference on what can be something of a dry topic.

What are your thoughts about data and its importance in the risk management of insurers? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Changing the conversation from Big Data to insight advantage

With Big Data once again we in the IT industry are falling into the same old trap of talking about inputs (volume, velocity, variety and veracity) and technology (Hadoop, Spark) rather than the desired outcomes. No wonder then that analyst groups are reporting that only a tiny fraction of Big Data proofs of concept are being industrialised and put into production.

On one level this is understandable – talking about outcomes can seem a little dry.  Highlighting the potential for revenue gains or cost savings or reducing risk (of future costs or revenue losses); or indeed the underlying elements – such as operational excellence or an enhanced customer experience – that will deliver those financial gains can seem as if the same old story is being recycled. Consequently it is much more exciting to talk about what is new, which is why the technology always seems so exciting.

But this time there is a difference. We live in the information age and work in the knowledge economy. Insight is the lubricant of both and the most sustainable advantage any business can have is better insight than its competitors. And by better I mean in breadth, depth, accuracy and timeliness.

The good thing about Big Data is that data – the raw material for insight – is in vogue when for ages it has just been seen as digital exhaust. But to make the most of the transformational opportunity that is available, we need to steer the conversation away from Big Data to what it enables, strategically. We need to use the excitement about unstructured data and the internet of things to seed the concept of insight advantage in commercial consciousness.

I believe there are six steps to achieving insight advantage. Read my article outlining those steps – the first in a series of pieces that will be published over the next couple of months.

#InsightAdvantage

Continual service improvement – the clue’s in the name

Many organisations struggle to implement effective continual service improvement (CSI). Many purport to deliver CSI but are paying lip-service to the principle and missing the point. The clue is in the name.

Continual

CSI is not a once a year workshop that creates an actions list that sits in a dark recess on a shared drive for the next eleven months. It’s a consideration for every day. What isn’t working? What causes your team pain? You can even think of it from a selfish perspective – what bits of my job do I hate and why do I hate them? How can I improve them so I don’t hate them anymore?

Service

What you are providing is a service. It’s not a contract (though it is likely to be contractually bound). We hear more and more about customer experience yet we forget that we, as service professionals, are providing a service to our clients, not a list of activities or outputs. When considering CSI, ask yourself how your service feels to a customer and think about what you can do to make that experience better.

Improvement

Too often, people confuse change with improvement. Just changing something doesn’t make it better. When you are looking at ideas for CSI activity, make sure it is a measurable improvement. Can you articulate how it will make something better and measure the before and after so you’ll know if it had the desired effect?

It doesn’t have to be a tangible improvement like cost, speed or quality; intangible improvements that make a service feel better can be just as valuable, though you still need to measure the improvement (e.g. improved customer satisfaction scores). Either way, you must be able to define the improvement. If you can’t, then it probably isn’t an improvement. It’s just a change.

So, keeping the name in mind, why not dust down that CSI process and tear up that year-old CSI log?

Start afresh and enjoy the opportunity to be truly creative.