Keeping clients one step ahead – the DigiLab story (Part #3)

Connecting dots. Jumping curves.

So how do we connect up all these rich pools of learning? DigiLabs is the Sopra Steria hothouse for innovation, uniquely straddling our global spheres of expertise. The way we’re structured helps us bring together insight from across our eco-system to answer the critical challenges faced by our customers, with unrivalled vision and leadership.

Sopra Steria has 11 businesses lines, spanning Aerospace, Automotive, Insurance, Banking, Defense, Security, Government, Energy, Transport, Telecoms and Media. Each has an elected Digital Champion – as do each of our 5 technology streams which focus on Digital Interaction, IoT, Smart Machines, Data Science and Blockchain. These Digital Champions work as a single network, highly connected and charged with constantly sifting for innovation nuggets in their sector, helping us ‘jump the curve’ by anticipating the next big thing that will help turbo-boost digital transformation. Some Sopra Steria business lines have also created their own ‘Vertical Labs’ as a way to conduct sector-specific solution experiments, train experts, identify talents and share achievements both internally and externally.

Alongside regularly engaging with these Digital Champions, we:

  • Proactively reach out to start-up incubators to identify new technology partnerships
  • Stay closely connected to research centres, universities engineering schools
  • Enjoy close ties with high calibre strategic partners from Apple, Amazon, Google and HP to, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and Samsung — keeping us in the heart-beat of global innovation
  • Harvest insight and learning from different countries

Keeping clients one step ahead – the DigiLab story (Part #2)

Immersion. Inspiration. Ideation. Implementation.

Digital transformation projects are often mission-critical, and therefore usually urgent. There’s a need to quickly unearth and interrogate challenges, sift the solution options and get things into test and development. To get this process powerfully kick-started, we start by immersing our customers in a rich universe of use cases, latest technologies and sector insight helping them bounce off best-practice learning and quickly leap-frog ahead.

Why cross-fertilize between sectors?

When the genetic material of two parents is recombined in nature, it delivers a greater variability on which natural selection can act. This increases a species’ ability to adapt to its changing environment and boosts its chances of survival. The same is true with transformation projects: the greater the importing, mixing and cross-fertilization of ideas from other sectors, processes and initiatives, the stronger and more adaptable products and services become.

Goodbye tail-chasing and closed loops

Silicon Valley is a great example of how cross-fertilization leads to innovation. As one of the most innovative ecosystems in the world, it nurtures a culture that is open to new people and thinking, promoting the healthy circulation of fresh ideas and profitable exploration of approaches outside their own industries and business practices. Similarly, using cross-fertilization lets us proactively free ourselves from cognitive immobility so we stop going around in circles, locked in our own stale and habitual thinking.

By transposing proven use cases and adapting systems already developed by another industry, we can:

  • Invent a platform for true market disruption breaking away from locked in patterns
  • Implement faster because preparatory work is already in place
  • Greatly reduce time to market and increase the possibility of competitive advantage
  • Co-create innovation with other client organizations to reduce costs
  • Connect with like-minded leaders around results and user experience to aid buy-in

Keeping clients one step ahead – the DigiLab story (Part #1)

Stasis is the enemy of success

Sopra Steria is lucky to work with some the world’s most exciting companies. It’s our job to help them transform digitally, across sectors as diverse as education, hospitality and aerospace. That means our organization is packed with know-how, experience and progressive thinking. Clients trust us to roll out integrated IT platforms and modernize their application stacks, but they are not always aware of how innovative, disruptive and forward-thinking our organization can be. This is why DigiLabs exists

In 2014, Eric Maman — one of our senior innovation consultants — decided to create a dedicated hub ruthlessly focused on innovation: cross-fertilized, federated, multi-disciplinary. A way for clients to immerse themselves in the wealth of Sopra Steria insight across our areas of expertise, sectors and technologies and turbo-charge their own digital transformation projects to rapidly eliminate waste and create new value.

He created the first DigiLabs based at our Paris HQ — today we have 24 innovation hubs around the world working as one seamless network from France, Spain and the UK to Germany, Norway, India and Singapore. This series of blogs tells their story and explains how public and private sector organizations are working with DigiLabs right now to foster creativity, strengthen idea generation and transform perennial operational problems into feasible and profitable new ways of working. Because in today’s fast-moving world, standing still is a dangerous strategy .

Shaping smarter thinking, together

Delivering tech for tech’s sake is not the DigiLab way. Instead we shape innovation around our customers’ most urgent use-cases, asking ourselves: can we harness the best of what’s out there to craft robust new approaches and think in exciting new ways about their challenges, audiences and stakeholders?

Through the DigiLab experience, customers work with our expert teams to:

  • Brainstorm creatively around technology, people and process
  • Identify pains and weakness with field observation and interviews
  • Anticipate new uses of performance-enhancing technologies
  • Create robust use-cases for innovation, supported by best-practice learning
  • Cross-fertilize insight from sectors to adapt and optimize solution design
  • Roll out innovation enterprise-wide and keep it current as the world changes

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

Journey of BB8 (Part 1)

We all have dreamt of flying, fighting with a lightsabre, and controlling objects with our mind. I was lucky enough to make one of my dreams come true when DigiLab UK went on an exploration journey of brain-computer interfaces. I recruited one fellow dreamer, a UX designer, along with me, the software engineer. We started to look at different aspects of BCI.  The initial task chosen was to control an object with our mind, and in the journey, learn more about the technology. I was staring at my desk thinking about which object to control. Then there was my answer staring back at me, BB8 on my desk.   Whether by fate or the force, we knew what we had to do. We would control BB8 using a BCI device, the Emotiv EPOC+, which was also available and previously used for hackathon project in Norway. I will take you through my journey of making this prototype with the help of a two-part series blog in the hopes of helping others who are starting to explore BCI technology.

Setup

The Emotiv EPOC+ headset comes along with 14 electrodes.  Setup of the device is easy but tedious as you are required to soak the electrodes with saline solution each time before screwing them onto the device. This process is needed to get good connectivity between the user’s scalp and electrodes. For people with more hair, it is naturally more difficult to get good connectivity as they must adjust their hair to make sure there is nothing bet­ween the electrodes and scalp. For some connectivity levels were sufficient with dry electrodes but to save time I recommend that always soak the electrodes before using the device as you are more likely to get fast and good connectivity.  There are many videos available online that guide you through the initial setup of the device.

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Electrodes need to be screwed on the device

 

 

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Emotiv EPOC+ with fourteen electrodes and the EEG head device

Training mental commands

I aimed to control BB8 with EPOC+ headset, so I started to investigate the mental commands and its various functionalities. To use the mental commands you first need to train them. The training process enables the EPOC+ to analyze individual brainwaves and develop a personalized signature corresponding to the different mental action.

Emotiv Xavier

Emotiv Xavier control panel is an application that configures and demonstrates the Emotiv detection suites. It provides the user with an interface to train mental commands, view facial expressions, performance metric, raw data, and to upload data to Emotiv account. The user has the option to sign in to their account or use the application as a guest.

The user is required to make a training profile. Users have the option to have multiple training profiles under one Emotiv account. Each user needs their profile as each one of us possesses unique brain waves.

Let’s train the commands

The first mental command or action user must record is their “neutral” state.  The neutral state is like a baseline or passive mental command. While recording this state, it is advisable to remain relaxed like when you are reading or watching TV. If the neutral state has not recorded correctly, the user will not be able to get any other mental commands working properly. For some recording, the neutral state results in better detection of other mental commands.

The “record neutral”button allows the user to record up to 30 seconds of neutral training data.  The recording automatically finishes after 30 seconds, but the user has the option to stop recording any time they feel that enough data has been collected. At least 6 seconds of recorded data is required to update the signature.

After recording the neutral state, the user can start to train any one of the 13 different actions available. For my research, I only focused on two mental actions “push” and “pull.” Emotiv website provides tips and instruction on how to train the mental commands. It suggests remaining consistent in thoughts while training. To perform any mental action, users must replicate their exact thoughts process or mental state that they had during the training process.  For example, if a user wants to train “push” command, it’s up to the user what they want to think or visualized for that action. Some users might imagine a cube going away from them, or some might imagine a cube shrinking, whatever works for them, but they need to remain consistent in their thoughts and mental state. If the user is distracted even for a second, it is advisable to retrain the action. As the user is able to train a distinct and reproducible mental state for each action, the detection of these actions become more precise. Mostly, the users must train an action several times before getting accurate results.

While I was trying to train the “push” action, I placed the BB8 on a white table and imagined it moving away from me. I replicated same thought, imagining BB8 going away from me on the table and was able to perform the mental action. However, when I placed the BB8 on the carpet, I failed. This may have been because the different colour of the carpet distracted me and I was unable to replicate my exact mental state, therefore, failed to perform the mental action. For me, the environment needed to be the same to reproduce my specific mental state. However, this varies from user to user.

Emotiv Xavier gives the option to view an animated 3D cube on the screen while training an action. Some users find it easier to maintain the necessary focus and consistency if the cube is automatically animated to perform the intended action as a visualization aid during the training process. A user can, therefore view themselves performing an action by viewing the cube. The cube remains stationary unless the user is performing one of the mental actions (if already trained) or unless the user selects “Animate model according to training action checkbox for training purposes. It is advisable to train one action fully before moving on to the next one. It gets harder and harder to train as you add more mental actions.

Is the training process easy?

There are lots of tips and guidance given on Emotiv website for training mental commands. Users are given an interface to help them train and perform mental actions with the aid of animated 3D or 2D models. However, during my three days of training, I was not able to find an easy and generic way to train the mental commands. People are different. Some are more focused than others. Some like to close their eyes to visualize and perform the command. Some want help with animation. What I observed was that it depends on the person and how focused they are, and how readily they can replicate a state of mind. There is no straightforward equation. You need time and patience. I was only able to achieve 15 % skill rating after training two mental actions. Only one of my colleagues got 70% skill rating which he wasn’t able to reproduce later.

NeuroFeedback

While searching for simpler ways to train mental commands I came across a process known as neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a procedure for observing your brain activity to understand and train your brain. A user observes what their brain is actually doing as compared to what they want it to be doing. The user monitors their brain waves, and if they are nearing the desired mental state, then they are rewarded with a positive response which can be music, video or advancing in a game. Neurofeedback is used to help reduce stress, anxiety, aid in sleeping, and for other forms of therapeutic assistance.

Neurofeedback is a great way to train your brain for mental commands. For example, if someone is trying to do “push” command,” they can observe their brain activities on screen and see if they are consistent. Then they can slowly and steadily train their brain to replicate a specific state. Emotiv provides the “Emotive 3D Brain Activity Map” and “Emotiv Brain Activity Map”, a paid application that can be used to monitor, visualize and adjust brainwaves in real time.  For our research, we didn’t try these applications.  If you try it out, let us know how you got on!

Training is like developing a new skill. Remember how you learned to ride a bike, or how you learned to drive? It took time and practice, and it’s the same for training mental commands. Companies do provide help by giving tips, instruction and software applications to help users train and visualize, but in the end, it’s acquiring a new skill, and users need practice. Some might learn faster than others, but for everyone it takes time.

 

 

Have you heard the latest buzz from our DigiLab Hackathon winners?

The innovative LiveHive project was crowned winner of the Sopra Steria UK “Hack the Thing” competition which took place last month.

Sopra Steria DigiLab hosts quarterly Hackathons with a specific challenge, the most recent named – Hack the Thing. Whilst the aim of the hack was sensor and IoT focused, the solution had to address a known sustainability issue. The LiveHive team chose to focus their efforts on monitoring and improving honey bee health, husbandry and supporting new beekeepers.

A Sustainable Solution 

Bees play an important role in sustainability within agriculture. Their pollinating services are worth around £600 million a year in the UK in boosting yields and the quality of seeds and fruits[1]. The UK had approximately 100,000 beekeepers in 1943 however this number had dropped to 44,000 by 2010[2]. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in beekeeping which has highlighted a need for a product that allows beekeepers to explore and extend their knowledge and capabilities through the use of modern, accessible technology.

LiveHive allows beekeepers to view important information about the state of their hives and receive alerts all on their smartphone or mobile device. The social and sharing side of the LiveHive is designed to engage and support new beekeepers and give them a platform for more meaningful help from their mentors. The product also allows data to be recorded and analysed aiding national/international research and furthering education on the subject.

The LiveHive Model

The LiveHive Solution integrates three services – hive monitoring, hive inspection and a beekeeping forum offering access to integrated data and enabling the exchange of data.

“As a novice beekeeper I’ve observed firsthand how complicated it is to look after a colony of bees. When asking my mentor questions I find myself having to reiterate the details of the particular hive and history of the colony being discussed. The mentoring would be much more effective and valuable if they had access to the background and context of the hives scenario.”

LiveHive integrates the following components:

  • Technology Sensors: to monitor conditions such as temperature and humidity in a bee hive, transmitting the data to Azure cloud for reporting.
  • Human Sensors: a Smartphone app that enables the beekeeper to record inspections and receive alerts.
  • Sharing Platform: to allow the novice beekeeper to share information with their mentors and connect to a forum where beekeepers exchange knowledge, ideas and experience. They can also share the specific colony history to help members to understand the context of any question.

How does it actually work?

A Raspberry Pi measures temperature, humidity and light levels in the hive transmits measurements to Microsoft Azure cloud through its IoT Hub.

Sustainable Innovation

On a larger scale, the data behind the hive sensor information and beekeepers inspection records creates a large, unique source of primary beekeeping data. This aids research and education into the effects of beekeeping practice on yields and bee health presenting opportunities to collaborate with research facilities and institutions.

The LiveHive roadmap plans to also put beekeepers in touch with the local community through the website allowing members of the public to report swarms, offer apiary sites and even find out who may be offering local honey!

What’s next? 

The team have already created a buzz with fellow bee projects and beekeepers within Sopra Steria by forming the Sopra Steria International Beekeepers Association which will be the beta test group for LiveHive. Further opportunities will also be explored with the service design principle being applied to other species which could aid in Government inspection. The team are also looking at methods to collaborate with Government directorates in Scotland.

It’s just the start for this lot of busy bees but a great example of some of the innovation created in Sopra Steria’s DigiLab!

[1] Mirror, 2016. Why are bee numbers dropping so dramatically in the UK?  

[2] Sustain, 2010. UK bee keeping in decline