Improving customer focus with intelligent systems

| No Comments
| More
In this contriibuted article, Mindtree's Suman Nambiar, europe head of travel and hospitality industry group, and Ranjith Kutty, senior director and head of solutions and new business / travel, transportation and hospitality vertical in North America, discuss how the future of technology will change the travel industry.

Think Iron Man, think Jarvis, the "Just A Rather Very Intelligent System". When the first Iron Man film came out, Jarvis was science fiction, but by the time the third film was released, we were already familiar with Siri, Cortana and the snappily named Android voice commands - suddenly, a virtual personal assistant that you could talk to was in our pockets. 

From being a fun party trick at first, these assistants have been ingesting billions of queries and getting sharper and more useful every day - more and more of us use them as interfaces to our smartphones and tablets, to check the weather, to listen to text messages and reply whilst driving, to plan our schedules, to open apps and to remind us to feed the cat. 

As these assistants get better, so does their strength in handling complex natural language queries that cut across applications, which is a perfect fit for travel planning and management. This begs the obvious question - how will enterprises respond to the new digitally enabled consumer? How can the travel industry use intelligent systems to serve the customer better? 

The travel industry has unprecedented opportunities to sell better and serve better, but given the investments that technology companies like Google, Apple and IBM Watson Labs (to name just three of many) are making in the travel sector, the industry needs to respond quickly before the consumer gets used to dealing with a completely different class of intermediary who offers them a more intelligent, better targeted, more intuitive model of interaction. And it is not the technologies that stand in the way of the industry doing this today, as they all exist; as the travel industry shifts to being more customer focused and understanding what they can and cannot do with data, this future is already within reach. 

Consider someone driving along the M25 on her way to a meeting one morning in the near future - a grey January's giving way to a grey February and she wants some sunshine. She asks her smartphone to look for a sunny break for a week in March, travelling on her preferred airline. 

Based on her preferences, the airline knows that she's been to Santorini before and has given it excellent ratings for a sunny break in winter - the airline system interfaces with her phone to create a completely customised package, departing on a Friday afternoon from the nearest airport after the last meeting in her calendar, with a cab picking her up from the office (and a cab to take her to work that morning, since she will not be driving).  

A poolside room is chosen at one of the hotels where she has loyalty points; these points are then used for a free upgrade to a higher class of room. Also booked are a rental car from her preferred company, optional excursions to places she has not been yet (based on information she has shared on a variety of social media) and suggestions for hikes, as well as two reservations at restaurants, again based on information she has shared with the airline as well as on social media.

The offer sounds good to her, so she asks her virtual assistant for a quick scan of her current and credit card accounts and then chooses a card to pay with, still using voice commands. The airline then confirms the bookings and sends the itinerary to her online travel planner as well as her calendar. 

On the day of travel, before her last meeting, she gets a message from the airline, saying that they will send the cab 15 minutes earlier as the security lines are longer than usual for a Friday evening. She is checked in online and takes less than a minute to drop off her bag, which already has an electronic bag tag.

Since security now has biometric systems, it proceeds faster than usual and she gets a text message from the airline with a 20% voucher for a drink and a snack at two of the restaurants she prefers. 

By the time she lands in Frankfurt 20 minutes later than scheduled, she is relaxed because she has already seen a message with a revision to her itinerary to a slightly later interconnecting flight, because the airline has been able to predict a delay to the inbound flight ahead of time thanks to predictive analytics, and a confirmation that her preferred choice of rental car will still be held for her. 

We could go on, but this is an illustration of what is already possible today. 

Intelligent systems that have the ability to "learn" and adapt will help companies focus on the customer better. A combination of supervised and unsupervised learning enables these systems to be more context aware and this combined with predictive analytics applied to a wealth of data provides a very powerful platform for customer engagement. 

This enables enterprises to make the much needed shift from serving requests that customers make, to anticipating the request and acting on it ahead of time. An ecosystem of such enterprises that effectively engage intelligent systems across industries such as retail, banking and travel to name just a few, will be able to sell to the customer not just want they need, but also what they want. 

Work-life balance: don't overlook the role of technology

| No Comments
| More
Steve Gandy - MeetingZone new.JPGThis is a guest post by Steve Gandy, CEO at MeetingZone. 

Reading, and Bracknell, hotly followed by Oxford (near MeetingZone HQ) and Edinburgh, are officially the best cities to live and work in the UK - according to the Good Growth for Cities Index published by PwC and think tank Demos recently. It ranked UK cities against 10 criteria including employment, health, income and skills, housing affordability, commuting times and environmental factors. It follows similar research last year from PwC that ranked London (over Berlin, Stockholm, Paris and New York) as one of the best cities of "Opportunity", in a report which examined intellectual capital and innovation; culture, technology readiness and how accessible a city is to the rest of the world. 

So what does this say? Well our growing interest in such surveys shows how we're all - employees, HR and management - much more focused on well-being and work-life balance. And that's a good thing. But for me, external factors like location are just part of the equation. The 'best' place to work shouldn't just be about where your office is based, but also about the company you work for - so for example how does management operate and what culture does it creates for employees.

Today's companies rightly scour over all sorts of indicators of work life balance including employees leaving, employee satisfaction surveys and hours worked. But what often gets forgotten by management is the impact of technology in creating that sense of well-being, which in turn can lead to content and productive employees.

Again, PwC provides insight here. It conducted extensive research earlier this year into attitudes amongst 400 SME's ranging from 10 - 1000 employees about deploying Unified Communications (UC). UC brings together a huge range of services, from email to web conferencing and telecoms to sharing data. They found that management was focused, quite understandably on how UC technology would make the organisation successful and improve bottom-lines such as productivity, costs and efficiency savings. 

But what they'd overlooked was the more intangible, 'softer' benefits such as the ability to improve the workplace environment and to empower employees. If you look at the table below from PwC, it's clear there's disconnect between how they 'expected' to benefit from UC and the actual 'realised' benefits they received. Across the board the realised benefits exceeded expectations. But while you'd expect productivity, efficiency and even collaboration gains from UC deployments, the really interesting bit was how the deployments impacted employee perceptions of well-being. 

Benefits of UC.png

Source: PwC SME Survey, February 2015 (n=400)

Often management make assumptions that employees are armed with the right equipment or that the tools are "good enough" to work with, so are reluctant to rock the boat to invest in new technology. PwC saw that a UC deployment achieved a whopping 54% uplift in employee well-being. That clearly highlights that employee's value being given technology that make their jobs and collaboration easier. 

For me the big worry was the marked difference between the 8% well-being benefit that management expected and the realised 54%. This shows how out-of-touch management really are with how employees feel about their jobs and their desire to perform to the best of their ability. 

It would seem our senior management need to be more cognisant of their employee's need for 'the right tools for the job', and how it can affect creating the contented, happy and productive employees' they crave. 

Tech Britain is flourishing and here's why

| No Comments
| More
This is a guest post by Geoff Smith, managing director of Experis Europe.

Technology is flourishing across Britain - not just in the Silicon roundabout. Tech City UK's Tech Nation report recently found that a full three quarters of digital companies across the country are based outside of London. This is supported by our own Tech Cities Jobs Watch report where we noted a 10% drop in Q2 for IT roles advertised in London, compared to a 3% increase in other UK cities. 

These numbers represent a small part of the larger story of an expanding ecosystem of tech roles and innovation beyond the conventional hotspots. London's position as a dominant hub for innovative digital businesses and tech-start-ups is unlikely to change any time soon - but a number of factors are creating a larger pull to establish clusters of tech expertise across the country. Below, we'll look at a few of the forces that are encouraging the growth of digital Britain, and how it's affecting the way businesses everywhere hire and operate. 

The number of IT roles outside of the Capital is increasing

One of the major forces in the digitalisation of Britain is the rapid rise in both the number and variety of roles available outside the Capital. In one sense, this is an inevitable by-product of the way technology has become part of all aspects of our lives. Nearly all businesses in the UK are dependent on technology to operate, meaning a demand for IT skills for operations, sales and security is pressing. 

Big Data provides an example where the number of roles advertised in Tech Cities outside of the Capital increased by 18% since the start of the year. Echoing this trend, Mobile Development and Cloud roles increased by six and 13% respectively. As businesses large and small adopt more digital practices, the subsequent demand for IT professionals with skills in key tech disciplines will continue to rise. 

Cost is another factor affecting the increase in the number of jobs available in alternative tech cities. As tech infrastructure across the country has improved, it has become even easier for businesses to operate and work with teams in remote locations. Cost-conscious businesses are taking note of the potential benefits of moving functions away from London where they can operate more affordably, while also appealing to IT professionals who are seeking a different quality of life than they can get in the Capital. 

Tech cities increasingly entice IT talent away from the Capital with competitive pay

With more and more organisations across the UK battling to attract tech professionals, advertised salaries have been shifting to reflect the competition. London's average salary for permanent roles, covered by our report, has remained the highest in the UK. They rose in Q2 2015 to £53,107 - roughly 3% higher than the average in Q4 2014. 

However, cities outside the Capital have kept pace: Cambridge, one of the largest UK hubs of digital business and innovation, and Bristol another of the UK's longstanding tech clusters, both saw salaries increase over the averages recorded at the end of 2014, by 3% and 2.5% respectively. At the halfway point, 2015 figures from Tech Cities Job Watch indicated upwards pressure on permanent salaries across the country. 

Contract roles often present an opportunity for companies to bring in talent for short term projects, or to fill a gap while a more permanent solution is offered. It is also a chance for companies outside of the Capital facing skills shortages to entice specialist expertise from further away. Big Data roles have consistently commanded the highest average day rates, and in Q2 2015 Brighton and Birmingham were offering average day rates of £675, 26% higher than the London average. 

As we continue to monitor the hiring trends that evolve and Britain proceeds with its digital evolution, we can expect to see organisations increasingly recognise the need for talent that has been developed in cities such as London and Manchester, and to continue to stump up the necessary cash to attract them.

The demand for skills is growing outside of London

Technology continues to evolve, and with it the demands and expectation of customers and staff. The skills and languages needed to provide services are also growing. 

I've discussed above how skills in Big Data (Apache Hadoop, Splice Machine, Tableau and SAP HANA) and Cloud development (Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and MS Office365) have become more sought after by firms outside of big cities.  We can only expect this to continue as more businesses, large and small, use IT to augment a wider section of their work.

The private sector organisations across the country also face competition for skills from the public sector - which is undergoing major digital transformations, subsequently requiring large numbers of skilled IT talent.

Other, more sinister forces are also having an effect on the demand for IT skills. In the wake of high profile cyber security breaches and attacks, businesses of all sizes are having to invest heavily in IT security. This is driving increased demand for SIEM (Systems Intrusion and Event Management) and IDAM (Identity Access Management) experts and biometrics specialists.

As long as technology marches forward at its current breakneck pace, so will the hiring trends shaping the evolution of digital Britain.

Why lack of flexibility cost London businesses 1.5 million working hours during tube strikes

| 1 Comment
| More

This guest post from Steve Gandy, CEO of MeetingZone, describes how businesses were hit by loss of working hours during the tube strikes due to lack of flexibility.  

Anyone of London's 4 million commuters who struggled into work during the recent meltdown of the UK Underground system will understand only too well the chaos the tube strikes caused to travellers and other transport links. Our recent survey has revealed there's also been a huge cost to London businesses too.


Those London strikes were part of an ongoing dispute with the Unions (which represent Tube employees), over plans to introduce 24-hour tube services at weekends. The launch of the 24-hour tube service has now been pushed back due to this, but not before the entire London Underground network came to a standstill on 8-9 July and 5-6 August 2015.


The survey of 1000 London commuters, estimated that businesses lost a total of over 1.5 million working hours during the London tube strikes from employees being late into work. What's more, we calculated that London's commuters wasted an extra three million hours just getting to and from the office. These are staggering figures especially when you consider that much of it is really unnecessary. But this was made even worse by the fact the research also showed that only 9% of bosses let employees work from home during this time. 72% of employees feel bosses are still failing to offer flexible working options during travel disruptions.


Sure, not everyone can work from home or remotely, but most office based jobs don't actually require people to sit at their desk. Technology like Unified Communications (UC) means that users can fire up a presentation, edit it with a colleague over IM or jump on a video chat instead - so it seems daft to ask employees to face travel hell.


As I've mentioned before, part of the problem is cultural. Many managers and business owners aren't opening their eyes to how technology could change the way people work and drive efficiencies. They're happy to think 'if they can't see them working they can't be working', which is of course nonsense. You can just as easily sit at your desk and do nothing. Even where companies do have access to UC technology, you see a lot of them assume a couple of training sessions mean staff are confident enough to use it when an unplanned event occurs. They aren't. What's required is a culture of adoption driven by senior managers who embrace the technology and lead the way, not only offering continuous training but also through post roll-out support.


I feel sorry for all the commuters that had to set their alarms early.  Forget the trains running on time - UK business should run on time too. The lost hours during the recent London tube strikes should be the turning point for companies to start thinking about flexible working options to reduce the amount time commuters waste.


Driving STEM into the Fast Lane for UK Primary Schools

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest blog from Richard Pedley, software engineer, Delcam, part of Autodesk.


The CBI recently highlighted that the UK manufacturing industry is experiencing a crisis. In the UK we are lacking the vital skills to increase our productivity. In particular, the STEM skills gap has been an issue for many years and STEM teaching needs to be prioritised in the UK curriculum to encourage growth in this field.

One of the main issues we have found is a general lack of awareness surrounding the broad range of opportunities STEM skills can offer after education. Raising awareness about the jobs available from a young age will help children aspire to pursuing a career they might not have considered or heard of before.

There are a number of ways the manufacturing sector can get involved in helping to address the issue. At Delcam, we're looking to address this by engaging with the Bloodhound and STEM Ambassador programmes. The programmes work to promote the engineering profession with a focus on the country's young people by sending specially trained ambassadors to local schools. Delcam has been involved with the Bloodhound scheme for the past eighteen months and, at the start of July, three ambassadors visited Harborne Primary School to deliver a special school assembly for 270 students in Years 3 - 6, followed by an interactive Bloodhound activity session for Year 5 students.

The assembly focused on the history of engineering in the UK and also introduced speed as a scientific concept in a way that would be engaging and straightforward for children to understand. Speed, fast cars and specifically powering Bloodhound are topics that children can really get their teeth into. It can be easy to underestimate the student's level of understanding, but as with every school we've visited, the children were keen to get involved and shout suggestions for powering the car.

After the assembly, the Year 5 students were lucky enough to have their own Bloodhound breakout session which involved three classes, totalling 90 students each building their very own version of the Bloodhound car. We explained to the students the principle of harnessing force to drive a car forward. The children were then able to put this into practice by building a Bloodhound-branded cardboard car from scratch with a straw and balloon jet engine. The children were then able to race the cars to see which would go the fastest and furthest. The pupils were eager to modify the cars even further which has inspired the teachers to create follow up activity sessions for the Year 5s. Teachers and pupils alike thoroughly enjoyed the day and there are already plans in motion for a return visit to Harborne Primary School next year.

Initiatives like the STEM Ambassador programme are only the beginning and, at Delcam, we're also passionate about furthering the opportunities of older students with involvement in apprenticeships and graduate programmes. Specifically, we take in over 28 graduates and undergraduates a year to invest and build the UK talent pool. Schemes such as F1 in Schools are also hugely important in engaging the future workforce.

It is crucial that businesses and educators continue to work together to show students the wide range of STEM-careers that are available, both in manufacturing and in other areas, and ensure the tools and support are available to ignite the passion to create the STEM stars of the future. Getting fresh talent into the manufacturing sector will also support the future of manufacturing, ensuring we are able to incorporate new ways of doing things and tackle productivity issues with innovative solutions, rather than doing things the way we've always done them.

Social media and the evolution of the job hunt

kbateman | 1 Comment
| More
This is a guest blog by Andy Summer, managing director at

The way we search for jobs is constantly evolving and has historically been shaped by major technological developments. For example, in the nineteenth century the railways opened up new frontiers, driving candidates to out-of-town jobs. But recent history holds clues too; we don't have to think back too far to a time when CVs were sent by post rather than email.

With 97 per cent of UK millennials on Facebook and 500 million tweets sent globally every day, it is clear that the rise of social media is the latest catalyst for the next big change in the job hunting process. We check our mobile phones on average every 20 minutes and social media is ever increasingly important in our day-to-day lives, helping us stay in touch with old friends, telling us about breaking news, and even advising on the best local restaurant to choose. It's only natural that recruiters are beginning to tap into the social media phenomena and recognise the benefit it can bring in matching the right candidates to the right job.

Much like the typewriter brought us CVs, social media is having a big impact on the way we secure the best job opportunities. There is now a range of tools available to recruiters that utilise social media to help reach the most relevant candidates in a more personal way than has been previously possible. For example, at Monster we have recently introduced Social Job Ads, a technology that automatically targets relevant candidates via Twitter, distributing details of suitable jobs to candidates that are best matched to the role. Thanks to technology like this, the recruitment process is becoming much simpler for both recruiters and candidates.

The hunt for the best job and the most suitable candidate has evolved so that we can now take a job opportunity and send it via social media to targeted recipients. It's effectively working the crowdsourcing model in reverse. Rather than waiting for an individual to make a positive decision to join a crowd, social media helps recruiters identify both active and passive individuals who could be part of that crowd. Of course the idea isn't to entirely automate the selection process, but rather to introduce efficiencies for the recruiter and help ensure passive candidates are aware of job opportunities available to them. Potential employers can share relevant and interesting vacancies in real-time, allowing users to receive the notification on-the-go and in a bite-size chunk rather than being overloaded with detail.

By reaching out to a pool of passive candidates, technology of this kind allows recruiters to interact with those who otherwise may not consider a particular opportunity. This can be especially ground-breaking for sectors that are dominated by one particular type of candidate. For example, last year women accounted for less than a fifth of the UK's IT workforce and yet there were over one million related jobs advertised. Making a wider range of suitable candidates aware of a job via social media may well form part of the solution to filling shortages such as these, avoiding talented individuals self-filtering or waiting for workers to decide to look for their next move.

As online and offline lives continue to merge, and more and more candidates are sourced via social networks, it's crucial that businesses identify how innovative social media technology can be and the positive impact it can have on their recruiting strategy. Making sure we're harnessing the tools at our fingertips will help ensure we're connecting the right people with the right jobs, wherever they may be. 

A trip to Silicon Valley with Founders4Schools

kbateman | 1 Comment
| More

This is a guest blog by Claire Higgins, a student from Notre Dame High School in Scotland, who recently visited Silicon Valley after winning the Founders4Schools Appathon competition. Claire and her team mates thought of the winning app idea Smart Wardrobe.


Monday morning rolled around after much anticipation and excitement about the trip. The 4:30 morning wake up was a tiring but welcome experience as we were buzzing about going to California. We were all incredibly excited for the trip despite the fact that some of us had already been to the States- the west coast was unfamiliar ground to all of us.  The fifteen hours' worth of traveling felt longer than we had expected, probably because we just wanted to get to San Francisco as soon as possible. When we eventually arrived and collected what luggage we had, we went to meet Iria from founders4school and the Cambridge University team; Ben, Joseph and Patrick. The Cambridge teams 4th member was still finishing is first set of exams and so was meeting us on the Wednesday night. We got to see different parts of San Francisco which was amazing as none of us had ever visited the city. We went shopping and walked down to Fisherman's Warf where we could see Alcatraz across the water. We were all exhausted and extremely jetlagged by the end of the day, and so we were relieved when we got back to our hotel rooms.


On Tuesday we attempted to wake up at 7:45. When we were ready, our driver Jason drove us to our first company, Square. We were very excited despite our tiredness. In Square, we had an amazing breakfast- which was also free! Our tour guide, Megan, was an employee who has been working at Square for just over a year. She and a current intern showed us around the amazing offices before taking us to a conference room to talk to another two square employees. They told us the story of how square started and how much more advanced the UK are in payment methods as in the US you still have to swipe your credit/debit card and sign the receipt. They spoke to us about their goals, which is to have everyone paying bills on their smartphones with their product.

Then, we went to the wonderful world of Facebook. First, we were taken onto campus by two engineers who showed us all the options we had for lunch, which (like Square) was unbelievably free! We sat down and spoke to them about what they do at Facebook and what it's like to work at such a big, well known company. We also went to the Facebook shop to buy some souvenirs. Then, we were shown around the campus by another Facebook employee who also told us what the main offices and teams were and what they do. We were particularly surprised about how the Employees didn't have any set working hours, as long as they were working on something and were making an impact, which we soon found out was the way most companies worked.

Our final tour of the day was tesla where we were told the history of the company, how the tesla car is made and even got a picture inside one! We were given a tour of the factory and were told what each machines job was. None of us had ever been to a car manufacturer's factory before and so found it incredibly interesting to see how the cars were built.

By the end of the day, we were all very tired, so after a quick mean at a close by pizzeria, were glad to go to bed.


On Wednesday, we had to wake up at 5:30 to go on the Stanford Dish trail. From 06:30 to 07:50 we walked the 4.6 mile trail before heading to LinkedIn.

Our tour guide, Aaron, who works in the marketing side of the company, took us to breakfast, where the food choices were endless. After breakfast, he gave us a tour of the offices and games room before taking us into a conference room to talk to current employees and interns. They spoke to us about what they like about the company, what their job is at the company and how their job makes an impact. We found this extremely helpful as it gave us a better idea of what careers we may or may not want to pursue when we're older.

After LinkedIn, we walked down the street to Google. At Google, we had lunch with 2 employees who told us all about their job and department at Google. We were also told about how voice recognition works and how they feel it's becoming a bigger part of today's society. We were shown around the visitors centre and told a bit more about Google (its history etc.) before going back to the hotel for a few hours free time.

On Wednesday night we all went bowling before meeting Evgeny, which was fun.  Once he arrived we went to a BBQ type restaurant, before heading back to the hotel.


On Thursday, we went to Paypal and Edmodo. We were all tired and dreading the long flight home later that day.

At Paypal, we were shown around the campus by two employees. We also spoke to them in a large conference room about the advantages of working at Paypal, what each group of people do and their own personal life's history. It was interesting to learn how each team work differently from each other.

After Paypal we went to Edmodo where we had lunch. We were then brought into a conference room where we spoke about our idea before learning about Edmodo and what each person's role is in the company. The university team had to leave early as they were going on a road trip to LA to visit other places such as SpaceX, which they had organised themselves. When they left, we got a tour of the offices.

After Edmodo, we had to say goodbye to Iria as she was going back to San Francisco for a few days. We were driven back to the airport where we began to make our way back home.

We all arrived back home on the Friday afternoon at around 2:30 UK time and we were extremely excited to tell our friends and family all about the incredible experience.

 Going to California really gave me an idea about what I want to do when I'm older.  I've always thought about doing engineering, and this has helped me narrow down what types I may want to do as a job when I leave school. I really loved going to all the companies as it's a once in a lifetime experience, and I know that I was really lucky to get the opportunity to go. It's also shown me how different businesses are in the UK, as in Silicon Valley it's all very casual and chill. When I was there I never felt unwelcome and everyone who we met made it easy to feel comfortable in such a big place. I really did love the trip and want to thank Appathon for giving us the opportunity to go.

A trip to San Francisco with Founders4Schools

kbateman | No Comments
| More
This is a guest blog by Ellie Stevenson, a student from Notre Dame High School in Scotland, who recently visited Silicon Valley after winning the Founders4Schools Appathon competition. Ellie and her team mates thought of the winning app idea Smart Wardrobe.

Day 1 - Monday 8th June
Upon the day of flying to the West Coast, we were ecstatic. We knew that no one in our school, area or country could have such an amazing opportunity such as this. After the long flight, we instantly felt the heat of the place and couldn't wait to get to our hotel. We met the three of the Cambridge university students; Joseph, Ben and Patrick. Evgeny was due to meet us on the last day as he had end of year examinations. We also met Iria, our host from Founders4School. Having a reunion since the November awards giving was great and a chance to get to not only experience the sheer brilliance we were about to see but also get to know our university students better.

Day 2 - Tuesday 9th June
Waking up with the full effects of jetlag, we went to our first company, Square. It was very impressive as a start-up and its main objective was to keep up to date with payment methods with the square product. They offered a Coding Camp for girls to learn how to code which is a vital skill in the tech world which we found very helpful. With only visiting one of the many companies in Silicon Valley, I already realised how much companies value innovation and constantly changing their product to better suit the people using them. One of the things that struck me as being very impressive was the framed bits of scribbly scrap paper with their original ideas of Square. They took great pride in showing the idea and initial prototypes which changed into the great company that they have today. It isn't just a rumour; companies love innovation and take great pride in it. 
We then visited Facebook which in one word was surreal. Stepping out of the greeting point into the huge campus I couldn't believe what they had to offer. An arcade, spa, restaurants and clothing shops in your offices may sound strange to most people in Britain but was welcomed there as something that should always be there. Mainly for convenience, the employees did not have to pay for food. Facebook was inspiring in the fact they had local replicas in their campus like painting their bridges connecting buildings red, paying homage to the great 'Golden Bridge.'

They describe themselves as the 'hacking company' and not in the way you would think. Hacking to the Facebook community is really just taking apart what you have and seeing it as a way to improve what you already have. Full of inspiring people, Facebook was everything you would think it was and then a bit more. There were so many employees. And they were all so happy with the company and you could tell how much they loved working there. All of the employees talked of 'Mark' as a friend compared to one of their bosses.
Arriving to Tesla was a different experience entirely. Straight away we realised the sheer size of the factory and the many charging stations they had in the car park. We were shown a white Model S car and how it charged. Right down to a single battery cell we were shown the metal under body to the full car's completion. Going around on a red buggy, we were shown each stage and the impressive robots that only help with 10% of the production line as a whole but were of great convenience to the company. We actually got to see them in action making a car right in front of us which was amazing. 

Day 3 - Wednesday 10th June
Waking up on the Wednesday was quite a challenge as we had decided to get up before sunrise and hike up the Stanford Dish Trail and see the sunrise. Ironically, it rained that day when California had been having one of the worst droughts spanning two years. We all laughed and claimed we had brung the rain from Scotland to San Francisco. The hike was beautiful yet tiring so we were relived to get back into the car and drive to LinkedIn. 
I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed LinkedIn.  Aaron showed us around their offices which was literally surrounded by Google buildings as they shared the same complex. They also had an arcade and a huge catering facility and had the same cool workplace vibe. We talked to a panel of employees, with 4 of them only being there for 2 weeks on their summer internship programme.  I was impressed of how much knowledge they had of the company and where it was heading having only had 2 weeks of experience. They came from very different backgrounds and college or university degrees yet all shared the same passion to improve their product. One of the best things about Silicon Valley is that they value each member of their team to help with the overall product with not a lot of experience which was awesome for the internship programme. Interestingly, many people in Silicon Valley switch from job to job. Staying at LinkedIn for two years was considered to be a long term role, whereas in Britain many people stay in the same post in their workplace until they retire. 
Finally, we went to Google. They had the famous bikes to ride from campus to campus as their workplace really was that big. They had an 8 man bike which one person would steer and seven would pedal  and as our employee, Hai Hong,  who showed us around called it the conference bike. It was funny to think of a conference were one person had all the power to steer them wherever they wished to go. The employees were all so happy in the sense they were really happy to help with anything and were all so caring and also loved there work environment.  The place was amazing with the people in it and I really understood how Google was such a huge success in not only being a powerful search engine but a huge community in Silicon Valley and certainly beyond. 

Day 4 - Thursday 11th June
We finally realised how quick the visit was drawing to a close and how we had to indure the flight home. PayPal was a nice environment to be in where they answered all the questions they had and explained what their tech company was really all about. They too had an amazing internship programme with many opportunities' to travel globally. They had a clear vision to help payment become simpler for everyone.  

Our final place to visit was Edmodo, an amazing education start-up which helped teachers, parents and pupils alike to connect after school and to further enhance their learning experience. The employees all really have a passion for education and to help where they can.  It was very emotional to say goodbye to Iria and the university students who we grew close to during the trip. I have took so much from this and i would like to thank Silicon Valley comes to the UK for it. After seeing everything I really want to come back and work there for good as it is so amazing and something I am very interested in. I will remember this experience forever. 

Bringing education into the 21st century

kbateman | No Comments
| More
This is a guest blog by Chris Hale, software product marketing manager, working for Sharp in the UK.

Today, education and teaching methods are on a transformative path. Schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions are endeavouring to keep up with digital and technological advances and what their learners - largely digital natives - demand.  A lot has changed since chalk and blackboard were the only means of communication.  Today learners expect to work from PCs, laptops and tablets daily for their lessons and research as well as for homework.  The challenge of creating and sustaining engaging learning material is faced by teachers every day; a task that is being made easier by using Interactive White Boards, up-to-date printing facilities and collaborative file sharing.  Meanwhile in the background Managed Services can streamline administrative processes and reduce costs.

Interactive whiteboards combine advanced high definition displays with multi-touch screen technology and wireless connectivity to other devices. They help to create highly stimulating lessons and present engaging visual information that brings learning to life. The immersive learning experience is more collaborative and enables teachers to create and deliver compelling interactive material to enhance understanding of the topic, optimising engagement and stimulating their students. Making the whiteboards as intuitive to use as the blackboard allows teachers to focus on their teaching, not the technology.

With increased access to digital technologies, schools are also implementing Managed Print solutions for quicker, more convenient printing from PCs, interactive whiteboards, and mobile devices. Print demand in education remains strong - with classroom handouts, test papers, homework, essays, research... a Managed Print Service (MPS) can help both save paper for the school and offer secure and convenient Printing for students.  The new digital age of education means that documents can be printed when and where they are needed but still give administrative staff clear visibility into printing usage and costs. Features such as scanning and storing can also reduce unnecessary printing.

Leeds West Academy (LWA), part of the White Rose Academy Trust, specialises in English and Performing Arts, and several LWA students have gone on to establish themselves as chart musicians or stars of the screen and stage. While preparing for its move to a new building, the Academy planned IT services requirements for its 1250 students, teachers and administrative staff, to enable them to connect instantly to the network and wirelessly access support services. LWA implemented Sharp multi-function printers, which provide a simple and secure way to print, copy, scan and share documents in colour and black and white. They are also equipped with a biometric fingerprint authentication system which quickly identifies and authenticates individual users and gives them access to their own secure print queue. IT Service Manager, Richard Shaw, said: "With students and staff able to log-on at any device within seconds to release print and scan documents, there are no delays."

Having logged on, students and staff can use the MFPs to scan learning materials and documents to email or save them to a USB drive, saving print costs and paper.  The implementation of the MFPs has also reduced the administrative burden, for example, a simple one-touch interface supports scanning to SIMS (Schools Information Management System), enabling paper-based records to be captured and recorded digitally.

Schools like Leeds West Academy, investing in technologies to modernise processes and future-proof learning environments, are benefitting from reduced costs and administrative loads as well as more effective management of student records and governance.  More importantly, students are enjoying a more engaging, interactive and collaborative learning environment where their familiar digital technologies are now at the heart of their educational experiences.

There's more to computing than coding!

kbateman | 3 Comments
| More

This is a guest blog by Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace who warns that coding has been given too much emphasis in the new curriculum.

There are currently many exciting projects around coding in schools, and it's been great watching children getting involved with computing both within the classroom and in extra-curricular groups. It's quite evident that a number of teachers and students in the classroom are motivated and enthused by the creation of gaming projects, application development and even the solving of coding conundrums for their own sake - just because we can.Mark Chambers 01.JPG
However, the number of teachers and students engaged with computing is still small and significantly smaller than those who used to engage with digitally creative projects involving the broader ideas of 'Information Technology'. It is my argument that we have "thrown the baby out with the bath water".
The direction of thought that branded ICT as "bad" is well documented with anecdotal evidence such as, "my child was subject to endlessly tiresome Microsoft Office activities", dominating any discussion that politicians and industrialists had with the education community. The subsequent development of the Computing Curriculum was intended to specifically redress this situation with the strong feeling that by introducing more explicit Computer Science all would be well. This decision and political endorsement was followed by an injection of millions of pounds of public money to upskill our teachers in Computer Science.
Yet the reality is that there are huge gaps in the provision of sufficient high quality professional development that would improve the experience of young students. Indeed, if Information Technology was taught badly (the original argument for changing the curriculum), then nothing has been done to alter this fact apart from "moving the goal posts". There is no national commitment to improving the teaching of Information Technology or Digital Literacy and the private sector provision which used to exist is being destroyed in the face of publicly subsidised but narrowly focused Computer Science training.
Unsurprisingly, schools have picked up on the importance of Computer Science and are understandably leaping at the opportunity of having volunteers from the parental community or from industry delivering the subject. However, many are also demonstrating an attitude that suggests they feel this provision is enough and that consequently the timetabled Computing Curriculum can be made a lower priority. Two thirds of the Computing Curriculum is in danger of both poor teaching and perhaps even disappearing from our schools. This abdication from developing digital creativity is shocking and will significantly impact our competitiveness as a global economy, with UK plc rapidly falling behind in the creative industries.
My argument is not that Computer Science and specifically the glamorous "coding" is unimportant; but actually that there is far more that must be considered. There are a number of skills and competencies enshrined within the Computing Curriculum that are capable of providing young people with a varied, imaginative and creative learning experience, equipping them for higher education and employment in a much more balanced way than simply being able to repeat code.
What unites all three strands of the Computing Curriculum is a focus on "Making"; solving problems to a purpose and for an audience. For a couple of years, Naace has been developing the Third Millennium Learning Award and some associated tools to support schools in developing their pedagogical approaches when making effective use of technology. This project has shown us that when students are offered the opportunity to experience problem-solving using digital tools in an increasing complexity of circumstances, they can achieve amazing progress and outcomes.
There is a significant danger that too much of the touted practice in Computer Science is artificial, abstract and removed from the involvement of real problems and real people. Indeed, I recall with distinct clarity one strategic meeting on the development of the Computing Curriculum where the participants remembered with great fondness their days of copying code from books and magazines. For me this recollection was a personal nightmare; what I recalled was the opportunity to use building blocks, short cuts and libraries to design and make the solutions I was looking for. Why reinvent the wheel when what I need to know is how to select the right one and fit it correctly to the other components of the car to get it moving safely and effectively from A to B?
The problem with the previous approach to the Computing subject was as much the way it was taught as the skills pupils learned, which are now being neglected. These skills, such as e-safety, using search engines effectively and online communication, may lack coding's glamour but are an essential part of learning to use technology. Coding is important, but not everything under the sun is coding. It takes the development of a variety of digital skills and knowledge if we want students to use technology, understand how it works, solve problems effectively and communicate those solutions to clients. Students who can do this will be in high demand in employment and will drive the future success of our economy.

Tackling the STEAM skills gap

kbateman | No Comments
| More
This is a guest blog from Phil Dunmore, ‎head of consulting UK at Cognizant

A recent OECD report has revealed that the UK has the worst youth skills gap in the Western world. 

Another recent report found that, in 32 out of 50 major UK cities, there were now more advertised job vacancies than there were people on Jobseeker's Allowance seeking work. It is clear that there is a serious skills gap that needs to be filled; without immediate action, future generations in both the UK and abroad will fail to maintain the momentum of innovation for which they have become known in recent years. 

In the UK, much attention is focused on the innovation deficit and the lack of proficiency in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) disciplines. This deficit is high on the agenda of the UK government as well as the CBI both in terms of evoking more interest in the subjects as well as making sure teachers are well placed to inspire those they teach. 

The new GCSE in computer programming and cyber security , which launched last month, is certainly a step in the right direction. However, in order to excel in STEAM subjects, hands-on project and design-based learning approaches are necessary as they are more consistent with the learning styles we attribute to the millennial and younger generations. These approaches spark creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. They "pull" kids into STEAM disciplines by generating interest and confidence, rather than "pushing" them to do better in maths and science.

To encourage more graduates into STEAM careers, the wider industry that requires STEAM skills also has a major role to play in addition to government and education.

Communicating opportunities 
Companies need to better communicate the benefits of working in technology-related fields to attract more interest. Recent research for the Complete University Guide indicated that graduate salaries within IT have increased compared to an overall decline. This is an obvious incentive to move into this sector, as well as the sheer number of jobs available: the European Commission estimates that Europe might face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020. 

To boost the number of STEAM learners, some businesses are encouraging and supporting school-age pupils to consider STEAM careers. For example, we are working closely with the charity, Teach First. As one of the charity's priorities is to encourage young people towards STEAM subjects, a number of our senior executives are volunteering in the classroom to support the charity's emphasis on STEAM subjects. 
This early stage, collaborative approach is fairly unique but we expect to see greater demand for this, as more and more businesses start to realise the benefits of addressing technical skills' shortages directly. 

Competing in an era of digital business
New technologies are revolutionising the future of work created by global and virtual environments made up of millennial workers and consumers. In order to succeed in training the STEAM workers of the future, schools, universities and organisations must emphasise the process of "doing", encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary problem-solving, and support risk taking - as it is these qualities combined with STEAM skills that will be at the core of the change-makers of tomorrow.

IT Mentorship Programs, Do They Work?

kbateman | No Comments
| More
This is a guest post by John Yurkschatt, director of the IT Services Practice Area for Direct Consulting Associates (DCA), an IT consulting and staffing firm.

It is often in conversations with leaders in the IT industry that I hear references to past mentors and how someone else played a significant role in their success.  The more successful people I meet, the more I hear individuals speaking of their mentors or those they are mentoring. BLN001_JOHN YURKSCHATT_E_4X5.jpg

I am a huge believer in a strong mentorship program.  To this day, I make sure that I am continuously mentoring as well as being mentored.  Although I have experienced success in my career, I am humble enough to realize that luck and good circumstances can often play a bit of a role.  Now, if I can identify where I need to get better, improve, and develop additional tools, I can benefit from being on both sides of a mentoring program.

The opportunity to share success stories, horror stories, and times where we've hit the proverbial brick wall can benefit everyone, especially the mentee.   Mentorship programs require humility, an eagerness to learn, and an eagerness to grow.  A successful mentorship program requires both parties to share openly, freely, and put knowledge/insight into practice.
There are four types of IT mentorship programs:
•         Career Mentoring: Assists mentee's with the opportunity to work towards a predetermined career path.  This type of mentoring is designed to allow individuals to work from point A to point B with the help of the mentor assisting with that development.

•         Networking Mentoring: Enables individuals to meet others in the market place to allow for idea and name sharing.  Often times this type of informal mentoring leaders to insight and knowledge transfer.

 •         Orientating Mentorships: This type of mentoring usually begins within the first few weeks that a new employee is at an organization.  Orientating mentoring allows for newer employees to become acclimated into a new climate/culture/work environment much quicker.

  •         Untapped Potential Mentorship: My favorite type and often the most challenging.
Untapped potential mentoring takes place when an average or underperforming employee has a fantastic skill set or potential but has other components of their being preventing them from reaching their potential.  

Without question, there are numerous types of mentorship programs, but nearly all try to accomplish the following:  

-Foster personal & professional growth
-Create and/or develop a sense of career awareness
-Generate a thirst for knowledge
-Instill a desire to be great

In today's IT marketplace, mentoring programs are often put on the backburner due to a shortage of time and availability.  However, mentorship programs should not be taken lightly. In fact, a study done by Sun Microsystems University Mentoring Program followed the career progress of mentees over a five year period and it showed that mentees were 20% more likely to get a raise sooner than other employees and were promoted five times more often than those who did not have a mentor. 

Here are 4 ways mentors help mentees get ahead faster:

1.      Talent Development: Everyone wants top talent.  A mentoring program can allow an organization to use its top performers to help others grow into top performers.

2.      Knowledge and Contacts: Mentoring programs often lead to introductions, networking events, and knowledge transfer.  As top performers progress in their careers, it is often more about who you know than what you know, to help get to the top.

3.      Wisdom/Insight: One of the most important aspects of a mentoring programming is preventing the mentee from making the same mistakes the mentor has made.  If it took the mentor 10 mistakes before they earned their promotion, sharing that insight could lead the mentee down a much quicker path to reaching new heights.

4.      Improved Performance: A good mentor will provide you with valuable feedback or make suggestions that will enable you to improve your skills or to experience personal growth, ultimately leading to your improved performance.

As an organization, if a mentoring programming can help our new hires, average, struggling, or even most successful employees continue to grow, it will in-turn, allow our business to grow and will continue to push that ceiling even higher.  About 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs because the results give them a competitive advantage. If an organization not only values the success of their business, but also the relationships and long term growth of their employees, the organisation will likely better retain top employees.

To conclude, mentorships can be invaluable.  The wisdom, insight, or development that employees gain today, may lead to a career track that may have never been possible.

The role of social media in extremism and radicalisation

kbateman | No Comments
| More
This is a guest from David Wright, director UK Safer Internet Centre at SWGfL, who explores the dangers to children's wellbeing posed by political extremists on social media and outlines the steps schools can take to protect students from indoctrination online.

According to estimates, approximately 700 UK citizens, including many teenagers, have travelled overseas to join conflicts. They include three teenage girls from Bethnal Green in East London who were thought to have travelled to Syria.David Wright.jpg

The BBC reported that the families of the three 15 year-olds have appealed for them to return and said that there were no signs they were planning to go to Syria.

Prevent, the government's counter-terrorism strategy, was written in 2003 with prevention as a key priority. It focuses effort and resources on 'priority areas'. In these areas, those working with children typically have a general understanding of the threats posed by radicalisation.
However, the increasing use of online tactics and social media by extremists has changed how these ideas spread. These technologies don't recognise 'priority areas'; they extend across the entire country.

The threats we are seeing take many forms. There are the high-profile incidents of young people travelling to countries such as Syria and Iraq to fight, but there are less obvious and wide-ranging risks. The Internet, and in particular social media, is being used as a channel, to not only promote and engage, but also, as suggested by Robert Hannigan (Director of GCHQ), as a command structure.

In response, towards the end of 2014, the UK Safer Internet Centre issued a briefing to all local safeguarding children boards to highlight this issue.

Clearly, everyone has a responsibility to report a concern about a child but the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 obliges schools and other authorities to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The guidance lists five key areas:

-    Risk assessment: Schools must assess the risk of their children being drawn into terrorism, as well as their support for extremist ideas and terrorist ideology. They should have robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk, and appropriate intervention and referral options. The policy should also cover the suitability of visiting speakers.

-    Working in partnership: Schools in England are required to ensure that their safeguarding arrangements take into account policies and procedures of their local safeguarding children board.

-    Staff training: Schools should ensure that their staff are equipped to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism, as well as challenge extremist ideas. They should know how to refer children and young people for further help. The Home Office's free training product about radicalisation awareness, Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP), may be a suitable option.

-    IT policies: Schools are expected to ensure that children are safe from online terrorist and extremist material in school, typically using filtering systems.

-    Monitoring and enforcement: Ofsted inspectors will assess a school's approach to keeping children safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism and what is done when the school suspects that pupils are vulnerable to these threats. If a school is considered to be failing in this regard or if their staff or children's safety is threatened, maintained schools will be subject to intervention and academies or free schools may be subject to termination of funding. For independent schools in England or Wales, they must remedy any failing or be subject to regulatory action. Early years settings are also covered by this monitoring provision.

The power of the Internet and social media has highlighted a need for an open and ongoing dialogue in our communities - among children, young people, parents, carers, schools and wider - to ensure that young people have the skills to be critical thinkers online and are resilient to online extremism, whether from groups like Islamic State or from others.

To support schools with e-safety, South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) has created 360 degree safe, a free online self-review tool and Boost, a comprehensive online safety toolkit.    

The true value connectivity can bring to startups

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest post by Ben Dowd, business director at O2 who shares why connectivity should lie at the heart of every startup operation. 

While it is true that access to broadband and transport links are essential in enabling the growth of digital start-ups, it is even more important that businesses of all sizes understand the true benefits that connectivity can bring. 

It's no secret that one of the major advantages UK small businesses have over larger enterprises is their agility and ability to respond quickly to ever changing landscapes. The rate at which the UK creates and adopts new technologies is increasing all the time and it is those businesses who are the quickest to react who will see the biggest benefits. Small businesses are able to simply avoid many of the challenges of scale that come with size, whether that's coordinating the work of hundreds of employees across multiple locations or sharing knowledge across disparate functional groups. As a result of this greater flexibility, small businesses are naturally better able to respond to new challenges and opportunities - but it is possible for businesses of all sizes to do this and the secret to success lies in better connectivity.

Many larger businesses have already realised this and are embedding digital at the heart of their strategies. O2 research commissioned recently, showed that digital interaction in businesses leads to increased job efficiency and business productivity.

In fact, a third (36%) of senior management and a quarter (24%) of employees in Britain's largest organisations believe using more business technology for customer and employee interaction will lead to greater business productivity and more than 70% of senior managers think the use of technology for customer interaction has already had a positive effect on their organisation.

I would urge start-ups to take heed of these statistics and ensure connectivity lies at the heart of their operation from the outset. I also have three key pieces of advice for start-ups wanting to make the most out of technology for their business. 

Firstly, employees must be equipped to work anywhere. Research that we conducted with CEBR last year found that 80% of businesses report that staff do not have full access to the key business systems that would make their working lives easier and more efficient, including the technology to work away from the office. We can easily overcome this problem by something as simple as ensuring that every employee has a company laptop and mobile.

Secondly, business owners need to consider the benefits to their customer service of accessing the fast and reliable connectivity of 4G, which allows them to respond to orders and enquiries quickly and efficiently, from any location with any mobile device. The cost of connectivity equipment isn't prohibitive. Laptops, smartphones and 4G dongles are all easily available to businesses of any size. 

Finally, businesses of all sizes spend too much time and money on travel that isn't always necessary. Whether it's between home and the office or between multiple locations around the UK, employers should make journeys more efficient. Our research shows that measures like investing in remote working technology, from webmail to 4G connectivity for laptops, could save employees 127 hours per year.

Every business must understand its own connectivity deficit and take measures to close it. Even small improvements, such as using smartphones, mobile apps, and cloud computing services, will help drive business productivity and restore the UK's competitiveness within Europe and beyond. 

Codio video runs through BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching

kbateman | No Comments
| More

Codio has released an Ask the Expert's video which investigates the best ways of teaching computer science through coding in schools.

This is the third video in the Ask the Expert's series from Codio, with the episode focusing on the BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching. codio.jpg

The video gives advice to teachers who are considering taking the computer science accreditation.

Throughout Sue Sentance, National Academic Coordinator at Computing at School (CAS) and Senior Lecturer in Computer Science Education at King's College London speaks to Codio about the structure of the certificate and the benefits for teachers.

BCS e-assessors Ghita Kouadri Mostefaoui and Fintan Culwin also provide their insight.

Phillip Snalune, co-founder of Codio, said, "Our collaboration with BCS underlines Codio's commitment to helping teachers reach the level of proficiency required to deliver excellence in the teaching of Computer Science.

"We hope that this video helps teachers understand what the certificate entails and how it could help them develop both their confidence and technical skills."

You can watch the video here:

Transforming student experience through technology

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest post from Simon Harrison, CIO, Kingston University

As a leading UK university, we want to make sure that our students get as much as possible from their time with us, whether that be in their recreational time or during their studies. We know what technology can give us the upper hand here because students have come to expect the same level of technology in their studies as they do in their personal lives. They have been using laptops, smartphones and tablets on a daily basis and have constant access to hundreds of applications, from social media and email to online banking and retail. Why should they not have the same supporting their education?

Matching millennial expectations

Month on month, we at Kingston are seeing more and more connected devices being used across the university, including a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) community of 20,000 students. Not only do they expect their tech to work when they come to university; they expect to use their own devices to do their academic work.

Research by one of our key partners and suppliers - cloud computing and virtualisation company VMware - showed just how high up technology is in a student's hierarchy of needs - it's second only to food and shelter. Half (46%) of the 1,000 students questioned stated that they considered the level of IT on offer when choosing their university. Yet more than a quarter (26%) said they didn't feel that the technology provisions at their university were consistent with the tuition fees they are paying. And of course with those fees being higher than ever, so are their expectations around technology. So, what can be done by IT departments to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students? 

Using technology to enhance learning

From our experience, technology is absolutely crucial for enhancing the learning experience, from infrastructure and networking, to the applications they make available and how they are accessed. It's also hugely important to be progressive and look forward, given that most of our revenues come from government funding or students. For us, that meant investing from the ground up by providing high-speed web and data access across the entire campus, and replacing our servers, storage and back-up hardware. Expanding on the existing infrastructure to create a 'university without walls', we then installed a virtual desktop solution with VMware. This means all students can work from anywhere on any device, with access to the applications they needed to study in a secure and efficiently managed environment. Given that we have around 600 teaching applications, which range from design and geoengineering through to statistical packages, access to these from any location is absolutely critical to support academic learning for our students.

Ultimately, universities need to realise how important technology is to students; 92% claim that having IT facilities can help them work in a more flexible way and enhance their studies. IT departments need to ensure students have a positive experience and that they can easily and reliably access the university systems and information to support their learning from any location and device - whether that is on campus or at home, in the UK or abroad. Supporting a generation of people who have grown up with the most advanced technologies at their fingertips is something we should all aspire to do.


Do IT professionals have to abandon technology to progress in their career?

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest post from Ivan Horrocks, senior lecturer in technology management at The Open University

It's a fairly common situation in IT: You've spent the last ten years becoming an expert in your field, impressing everyone along the way, and now your boss tells you they want you to go down the management route.

To some this is welcome news. They've done their time doing the hands on work, and their reward is a move towards senior management. But to others, nothing is more depressing than abandoning working with the technology they know and love to sit in board meetings and negotiate deals.

Most people want to feel a sense of progression in their careers, but this doesn't have to mean   changing tack into business management to get into senior management. Although relatively unrecognised, there is an important difference between mainstream business management and technology management. For those wanting to progress their careers whilst remaining in touch with the world of technology, a far more preferable route may well be the latter approach.

Ultimately technology management focuses on the relationship between the management of technology and innovation, and how these relate to other areas of management, including operations, finance, supply chain and logistics and strategy.  

This means looking at how existing technologies can work together to enhance an organisation's processes and products or services. It requires a broad perspective on what's available and an understanding of what works best, when, where and why. Technology managers appreciate how technology can be integrated; how the skills they and their team have can be employed to improve business operation and deliver value, both internally and externally, and where and when they need to bring new skills in to do so.

Technology managers are also technology strategists: always looking at ways to foster technological innovation. But implementation and application are also key concerns. Giving the teams you work with the time and space to experiment with different technologies, explore how they might work best, and develop or customise these for the benefit of your organisation and its customers.

As a strategist you will also need to guide this experimentation, create room for it to fail, and find ways to spot and develop what works. And you will need to model the consequences of integrating technology - understanding the impact it will have on staff and customers and ensuring there is appropriate training and support to make the new ideas a success.

What does success look like?

It is now widely accepted that IT no longer just provides the infrastructure for people to do business. We hear ever more about how strategic use of IT has transformed organisations and peoples' lives in exciting ways.

Increased connectivity has created new delivery models - from on demand video to legal and financial services delivered online - disrupting long established industries.

Sensors in wearables are transforming industries like healthcare which can monitor for warning signs without having to keep people in hospital beds, saving money and freeing up time for other patients.

Harnessing data is allowing better targeting and streamlining. Transport - from vehicles, fleets, trains and planes - all collect huge amounts of data from sensors which they are now using to model ways to use fuel, reduce delays and predict problems. 

These are all examples of the transformational uses of technology, particularly in business. They would all have been developed with the support of senior management and driven by the organisation's strategy, but requiring a detailed knowledge of technology development, selection, customisation and integration.

Becoming a technology manager

Technology has the capability to make a significant contribution to organisational performance, economic growth and social well-being. As a result, there is an increasing demand across public, and private sectors for people with both the operational and strategic capability to plan, develop and manage technology and technological innovation.

To pursue this route, you will need to build on your technical expertise by developing the knowledge and skills to make the right decisions about technology acquisition, exploitation, implementation and innovation. These may rarely be taught in undergraduate or vocational IT and computing courses but they build naturally on the education and experience of someone whose career has primarily focused on developing and delivering successful IT projects.

None of this means you shouldn't go the pure management route into senior management, if that's your preference. Technology specialists develop many core business skills and can make a huge contribution to a more general management role. It's just that they don't have to - now more than ever there is a demand for managers who have a deep knowledge and experience of technology. General management principles are necessary to progress, of course, but this can mean building on a specialism, not abandoning it.

Dr Ivan Horrocks is qualification director for technology management (TM) at The Open University. The TM programme is aimed at helping technology professionals and their organisations advance by using technology strategically to deliver innovation and drive the business forward.

From the classroom to the boardroom

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest post from Evanna Kearins, director of analytics, TIBCO Analytics

Harvard Business Review called data science the "sexiest" job of the 21st century, yet a survey conducted by the CBI warned that 39 percent of companies cannot find staff with the required skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths.

With the number of GCSE students studying IT-related subjects increasing, it is surprising to hear that student numbers for A-levels in computing and ICT have decreased. But whilst ICT is a subject that is helping to develop the skills data explorers need, other core subjects like Maths, English, History, Science and Business studies are also indirectly all helping to develop the next wave of data scientists and data explorers. The following core subjects being taught in schools are indirectly teaching students they skills they need to help fill the current skills gap:

ICT - The next generation is growing increasingly comfortable in using an array of devices and platforms. With the Internet of Things connecting devices, the volumes of data available are growing exponentially. In teaching children how to use platforms and understanding the nuances of each, they are also teaching fundamental skills needed by any data explorer.

Maths is another subject that can help students begin their career as a data scientist or explorer. Pupils are taught how to read charts and are able to gain a better understanding of comparing different patterns. These skills are not only needed in the class room, but by data explorers to make valuable business decisions as they seek to understand the data flowing through the organisation.

English - Being able to crunch numbers is important for a data explorer, but so too is having the ability to communicate the true value of this to the other board members. Communication is key in all walks of life so being taught English helps to translate numbers and data into meaningful insights that can transform the business. This is also crucial to bridge the gap between the business and IT functions.

History - Having an understanding of the past and how this will impact the future is also an important aspect. Just as students must analyse events in History, so must data scientists and data explorers. After all, past data trends can help shape the future through predictive analysis.

Science - Just like in an experiment whereby you have a hypothesis, methodology and then actively test for results, Science can help to identify what is fact vs. what is fiction. It is important to not just base data analysis on predictions. Understanding the difference between what the data says and what it actually means is a bit like a science experiment in itself!

Business studies - Interpreting the data is vital for any data scientist. But what happens to the data once it has been analysed? Through exploring the data and understanding the different areas of the business, data explorers should be able to identify how data analytics can impact every part of the business.

We are all now an intricate part of a new ICT ecosystem, one built on big data, apps and industry innovation. This is something that the graduates of today know better than anybody else. Making sure young people have the right skills may well be only half the battle, but there is a greater opportunity than ever before to build upon student interest, encourage the training of a wider skillset and help to find the innovators of the future who will play a valuable role in bridging the data scientist skills gap.

The growing importance of critical thinking in IT education

kbateman | No Comments
| More

This is a guest blog by Dr Arosha K. Bandara, senior lecturer in Computing at The Open University

A criticism often levelled at IT education is that by the time you come to apply the skills, they might be out of date. Why learn technology skills when that technology might not be in use in a couple of years?

Arosha Bandara.jpg

IT does change fast, but the fundamentals of how we design and build systems change at a slower pace. As long as we learn about today's technology in the context of how it relates to the business world and how it is likely to evolve, then we will be in a much better position to respond intelligently to the changing world.

But this is often overlooked by both formal and in-house training programmes, which have favoured skills which address very specific challenges. In order to be adequately prepared to tackle tomorrow's technology challenges, we need to move from a mindset of knowing how to apply technology to well understood situations, to one of being able to think critically about problems, and identify solutions to unknown as well as familiar technology issues.

Think differently

To prepare IT professionals for the rapidly changing world of technology, we need to instil an approach based on critical thinking. I'll look at how we might do this, before putting this approach in context.

The organisation you work in is complex. It is shaped by the nature of individual thinking processes as well as existing technology and business pressures. Any changes will have causes and consequences that may have a much wider impact. Solving a problem will change things, which could lead to other problems.

Different people see different priorities. There is sometimes no obvious answer, or many different reasonable answers.  But there are also wrong answers, which can be pursued, sometimes at great cost. These often result from a very narrow focus on the problem out of context.

Interconnections are too often ignored, a single cause may be presumed, or an individual quickly blamed. This is not exclusive to IT, we see this in wider society all the time - it's easier to blame crime on individual criminals than deal with the many complex societal factors that lead some to criminality. The other mistake is a focus on outcomes - ie how many criminals can we arrest rather than how many crimes can we prevent.

To avoid these mistakes, problems should be approached by thinking about the systems that affect the challenge or opportunity. This is more difficult than isolating and addressing a problem, but ultimately more likely to produce a better solution.

Thinking about systems

As well as looking at how technology works, it is necessary to think about how people will react to it. Is a great new technology too hard to learn? Will tough new security procedures incentivise people to circumvent them? We need to understand the systems in which new technology operates.

Cognitive mapping is a technique for understanding and shaping the mental models your stakeholders use to per­ceive, contextualise, simplify, and make sense of otherwise complex problems. Thinking through these will help ensure new technologies and programmes have the results they are supposed to.

However good your plan is, you won't foresee everything, so it is also critical to continuously test and review, and feed that learning into your ever evolving plans. Throughout the life cycle of any project, topics such as stakeholders, finance, risk, people, project administration and quality must be constantly reviewed in the context of the project.

The world of the future will require more understanding of flexible management. We will have to place more emphasis on learning as we go and making sure that learning changes our practice and organisations. We need to get used to this.

Critical thinking in context

Two core skills of any modern IT professional are cyber security and software engineering. Both relate to complex real world challenges and can only be dealt with effectively if they think critically.

Firstly, cyber security. Any IT professional needs to fully explore the available security technologies and stay up to date with them. But they also need to think through the risks that may arise in all relevant aspects of an organisation's operations which may impact security, including human factors, web services and system upgrades.

You also need to be able to plan for when things do go wrong. Again, this needs an understanding of attackers' motivations and employee weaknesses, as well as of the technologies available to circumvent your defences, and a sense of how these could evolve. It also requires an understanding of the legal frameworks and technologies relevant to digital forensics, which are essential when responding to cyber security incidents. Only then can effective plans be made.

Teaching all this must be put in a real world context. In our own post-graduate courses, most students learn these techniques by crafting a fit-for-purpose Information Security Management System for the organisation where they work.

Secondly, software engineering. Contact between the business and the external world is often mediated by software, and the business has a responsibility to its wider community that may be served, or jeopardised, by this software.

Skilled software engineers can add a lot of value by creating or adapting software, from managing projects and sales, analysing performance and customer data, and automating tasks. All of these exist in a complex real world, where humans react to change in different ways. Any new system must understand how users or customers will respond to it.

The skill is not one of knowing how to do this, it is one of knowing how to model the relationships between the software, the organisation it serves, and its wider environment. This approach must be used in development, roll out, updates and maintenance - it is an evolving process.

Critical thinking doesn't mean ignoring technology, of course. The process can be evolved further by an understanding of different software engineering tools that can help them simulate, manage and monitor. Using these effectively is part of the skill of good IT planning.

A critical approach allows you to plan effectively

IT is critical to business and will become ever more so. It exists in an increasingly networked and interconnected world, where groups, teams, organisations and even nations will have to be smarter in their ways of working together.

IT professionals therefore need to be able to think in ways that reflect these challenges. IT education at all levels must teach how to take a critical approach which relates technical competencies to complex technological, human and business issues.

Dr Bandara teaches Postgraduate Computing courses at The Open University aimed at helping IT professionals advance by using technology strategically to drive the business forward.


Scott Logic's 'A Day in the Life' employee stories

kbateman | No Comments
| More

Software consultancy Scott Logic has published a series of 'A Day in the Life' employee stories to give an insight into what it is like to work in technology.

Those interested in working at Scott Logic, or just interested in hearing about different IT roles, can learn about jobs such as graduate developer, developer, senior developer, lead developer, technical architect, head of development, test engineer and lead test engineer.

John Wright, recruitment manager at Scott Logic, said: "We've grown steadily over the past 10 years and as most companies often experience, the real people and their stories can be lost behind traditional corporate content used on company websites.

"The response we received from our staff was amazing and their stories clearly communicate what it's really like to work at Scott Logic."

Scott Logic has offices in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Bristol and London and plans to grow its workforce by 50% in 2015. 

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Recent Comments

  • Arun Warhadpande: There are a few hunches that I have: 1.What is read more
  • Craig Cockburn: Thank you for your article, I have been making the read more
  • Neo Neo: More and more candidates are sourced by social networks. Social read more
  • Michail Melnik: Silicon Valley is an amazing tech hub. We provide IT read more
  • Roger Thorpe: I agree with Mark's view on the matter. We operate read more
  • Paul Scott: Couldn't agree more with Mark's points. From a Primary education read more
  • Chris Jankulovski: Great insights Steve. It's a common misconception for business owners read more
  • Apixel IT Support: The study of STEM subjects will ensure that the other read more
  • Than Nguyen: Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics needs to be read more
  • James Garich: "To inspire young people to embrace coding, it's crucial that read more