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 #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

Hourglass: Transparent Timekeeping

How a simple conversation with a client about time-keeping led to some late nights, reflection on project tracking & a simple progressive web app…

Good morning/afternoon/evening (delete as appropriate)!

My name is Bryce Wilson; Lead UI developer for the UK Design Team based in Edinburgh. I currently work across multiple projects and platforms and it can be hard to track what I work on and for whom. For the client, it can be frustrating when they can’t get a fixed timeline on my availability.

Around the same time I was coming to the end of ‘yet-another-notepad’ scribble of loose time keeping, I had a chat with one of the project managers for a fantastic client I work with.

He was concerned that he wasn’t able to have a visible overview of all the contractors and consultants in his team. This is primarily down to the flexibility the project offers to the team; early starts, late finishes, working from home on occasions etc.

This screamed out an opportunity to fill a few needs with one deed:

  • Upskill myself on a few new technologies I’ve been itching to try
  • Get rid of my legion of notepads with illegible cave drawings and scribbles
  • Supply a very cool and awesome client with a solution that will enable them to continue providing us with a flexible working environment
  • Demonstrate to the wider community a landslide of user-centered design approaches being developed daily within the UK Design Team (headed up by Luke Jeavons) such as:
    • User Journeys – A visual representation of a path a user may take to reach their goal when using a particular product or service.
    • Usability Testing – To validate the effectiveness of the design and the way the user interacts with the system. This can highlight potential inconsistencies and issues with the product or service.
    • Wireframes – A visual guide that represents the page structure, as well as its hierarchy and key elements.
    • Interactive Prototypes – To show how interactive elements will work. Enables the product or service to be visualised, tested and validated before further development.
    • + much more

After speaking with some fellow upstanding colleagues, I took it upon myself to define an MVP backlog of simple requirements:

  • Allow access to a ‘clock-in’ system via any device and bypass any requirements for an installation
  • Login with work email
  • Allow manual entries of working hours
  • Allow a clock in/out feature
  • Keep it simple, avoid that (points in horror at existing time reporting tools in the market)

Given this was a pet project I didn’t want to overreach and take focus away from day-to-day within the Compass project and the Design Team so I gathered my weapons of choice and began.

Frameworks & Services

In order to maximize the time and effort spent getting this from farm to fork:

  • Contentful – an AMAZING headless CMS that has insane API control and access. I have utilized this to store and retrieve data in a fully secure environment
  • Vue.js – The MacDaddy of JS frameworks. I work with Angular, React, Node, etc and Vue.js slays them all dead. End of.
  • Element.io – A clean and simple Vue.js orientated components library for all the basic needs
  • Azure – The Sopra Steria single sign-on application front
  • Heroku – Free and simple app hosting with CD/CI Pipelines
  • Custom Node.js API Service – I have developed a customised API service to enable continuity of other applications I have created (regardless of framework) to knit together user and information

It started with a few hours in the evenings while my expectant wife lay on the couch binge watching Forensic Files (If I suddenly disappear, you know who to point the finger at!) I melted into my coding chair and got to work.

A few nights in and it begins to take shape; implementing simple features such as project and team control which is operated in the Contentful Dashboard. This allows me to add additional projects as they come up.

The first release of the app to my inner circle highlighted some interesting results:

  • Observation: One user found it difficult to navigate their way back to the current week & also found it time consuming to try to get to December for example, to input time
  • Suggestion:
    • Implement a ‘jump-to’ week selector where it displays the week information; allowing the user to easily jump forward or backwards in time
    • Always have ‘current week’ at the top of list to highlight the current week
  • Observation: Initial version did not allow for non-project codes such as holidays, training or meetings to be logged
  • Suggestion:
    • Allow time to be logged to ‘non-project’ codes through the same interface
    • Allow team leaders to see these days on the team leader view. This allows the project leader to see upcoming days where we might not be utilized. It’s no fun for the client sifting emails and syncing calendars to see why ‘Dave’ hasn’t shown up today!

Reaping the Hard Miles

A few seasons into Forensic Files (my wife at this point now knows how to dispose of a body in 50 different ways, just saying) and we start to have something testable!

As the app is cloud based I fired out a link to a few trusted amigo’s and it seemed we were pretty close to the mark!

With the intended users now having something tangible in their hands, the next goal was to give the client the keys to the kingdom – an external (or internal) team leader view.

A non Sopra Steria user can be set up within the system to retrieve all entries which are assigned to their project, including holidays, sickness etc.

Given that a lot of our teams are also internal, a Sopra Steria employee can also have a team control panel if they are assigned a team leader role.

The Verdict

After picking a handful of users to test the app, we took a period of 1 week to collect initial feedback and log any issues.

Each user was asked to carry out specific tasks and report back, for example:

  • Successful and unsuccessful clock-in/clock-out experiences
  • Test on different devices and networks (firewall etc)
  • Log upcoming holidays

The feedback from actual ‘live’ usage resulted as:

  • Request ability to add ‘half-day’ non-project events
  • Improve performance for older Android phones (now complete)
  • Return to same week that a logging was added to (now complete)

The client is very happy with the outcome so far and has adopted this very early MVP into the projects daily routine!

There is still A LOT to add to Hourglass but given its been about 40 hours of development from a single developer and some fantastic sound advice and guidance from the UK Design Team – I reckon it’s not half bad!

If you would like to ask any questions, please get in touch :

bryce.wilson@soprasteria.com

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

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

“AI Neutrality”: A proposed manifesto for artificial intelligence user experience design

What makes a great artificial intelligence (AI) driven user experience? Here are my thoughts…

1. Design AI services end to end – the disruptors that have transformed the travel, holiday and retail sectors over the last twenty years succeeded by focusing aggressively on improving their own single channel online experience. AI user experience design must also adopt this strict one channel approach to service delivery – every user journey should be simple, relevant, no fuss and always getting better because it’s being delivered by an artificial intelligence end to end.

2. Go beyond mobile  The interconnectivity of AI enables any environment or physical object to positively affect all of our five senses (such as connected home technology like heating and lighting devices that responds to a user’s mood). AI design should always be pushing to transcend the user interface constraints of existing service platforms (particularly the visual and audio experience of mobile) to truly reflect and improve how we use our senses to interact with the world around us.

3. Addressable media is a key user journey –  AI has the potential to utilise a complex range of historic and contextual customer data to deliver targeted, personalised advertising – for example, UK broadcasters are adopting programmatic technology to deliver specific adverts at individual households in real time. Yet if designed poorly such disruptive engagement risks coming across like hard selling that overwhelms or irritates a customer (consider the negative reaction of customers to pop up web ads that apply a similar approach). Consequently, it’s vital that AI driven addressable media is treated as a form of user experience that requires research, design and testing to ensure customers are empowered to consume it on their own terms.

4. Hardwire ethics and sustainability –  the positive disruption to our lives from social media has enabled these services to grow rapidly and organically by billions of users worldwide. Yet this has also led to these platforms becoming so big it’s challenging for their service providers to effectively manage and safeguard the user content they share. Drawing from this experience, and combined with public calls for the proactive regulation of AI, it’s essential artificial intelligence products and services have the right ethics and sustainability values in their core design as they are likely to grow even faster and bigger than social media.

5. Champion “AI Neutrality” – artificial intelligence has the power to transform all our lives like the internet before it. A fundamental principle driving the success of the web has been “net neutrality” – that internet data services should be supplied as a form of utility (like electricity, gas, water) in a non-discriminatory way to all customers. Access to simple AI services should be similarly “neutral” – a basic human right that is complemented by differentiated, chargeable products and services from over-the-top producers.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Artificial intelligence customer experience design: the frictionless theme park?

Many theme parks offer an additional paid service that provides a virtual queuing bot that gives the paying customer immediate access to a ride during an allocated time slot with minimum fuss. This can deliver a smoother customer experience while enabling the park operator further monetisation opportunities through differentiated ticket prices.

But such services are not perfect. For example, like real queues, virtual ones can still get filled up (so reducing availability of time slots), a customer can’t simply change their mind at the last minute and expect an alternative ride to be available at the same time and many of these systems don’t reflect other dynamic factors that could affect ride enjoyment like poor weather.

So how could Artificial Intelligence (AI) potentially address these challenges? Here are some ideas…

One opportunity is to apply retail thinking to personalise the end to end experience – via mobile, an AI could suggest rides to visit throughout the day based on a customer’s social media updates, current and expected volume/demand for an attraction and forecast weather. In “the background” (i.e. the Cloud), the AI is constantly analysing customer behaviour in the park to drive these suggestions to help manage the people flow through different areas and rides to minimise friction for all. This capability could also enable the operator to offer on the spot additional services (like offering the chance to immediately access any roller coaster ride for a small charge) to further delight and surprise a customer during their visit.

Conversely, such an application of AI may be counter to what an operator wants to offer – after all, exciting theme park experiences come from customers being spontaneous when choosing their next desired ride or attraction. Accepting such unlimited freedom is not possible – this still leaves the risk of friction (like boredom) when a customer is waiting for the next experience to become available. An AI could turn this “dead time” into an experience in itself – using it as an opportunity to send personalised media content and offers to a customer’s mobile or tablet to consume while queuing for a ride. Alternatively, the AI could create social events for people in the park to interact with each other like mobile gaming competitions or dating. Such services could also be linked to third party promotions to generate further revenue for the theme park operator.

These illustrative use case ideas are based on one key assumption – most customers visiting a theme park at the same time will follow the guidance or direction given by an AI consistently, even when it results in a lesser personal experience than intended (but results in all participants gaining mutual benefit). This notion that AI can effectively influence human behaviour at scale in one place (like a theme park) is a major challenge for Artificial Intelligence Customer Experience Design.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.