Archive | September 2017

The Shifting Role of IT in the Digital Workplace (Series Post 2)

In my previous blog I introduced our “blueprint” for the New Digital Workplace and spoke of the Demands and Drivers that result from the “digital” trend that is pervasive across all our industries.

As “Digital” starts to present new opportunities to businesses, we must re-examine the role of the IT department, in order for it to fulfil its potential as an enabler for  change.

Shifting Role of IT

The IT department is often maligned with false perceptions and stereotypes.  It might be fair to say that many do not understand the intricacies and challenges of providing a comprehensive technology platform in the digital era.  Others would argue that they don’t need to understand! Technology should just work and experiences should be fluid and effective.  End of.

But the IT function is changing rapidly.  Technology advances has made IT integral to the modern business, so change and adaptation is critical!  In this post I’d like to try to offer a few examples of how the IT department is adapting in this new context.

The classic, and often perceived, role of the IT department is as a “Gatekeeper”, dictating and controlling decisions on platforms, solutions and devices which are thrust onto users and the business.  The IT department has sought to demonstrate engineering disciplines – creating complex, highly coupled and integrated technologies that are built to be stable, performant and secure.  And as long as these objectives were met, the business was often (historically!) content and tension was minimised.  Perhaps the IT function was the follower of change not the leader? Typically activities would be driven around refresh cycles – providing predictability and an established patterns and principles by which change would happen.

But the world is changing, and the change is significant.  Technology has been a key driver of this.  Cloud technologies, the growth of mobility and ubiquitous connectivity generate new opportunities for how we can engage with both our customers, partners and our users.  There has also been a shift towards alternative methodologies for driving activities and change, with terms like “Agile” and “DevOps” becoming core language.

The opportunity that this technology advancement has offered us has created a need to think, act and respond differently to ensure that adoption is swift in order to compete and differentiate our businesses.  And the IT department is at the heart of this in understanding and identifying how technology can be exploited to unlock these opportunities.

Within this context the IT department is changing from the Gatekeeper role, towards a Broker – an active facilitator of change.  We see this in many contexts, some of the most striking are in establishing frameworks and approaches for adoption of cloud technologies (invariably from a range of different providers that all need to be managed and integrated), through to the fundamental change caused by “as a Service” more generally.  Windows 10 and its continual and frequent updates (“Evergreen” as we term it) is perhaps the most current and certainly most disruptive example in the Workplace IT arena.

As a broker of services, the IT department needs to be able to react much more quickly to change; to be agile, dynamic, and even “entrepreneurial” in its behaviour.  Project timelines will reduce significantly, become much more iterative in nature, and the IT portfolio will comprise tens of projects and initiatives running on similar timescales, competing for resources, impacting users, and challenging the conventional wisdom that underpinned the classic IT playbook.

This fundamentally changes the relationship of the IT department with the stakeholders in the business.  If it isn’t already, IT will need to become more integrated into the business and understand the business challenges more so that it can lead the response with innovative solutions.  Of course, many organisations are operating in this way, it would be wrong to suggest that this is a universal problem.  However for many organisations this shift will be much more profound, and the change will feel much more like a revolution than an evolution.

In the next instalment, of this blog series we will look more closely at one of the key stakeholder groups, Users: their perspectives, challenges and demands of the New Digital Workplace.

All Aboard the TrAIn to Westworld

See what I did there? TrAIn? AI or to give it its Sunday name Artificial Intelligence is everywhere just now. Or rather, it is everywhere in the technology press, but we’re just at the cusp of it coming into and affecting our lives. No longer do we need to worry about Cloud or Big Data as our hype trends, now we have AI and her close friend IoT.  (You forgot Machine Learning – Ed)

However, we are several years away from seeing the true impact of AI. The growth in the number of connected devices allows businesses to transform (you nearly got Digital Transformation in as well for those playing buzzword bingo – Ed) based on the more and varied sources of data. As the number of connected devices grows so our Data Scientists can interpret and turn this deluge of data into business Information.

IOT Infographic

(Image Source; The Connectivist)

At present, this is simply Machine Learning, not true Artificial Intelligence. Current decision making technologies and outcomes are programmed by humans, there is no interpretation with all outcomes driven by complex algorithms. We now have infrastructure solutions more capable than ever of processing information in real time. As an example, Suduko; a typical person would take over two hours to complete a 4×4 puzzle, Google Image Recognition Software can complete the same puzzle in 9 seconds.

Therefore we know advantages can be gained by systems completing tasks faster than humans can possibly consider. We have high precision robots, we can translate signs simply by pointing our phones at them using image recognition and we almost have driverless cars, however the car doesn’t quite understand yet why I want to go via Dominos to collect a pizza on the way home.

The gap to true AI is logic and reasoning; whilst robots can do a significant amount of human tasks they will not know why, they are following a set of instructions. Whilst we can possibly program logic into a robotic operation can we get the same robot to comprehend moral issues? What if a self-driving car is out of control? Does it drive into a wall risking its passengers or hit a bus stop of people? The moral issue has relevance in these situations, and has to be involved in the decision making process.

So whilst we are still somewhat away from holidaying at Westworld[i] the current rate of technological advancement will see it arrive in the next several years. It will have a material impact on all our lives and we will see autonomous vehicles, enhanced customer services and a myriad of options we simply have not considered yet. The data we are generating today is already impacting development of future products and services, from healthcare to transport and everything in between.

The obvious concern is the terminator scenario where computers think for themselves and take over, as per the well-publicised exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk recently there are differing opinions on this. Whilst unlikely, the potential for computers to adopt human traits of emotion, aggression and protection exist and it’s important that humans retain the ultimate off switch.

I’m not planning to work for Cyberdyne Systems or develop my own Skynet just yet, and I fully intend that any robot will work for me and not the other way about.

 

[i] Westworld, for those living in a bubble, is an American science fiction western thriller television series. The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West–themed amusement park populated by android hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who may indulge in whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts, or so they thought.

 

An update from the 2017 graduates

Hello All,

Welcome to the first edition of the 2017 Projects Practice Graduate Blog. My name is Alex and I’ll be the first of eight to be updating everyone on the graduate scheme and what we’ve been getting up to over the coming months.

To first give a background of myself; I graduated from the University of Exeter back in 2016 having studied a bachelors in Mining Engineering – yes mining, nothing at all to do with computers! Having completed my degree, my first proper job was as a graduate civil engineer working in Cornwall before switching tact entirely and opting for a career in project management. So, not your usual route into IT! I must say however, having worked in a different industry and in the public sector gives to some very useful perspective!

Civil engineering is a very busy and prosperous industry within the UK and a fantastic thing to get into. However, as with many industries, the higher up you go, the less technical you become and the more people management begins to dominate your day-to-day working life. So if the end goal was to be a project manager, why not start now? And why not dip my toes into a different industry while I’m at it? Well here I am!

What is becoming increasingly apparent to me, is the wealth of tools and support that Computacenter makes available in order for you to reach your potential. Having briefly worked in the public sector, I was in a much more stagnant environment operating on a very much ‘dead man’s shoes’ principal. Now, maybe that was because I was working in Cornwall and I must say the pace of life is a lot more laid back there, but it’s certainly not what a lot of young people want in their early careers and this inevitably added to the reasons why I decided to move.

In our brief 9 weeks with Computacenter, the grads have had dinner with the Group Professional Services Director- Andy Moffitt, we’ve met the Head of Projects Practice- Zameer Kaderkutty and the Head of Consultancy- Martin Provoost to name but a few. All these hugely important and influential people in the company and they are able to spare the time to meet us and welcome us. I am overwhelmingly impressed; the only time I ever spoke to and shook the hand of the office manager in my previous job was to say “Cheerio, I’m leaving for London!” That was after six months in the job which you’d think is enough time to rub shoulders with your office manager; it wasn’t even a big office! What I’m trying to say is that I did not expect such important people to be concerned with or interested in graduates because my previous superiors certainly weren’t! I’m delighted to have been proved wrong in this assumption.

Aside from socialising with ‘big wigs’ of the Computacenter society, we have started our rotations where we delve into some of the core divisions of Computacenter. We have spent two weeks with the Central Projects Office which appears to be a very successful and rapidly growing section of Computacenter. It’s probably easier for me to tell you what they don’t do rather than what they actually do as it seems to me as nearly everything. This epiphany led to the development of our new graduate strategy going forward: “If you don’t know where to go, contact CPO!”

After the Central Projects Office, we spent a week with scheduling followed by a week with BECS. Scheduling provided a very useful insight and it’s great to know where all those iRequests that project coordinators raise actually go!  The following week with BECS provided us with a grounding in the pre-sales process and all the work required to win a bid. We were also given a task of developing a background study and a tailored sales campaign for several potential clients entering the market in the future. So who knows? Our background studies may contribute in some small way to a few future bids!

That brings us nearly up to the present. I just want to reiterate how impressed I am with CC- and how well I’ve been received into the company. The guys on Glassdoor weren’t kidding about the level of praise the company deserves! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I’ve added a photo of us all on our first day, all trying to look as professional as possible! From the left: Tom D, myself, James, Issie, Laura, Rollie, Tom W and Nick (who seems to have lost interest in looking at the camera!).

group-a.png

The next entry will be by Laura Springall in the upcoming weeks.

The New Digital Workplace (Series Post)

Digitisalisation is having a profound effect on us all.  Across both our professional and our home lives, the maturity of technology and the rapid rate of change are having staggering impacts.  In the business world, no industries are immune from these effects.  New products are emerging, whilst older more established products or suppliers are leaving the marketplace.  Disruption is becoming the new normal, and it’s uncomfortable for many of us.

Across our broad range of customers, and the market as a whole, we are seeing common themes; threats and opportunities that need to be addressed to harness the potential of “the digital age”.  To do this, we need to “re-imagine” our businesses, and look at change at every level.  Now “Digital” is a very broad subject, and so I need to focus this conversation around Workplace IT.  In order to achieve the “Digital Workplace”  working approaches, processes, tools and culture need to change radically.   To help explain this we have developed a blueprint for the Digital Workplace, as shown in the diagram below:

Future Digital Workplace - Intro - Business

We haven’t exposed the whole picture… yet.  There are a number of key topics, each of which warrant explanation in turn, which I will provide  through a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Eventually we’ll have the full “big picture” view to draw it all together.

To start off, let’s look at the demands and drivers for a Digital Workplace environment. This will be  followed by posts addressing the shifting role of IT, the user implications, , and the ways in which you need to run and operate these environments in order to continue to achieve the promise of the Digital Workplace vision.

Demands and Drivers of the Digital Workplace

We continue to see, and are often inadvertently led by, technical innovations and opportunities, and seek to call this assembly of technology a “Digital Workplace”.  But a real Digital Workplace is so much more than just a technology solution.  We are often quick to launch a Pilot or a Proof of Concept, without clear understanding of the business challenge or opportunity that it may help to address.  The current “hot” technologies are IOT, Cognitive services and Analytics… it’s tempting to look at spinning up that Proof of Concept isn’t it!?

Looking top down from the business level, we need to continually respond to the demands and expectations of our customers, and to the competitive threats we face, many of which are exploiting “Digital” to accelerate their progress and growth.  So we must look at how we can exploit new technologies and our methods of delivery in order to compete, differentiate and optimise our businesses.

We need to shift towards digital touch points with the “agents” that interact with us (consumers, suppliers, employees) in order to provide a modern and fluid experience that meets both their needs and expectations.  User familiarity with modern technology has already achieved one outcome, a dramatic fall in tolerance of poor or substandard performance and service (check social media of some of your favoured brands for brutal examples of this!) – so we need to continue to innovate and change in order to continue to delight our customers and users.

To succeed, this requires change in businesses at every level.  From the line of business functions all the way through to the IT department, significant change and disruption needs to happen in order to re-calibrate for the modern world.  This will involve looking inwardly at our processes, tools and resources, and disrupting ourselves, before it is done unto us.  However we cannot shy away from these difficult decisions and activities, as need for change is absolute and clear.

In the next blog, we’ll cover the shifting role of the IT department in this context, and how the IT department is and must change to become an enabler of the digital business…..

Whose Data is it Anyway?

Before reading this article I just need you to tick this box agreeing to my privacy policyImage result for ticked box

Good, we can proceed. However, did you actually know what you were agreeing to when you accepted any website or documents terms and conditions or privacy policy, did you know how they were going to use whatever data you were going to provide?

As individuals we create increasing amounts of personal data, this data can be hugely valuable to businesses allowing them to turn your raw data into valuable business information. Businesses use information you provide to target both you and people from similar backgrounds with whatever product they happen to be marketing.

Whose Data

The interesting question is who actually owns the data we provide. Who is responsible for the data we supply? In general, people naturally assume that businesses own this data and will protect it and use it responsibly. However as we’ve seen recently this is not always the case.

Recent data breaches, with Experian in the USA being a recent example, have shown that our personal information is not always as safe as we would like to hope. We get no visibility of how our data is being used, protected or what is done with it after we willingly supply it. With constant and increasing numbers of data breaches our data becomes more vulnerable.  Remember data is more valuable than oil.

There are many example of data misuse, ranging from nuisance phone calls, spam mails and unsolicited post. However, this may all be about to change. Under the forthcoming GDPR regulations businesses will become simply custodians of my data.

It’s important for organisations to realise that IT departments do not own the data, they simply provide the infrastructure to allow access to data through a series of applications. The business is responsible for the data held, and to continue to get value from it they will have to treat it differently going forward.

Businesses will need to become more transparent in their dealing with external customers, through showing what data is held, and even why it remains held, either through showing agreement to allow data to be held verbally or through the dreaded tick box.

Inevitably this will lead to a change in business processes, which is why at Computacenter we have seen a rise in demand for data masking and Anonymisation. This allows organisations to translate their data held into valuable information without the risk of items being personally identifiable.

Possibly the most important thing for businesses to do over the coming months is to start to understand what data they have, what is valuable to them and can be translated to Information, what new or existing sources of data they have and how they treat it to ensure regulatory compliance.

My data belongs to me now, I may let organisations use it in return for a service I deem of value but ultimately it is personal and belongs to me.

There’s a new sheriff in town…..

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