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International Women’s Day – Women in IT
International Women’s Day – Women in IT 732 211 Simon Hollingworth

In celebration of International Women’s Day, at Software Solved we decided to ask some of our women what it was like to pursue a career in an industry very stereotyped as a male vocation. Our policy is one of always employ the best people for the job which is why we have exceptional staff both female and male. We felt, on this day, of all days, you’d want to hear from some of our excellent women how a career in IT is for everyone.

Bethan David – Project Manager

Bethan David Project Manager Software Solved1. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wasn’t sure but I knew I wanted to do something I really enjoyed and that I wanted to manage people! Is that odd? I hope not.

2. What made you choose IT as a career?

I enjoyed IT and Computing in school, so carried it onto my degree. It was always interesting and I knew there were job prospects, especially for women.

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman in IT?

Doing a degree in Computer Science and being one of only four girls on the course, I was surrounded by men. Most of them found it hard to even talk to or work with girls! Group work was difficult. Making friends on my course was hard. I certainly learnt to work things out on my own.

4. What do you love about your job?

Working with different clients on different projects and with different people at Software Solved. And I have to admit, I do enjoy getting to ‘boss’ the project team around! No two projects are the same and I love that. Learning from one, taking that into the next, new challenges and lessons to be learned.

5. What advice would you give girls/young women thinking about a career in IT?

Do it, and don’t be put off by the stereotypes that surround IT – like the type of people who do IT or that it’s mainly men. Things are changing fast!

6. To encourage more diversity, what would be the one thing you would change in the I.T. industry?

The stereotypes surrounding the IT industry. There’s a big stereotype that people working in IT are just weird, sat in a dark room coding and that is all they are interested in. Whereas that so isn’t the case! There are a range of different people with different interests and hobbies. There are loads of interesting people AND there are girls in IT!

Lindsay Lucas – Director of Operations

Lindsay Lucas Software Solved1. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A vet, Formula 1 engineer or racing driver. My love of cars and animals has stayed with me and I studied engineering at bachelor and masters level. But it was exceptionally hard to gain employment in the engineering sector as a female engineer. It was a very different landscape back then and I was definitely in the minority.

2. What made you choose IT as a career?

I sort of fell into it. After many knock backs from the engineering roles I desperately wanted, I still needed to pay the bills, so I went temping. My first temping role was with a local internet provider for a week and they offered me a permanent job. I will be forever grateful to those who recognised me and promoted me through that company. I worked in customer service, sales, as an office manager, PA to 3 directors and then Technical Project Manager. As a grounding on how businesses really work, it was invaluable and I was lucky enough to work with some amazing mentors.

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman in IT?

Compared to the challenges within the engineering sector, any challenges in IT have been relatively insignificant. You do still occasionally meet the odd misogynist who would rather hear what your male colleague has to say, but that is very rare these days and they are a dying breed. On the whole, IT is a very progressive environment, certainly in software development and I have never heard any of our female developers or colleagues complaining about their male counterparts., it really is one big team working towards a common goal. We’re seeing more and more women at the top in the tech industry these days and I think that’s more about external stigmas being removed from women who want to pursue a career as well as have a family. There is so much support available and so much good quality childcare with business friendly hours, that it’s no longer such an issue.

4. What do you love about your job?

The variety. No one day is the same. I also have an amazing team that I enjoy working with and great clients too. Working within a software development environment you are at the forefront of changing technology, solving real life issues and I always enjoy seeing a project go live.

5. What advice would you give girls/young women thinking about a career in IT?

Do it! It’s a great career with so many opportunities open to you. You don’t have to be technical to get involved and find a really rewarding career within an industry that is not being left in the Dark Ages!

6. To encourage more diversity, what would be the one thing you would change in the I.T. industry?

The diversity is there now. But from my perspective, I don’t see the CVs coming through from so many women in deeply technical roles, which tells me that there aren’t enough women studying technical disciplines at university. This is why it is so important to support initiatives to make it more accessible to women. I’m proud that we have a really diverse team at Software Solved, with women in technical and non-technical roles and we definitely have an ethos of gender neutral recruitment. It has to be the right person for the role, nothing more complicated than that.

Josie Walledge – Lead Project Manager

Josie-Walledge1. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

From when I was very young, I wanted to be a doctor but life took me down a different path!

2. What made you choose IT as a career?

IT chose me! I loved messing around with my ZX81 and ZX Spectrum when I was younger (ok, that ages me) but never saw IT as being something you could do for a living. I discovered the power of the Internet while I was at University in the early ‘90s and then, while working at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I found that technology was starting to transform the way we stored and shared information. This led me to doing a Masters degree in Information Science. After a brief interlude teaching librarians how to use digital resources, a chance encounter in a pub landed me a job with a global tech company, where I stayed for 20 years!

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman in IT?

For many years I was the only woman working in a team of men who were mostly a lot older than me. While I never faced the low-level sexual harassment that I know many women put up with in male-dominated workplaces, I did miss the company of other women and – more importantly – found that my career progression was severely limited after having children. My employer was of the view that, as I worked part time and largely from home, moving into a more senior role wasn’t an option for me. This led me to significantly undervalue my skills and experience, and I found it very difficult to find the confidence to go out into the job market again.

4. What do you love about your job?

After many years working in a large multinational where one can feel rather faceless, it is an absolute joy to be part of a small, dynamic and diverse team where each person is truly valued, supported and respected. As an IT Project Manager, no two days are ever the same and I love the constant challenge of solving problems in a collaborative environment. Even in a management role, there are always opportunities to learn about new technologies and to develop new ways of working as the industry evolves so rapidly. I also enjoy getting out to meet clients, helping them to deliver business change through technology.

5. What advice would you give girls/young women thinking about a career in IT?

Go for it! Don’t be put off by gender stereotyping but instead let yourself be driven by what you love and what you are good at. Also, don’t limit your imagination to the careers that are available in today’s job market. The pace of change, particularly in technology, is lightning fast so it’s better to focus on developing the skills and knowledge that really interest you and to keep your mind open to what the future might bring.

6. To encourage more diversity, what would be the one thing you would change in the I.T. industry?

For several years, I ran a Code Club for Year 5 and 6 children. To begin with, it was all boys but over time we worked to attract more girls and, by the time I left, we had as many girls as boys. (Guess what: the girls were every bit as good as the boys!) This demonstrates that the key to addressing the gender gap in Stem subjects, and IT in particular, is education. Schools and colleges need to do more to break down the conventional stereotypes, perhaps by bringing female role models in to inspire girls from an early age. The industry also needs to do more to raise awareness of opportunities for women in tech.

If you would like to know more about careers in the Software and IT industries, or even if you’d like to have amazing people like ours working on your next software project, contact us at hello@softwaresolved.com or call 01392 453344

 

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Project Management
5 Steps to Successful Software Project Management
5 Steps to Successful Software Project Management 1024 683 Josie Walledge

Embedding good project management practice at the very heart of the software development process is one of the secrets behind our success at Software Solved.  We have our own tried and tested process for ensuring timely and budgeted delivery which sits at the core of everything we do. But underpinning that are some sound principles that any successful project manager should follow for optimum success.

1       Manage expectations

Clients don’t like surprises! The ability to set and manage expectations, particularly in relation to time, budget and scope is key. Set out a strategy for formal and informal communication – be it weekly calls, face to face meetings, written reports or daily stand-ups and you’ll be able to pre-empt and manage the element of surprise.

2       Plan and monitor the project

You’d be surprised how often proper project planning is neglected, resulting in failure. Planning doesn’t just mean preparing a schedule: it means ensuring you have an understanding of who needs to do what, when and why; the governance model and methodology you will be following; how you will communicate internally and externally; what your key milestones and deliverables are; how you will demonstrate project success; risks; quality; financials; managing change; etc.

Planning should be a collaborative process with input from multiple sources. Start by agreeing a Project Initiation Document and baseline Schedule with the client. Monitor and update plans regularly, adapting to changes in scope, resource availability, business and organisational needs and project risks and issues.

3       Deliver the right solution first time

Too often in software development the delivered solution does not meet client expectations. In this industry, the later a defect is detected, the more expensive it is to resolve.

Our Business Analysts have developed a rock-solid process for capturing, documenting and validating user and business requirements and for ensuring they are managed and tracked throughout the project lifecycle. The key is in helping clients to understand their business drivers and user needs, and working with stakeholders to define a clear, unambiguous statement of work supported by a robust business case.

Test project deliverables regularly against those requirements so that delivered product and client expectation are aligned. Use document walkthroughs, UI design mock-ups, show & tell sessions with developers, sharing of system test results, and user acceptance testing against defined acceptance criteria. At every step, give clients the opportunity to verify that their expectations are being met so that no surprises await in the later stages.

4       Manage scope

One of the project manager’s responsibilities is to ensure that only the required work will be performed and that each of the deliverables can be completed in the allotted time and within budget. Another reason projects fail is a lack of control of the scope resulting in spiralling costs and missed deadlines. Clients may request additional features, analysts may over-spec the requirements, developers may seek to ‘gold-plate’ a feature and testers identify ‘defects’ that are really new features. The PM must be constantly vigilant for such changes and ensure that any deviation from the requirements baseline is managed with the client. Embedding a culture of awareness to change can lead to opportunities for new business.

5       Learn from your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes! What differentiates a successful project team is the ability to understand and learn from them. Many of the most successful IT companies in the world actively celebrate failure and see it as part of the continuous improvement cycle, driving positive change in the organisation.

Like us, maintain a ‘Lessons Learned’ log from inception through to client acceptance. Encourage team members to recognise where things have gone wrong, think about the impact of their mistakes and identify ways to prevent them happening in the future.

Do you have a software project that you could use some help with or do you simply want a chat about an upcoming idea? You can call us on 01392 453344 or email us at hello@softwaresolved.com

 

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Innovate UK Machine Learning Project Team
Living the dream with Eric Clapton, ice-cream and machine learning…
Living the dream with Eric Clapton, ice-cream and machine learning… 1024 680 Jon Stace

So, what are the best collaborations in history? Eric Clapton lends a mighty ‘slow’ hand to The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shared a passion for the frozen stuff before going into business together. Today they are worth an estimated $150m, each. And I’m not even going to mention what became of the pairing of the ‘Steves’, as in Jobs and Wozniak.

Machine learning collaboration

At Software Solved we’ve got our very own and very exciting collaboration going on. It’s not music or food related even though we do have plenty of talent in that department. But we’ll save that for a later blog.

We’ve teamed up with some very clever people at Plymouth University and our client RSA UK. Backed by funding from Innovate UK, we have collectively fired the starting gun on an exciting two-year research programme into machine learning and advanced data analytics for the corporate insurance sector.

Data insight

Leveraging data architectures to model relationships and interactions to mitigate risk, the aim is to derive greater value from the large volumes of datasets used in the industry.

Dr Ian Howard and Dr Luciana Dalla Valle of the University of Plymouth are providing research expertise in the areas of machine learning and pattern recognition, data modelling, statistics and predictive analytics, with Aneeq Ur Rehman, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate, being based at Software Solved for the project.

RSA UK role

RSA UK are another key partner in the project. We already have a close working relationship with them. Their underwriters use the award-winning RSAred application for a real-time view of risk, along with a secure, mobile-accessible client risk portal for brokers and customers to understand, benchmark and manage property and casualty risk in real time, both created by Software Solved.

With all this in mind, and with RSA UK’s experience as one of the world’s longest standing and most forward-thinking of general insurers, it made perfect sense to invite them to be part of the project. They will be providing the data and working closely with us so they and their clients can benefit from the advantages of automated data integration in risk assessment.

We’ll be updating everyone on the project as it progresses and we will be looking to hold some workshops at key milestones to involve and share with others.

Special thanks to Innovate UK for funding the project and if you’d be interested in joining one of those workshops (in person or online), or if there are other truly great collaborations we clearly should have flagged, then walk this way and tell me! jon.stace@softwaresolved.com

Jon Stace, Principal Technical Consultant and project lead

 

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Data revolution
Get Ready for the Data Revolution
Get Ready for the Data Revolution 855 590 Simon Hollingworth

Real-time data transforms lives. It allows people to make decisions based on reality. And it allows organisations to be more effective and efficient in everything they do.

When it comes to some of the most vital services in society – social care, education, bin collections, looking after the vulnerable – we are still not realising the true potential of data. Although a new study carried out by Software Solved highlights this very fact, I do believe we are on the verge of a real-time data revolution across local government.

We surveyed 38 unitary, city, county and district councils across England and the findings are revealing. You can get your copy of the Local Government Data Revolution Report here https://www.softwaresolved.com/localgovdata

The survey, as covered by media including Local Gov News shows that 92% of councils say that it is important or very important to running improved, cost-effective, services, though just 19% admit that they are effective at using their data.

And in spite of disparate IT systems, departmental silos, lack of skills and tools being seen as barriers, 95% of local authorities have started or plan to invest in data visualisation in the next 12-18 months.

 

 

Change is happening, with 97% of local authorities recognising that improved data visualisation tools will be of value to their council, yet only 19% of councils feeling that they can easily access the data they hold today.

For many years the technology simply did not exist in a format that could readily be used by non-IT experts and internal barriers, such as departmental silos or the lack of skills and tools to make a real impact, were seen as too tough to tackle.

But data visualisation tools like Microsoft Power BI are now affordable, easy to use and incredibly powerful and you no longer need to be an expert in data and the outcome can be incredibly exciting – making real-time informed decisions becomes the new reality.

Working with the right partners there is now a way to harvest existing data, set up robust data warehousing and use simple data visualisation tools so that real-time data use becomes the norm rather than the exception.

The likes of Camden Council, Lancashire County Council, Leicestershire, Doncaster, South Hams and West Devon District Councils are shaping services, shifting resources, achieving savings to move towards a more democratic, informed, accurate and cost-effective way of running public services.

Systems support
Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?
Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services? 1000 666 Simon Hollingworth

Introduction

At LocalGovCamp18 in Birmingham we ran a session aimed at local authority leaders who are concerned that the execution of their digital self-service strategies are not delivering the desired outcomes.

We looked to uncover and discuss why many councils are still struggling to implement these changes; and for those who have, why are those changes failing to deliver on the expected service improvements and operational efficiencies.

In the session we aimed to:

  • Review the progress councils have made implementing their self-service strategies
  • Take a user’s perspective on the effectiveness and ease of use of a selection of online services
  • Explore the barriers to successful digital transformation and why they are not being removed
  • Identify strategies councils can adopt to ensure online services deliver a better user experience for citizens and businesses.

 

So what did we discover?

Our aim was to be able to answer the 3 follow up points around the key question of “Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?”

  1. Are your digital self-service strategies delivering the desired outcomes?
  2. Are you still struggling to implement the changes you set out 8 years ago?
  3. Are the changes you have made delivering the expected service improvements and operational efficiencies?

“So what do we need to achieve to deliver these fantastic Digital Self Services”, was the question we posed to the room.  And then we listened (and listened) and…

There was much to be said around this topic, especially the blockers that were inhibiting progress.  The benefits are clear and obvious but there are fundamental blockers to progress that must be addressed to create a positive platform for progress, including:

A fear of engaging with customers/citizens during the service design and user experience (UX) phases for numerous reasons including: because they don’t want to be criticised for wasting money, are afraid of hearing the truth about the current quality of service provided and importantly, don’t always have the available budget (which surely is a mistake if you create a poor UX that delivers failure demand then the budget will be spent on putting things right rather than investing in being proactive and getting it right first time?)

Councils are prudent/risk averse and see change as a huge risk, particularly if it requires a big change and potentially large investment.  They will generally only change if they feel savings will be significant and the risk is low.  They also prefer to stay with what they know, even if better alternatives exist, unless they are forced to change for political reasons.

A challenge for new suppliers especially, is they prefer established products and solutions and anything new or bespoke is seen as a risk that may not work and can’t be seen/tested beforehand.

Collaboration is firmly sitting in the difficult box, for numerous reasons, i.e. trust, ego, pride, politics, etc… all get in the way of doing what they should be doing, i.e. reducing costs by working together effectively.

Focus and priorities are key in the current economic climate. As one delegate wisely said: “We are still trying to digitally transform as an organisation so digitally transforming services are only one of many priorities we have to juggle”. This may also go a long way to explaining the reticence in engaging users in the process of digitising council services. If enough of the decision makers are not not ‘digital savvy’ and do not fully understand how moving services online will benefit both council and citizens,  they are bound to see more risks than opportunities.

 

In summary

So what did we learn from that?  Well, millions are being spent on serving customers poorly using out of date processes and supporting legacy technologies and often not supporting the channel the customer selects eg: not formatted for mobiles.   These barriers to excellent modern customer service provision need to be overcome whilst balancing the risk versus opportunity; remembering that digital transformation means transforming people as well as systems.  Fear must not paralyse action and we all need to be brave and wise enough to be driven by citizens needs and providing an excellent user experience.

How can effective collaboration be an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms?
How can effective collaboration be an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms? 1000 666 Simon Hollingworth

Introduction

At LocalGovCamp18 in Birmingham we ran a session aimed at all local authority leaders who are struggling in the face of shrinking budgets, lack of resources, increasing costs and rising demand to deliver engaging online self-service solutions. We explored how collaborative approaches between multiple authorities could be the enabler for the development of ‘best of breed’ digital platforms.

 

In the session we looked at:

  • The opportunities a ‘best of breed’ platform offers in terms of effective and efficient service delivery and increased revenue generation
  • The potential cost advantages of taking a collaborative approach to developing a ‘best of breed’ platform
  • Reviewed some of the research conducted around delivering a collaborative online online services platform
  • Explored the opportunities, critical success factors and barriers to delivering a collaborative online services platform.

 

So what did we discover?

Knowing what they need to achieve

 

We started off by exploring with the group what they need to achieve to create effective collaboration as an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms.

 

Key points raised included:

  • Platform and forum would be required to facilitate the collaboration
  • Skills and expertise required to ensure effective collaboration
  • Buy-in is critical, both politically from members and from the officers
  • Should the private sector be involved in collaborations and if so how does that work?
  • Leadership from the very top is key to mandate that collaboration happens and then support its development by creating an enabling framework to support collaborations
  • Identifying commonalities that can be collaborated on, and this is not necessarily with your neighbour.
  • Funding – how will this work?

 

So plenty of challenges, with the 2 key ones being leadership and support from the top and having the skills and platform to support the collaboration.

 

Is the leadership challenge just a smoke screen used by staff, whose job it surely should be to make savings in their service areas by exploring new ways of working?

 

Whether this is or is not true, there is a perceived issue that collaborative initiatives rarely gain enough inertia. Is this a cultural issue? Should collaboration just be encouraged as viable alternative or does it require a more formal approach with councils developing collaboration processes and frameworks?

 

Understanding where they are now

To progress their goals, we 1st need to understand where they are currently positioned.  To achieve this we ran a SWOT exercise with them to define their key Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

 

Key points raised included:

 

Strengths Weaknesses
·         Subject matter expertise

·         Commitment to deliver

·         Existing partnerships

·         Data volume

·         Core services

·         Shared services agenda – towards provision

·         Staff empowerment – empower talented people

·         Resistance – what does this mean for me and my job?

·         Culture

·         Contracts (terms)

·         Commitments and arrangements

·         Openness and sharing (will to share)

·         Private sector costs/trust

·         Public sector culture (e.g. perceived competition/rivalry between councils)

Opportunities Threats
·         Leadership

·         Cost savings

·         Citizen satisfaction

·         Innovation

·         Talent management

·         Efficient services

·         Connectivity and better turn-key solutions

·         Funding crisis – creativity and partnerships

·         Central Government legislation

·         Political change (politics and temporary/changing agendas)

·         Legacy services/systems

·         Speed of change

·         Societal trends and habits

·         Superficial solutions for PR/political purposes

·         Keeping pace with technology

 

So plenty of opportunities identified where improvements in collaboration would make a real difference, link that with the strengths in commitment to deliver and empowering staff, then surely the wind of righteousness should be well behind the ship of positive collaboration?

 

But apparently not when you look at the key threats which tend to be external ones that the organisations have little control over, including biggies such as the political agenda and societal trends and habits.

 

So how can this all be wrapped together to create a harmonious environment where it is accepted to share from like minded organisations (public and private) to the benefit of everyone?

 

Defining what they have to do to accomplish their goals

So what key changes need to take place and barriers overcome to progress towards effective collaboration as an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms?

 

  • Currently happens on minor scale, often between neighbouring councils, so how can this be opened out?
  • Needs to be driven by leadership, who are currently seen as the constraint on collaboration
  • Often rivalries such as size, politics, demographic can be barriers, this needs to be overcome
  • There are mechanisms such as pipeline and MHCLG fund which encourage and facilitate improved collaboration, but how successful are they and how can they be improved?
  • Culturally, with councils collaboration needs to be seen as a viable go to option for solving problems, better service delivery and delivering operation efficiencies giving staff the permission and incentive to explore opportunities

In summary

So do the councils need a catalyst to help foster collaboration? It seems more likely that successful collaboration will happen if its proactively brokered than if its left to its current organic processes or gentle incentive. Is this a role for the Private Sector to take the lead to create this collaboration culture and supporting environment or should the Public Sector pick up the reigns and manage their destiny?

 

There is such a large opportunity to be proactive around mass collaboration before the Government makes it compulsory by further increasing the budget deficit, surely acting now is acting smart?