Hybrid working, diversity progress – Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast

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In this episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss hybrid working, progress in diversity and data in healthcare

In this episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss hybrid working, the condition of diversity and inclusion programmes, and data in healthcare.

After some warm-up chat about spring having sprung (sort of), mowing and people getting ahead of the roadmap by household mixing in green spaces in Oxford and West London, the team get down to podcast business.

Hybrid working

Caroline kicks off the episode on the topic of hybrid working emerging into a post-pandemic reality that we can, just about, see looming into view. And while the roadmap to unlocking is now in operation – with the return to schools this week as a first step – a mass return to working in the office is not yet on the cards.

This has been a topic the CW team has attended to all the way through the pandemic, and “hybrid working” has become a buzzword in the tech industry and wider business community.

Caroline refers, on the podcast, to articles by CW colleagues Joe O’Halloran, Karl Flinders and Cliff Saran:

Caroline and Clare discuss the healthier work-life balance that’s been made possible by working from home, before Caroline goes on to talk about the hybrid working model as a prominent feature at this year’s virtual Microsoft Ignite conference.

The Redmond giant offers, of course, Office 365 and Teams as baseline cloud-based technologies for office productivity and video conferencing.

But, at Ignite, future-gazing by CEO Satya Nadella, along with his advocacy of decentralised clouds as the way to power hybrid working, was backed up by the demonstration of a mixed reality technology, dubbed “Mesh”.

The team offer some light-hearted speculation about how this avatar-based technology could be deployed, and Clare invents what we think might be a new word: “to Mesh”, as a verb. This technology seems to open up a bifurcated working world peopled both by our real selves and our holographic representations.

Tech Talent Charter diversity benchmarking

While the future looks likely to be hybrid, possibly in unexpectedly fun ways, the immediate past has constituted a period of general introspection, during which diversity has probably been reflected upon more intensely than in the “Before Times”.

Clare directs the podcast conversation to the most recent research from the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). This found, as part of the TTC’s annual benchmarking report into diversity and inclusion, that 22% hesitate to bring up diversity issues, rising to 32% among ethnic minorities.    

Clare reports that the concern that diversity and inclusion initiatives in business would be side-lined during the pandemic, while not entirely unfounded, has been significantly reduced by creative advances across the TTC community. So, it’s not all doom and gloom. Moreover, the flexible working patterns that have developed during the crisis are encouraging women workers. More diverse teams also come up with solutions that meet more people’s requirements, comments Clare, especially with the more flexible future that seems to be emerging.

The research also, says Clare, underscores a point discussed before on the podcast, that the BAME label can over-homogenise what are diverse communities. The Black Lives Matter movement has been an inspiration and driving force for programmes that organisations cannot backslide on. And while one-quarter of tech roles in Tech Talent Charter signatory organisations are carried out by ethnic minority staff, 6% were black.

The research also reveals that 36% of data roles – a relatively high figure – are done by women. Clare’s piece concludes with TTC CEO Debbie Forster on the need for “systems for equity, how we create belonging for everyone we are bringing into the room”.

Data analytics in the Covid-19 pandemic

We’ve all been affected by the pandemic and drenched in data on a daily basis. And the analysis of that health data should, over time, benefit society as a whole.

Brian then moves the episode discussion on to the topic of data in healthcare, on the basis of an interview with Richard Jarvis, the chief analytics officer at EMIS Healthcare and Justin Borgman, CEO Starburst.

Starburst’s business is based on an open source data query engine originally developed at Facebook, Presto. Chez Starburst, the technology is called Trino, and like the original software, enables analysts to use SQL to query a variety of data sources. Emis Healthcare has baked it into its Emis-X Analytics suite.

Emis is one of the systems GPs use for patient consultations, and it’s used by pharmacists, medical researchers and the NHS generally.

For Emis, the supplier’s tech enables the interrogation of multiple data stores all at once. It had this capability before, as an Amazon Web Services customer, through Presto’s operation on its Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) data lake, but, says Richard Jarvis, Trino adds a fine-grained and flexible security layer, necessary to Emis-X Analytics.

Jarvis, reports Brian on the podcast, underscores the rising importance of data in healthcare, and maintains that the Covid-19 pandemic health crisis has acted, as is often said, as a catalyst. Jarvis relays how its experience with researchers suggests that UK patients are becoming more willing to allow their health data to be used as a consequence of the pandemic: to be more altruistic.

One fruit of this, he says, is the QCovid model, developed by the University of Oxford and NHS England to determine risk stratification in relation to co-morbidities and the novel coronavirus, using a “QResearch” database developed by the university and Emis.

This identified 800,000 additional people, between the ages of 19 and 69, to add to the Group 6 cohort of 7.3 million people prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines ahead of the age groups under 65.

On the podcast, Brian makes some additional points concerning a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) report (which says conventional data analysis, not artificial intelligence, is key to health data analytics) and the multifunctional composition of the 80-strong Emis data team. The CDEI report is reported on by Sebastian Klovig Skelton in CW.

On the cloud infrastructure side, and for context, you can also read this piece by Caroline on Emis from March 2019: EMIS Group CIO: Breaking down NHS patient data silos by going all-in on AWS.

The podcast team is taking a break and will be back after Easter. Stay safe.

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade •

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