The pandemic accelerated the urgency for reform in health and social care around the world, which strained resources to unprecedented levels. The effects are still being felt and in Northern Ireland specifically, ongoing political instability is further complicating approaches to digital transformation. Although progress is being made that should be recognized and celebrated, Dan West, CDIO for Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, understands that the pandemic still casts a lingering shadow over national health and care systems, contributing to continuing rampant fatigue among staff and subsequent strikes over pay.

“From a people perspective, things are pretty strained at the moment,” he says. “All of the capacity and operational challenges that were present in healthcare prior to the pandemic are magnified now. Waiting lists have grown and diagnosis and treatments have been delayed or missed due to some of the burden the pandemic brought on the system. Plus, the absence of a functioning devolved executive, due to an ongoing dispute by the DUP over the Northern Ireland protocol, adds to all of those challenges. It all reduces the ability to arrive at a budget settlement that shifts resources into the health and social care space. So you can see how my job has had to react to all of those stimulants.”

Leaders in the public sector and healthcare might worry about a return of red tape that could slow down innovation, too, but West has a more resilient outlook to progress by, as he says, never wasting a crisis.

“We’ve been able to accelerate the things we knew we needed, but we also had a rate of adoption of collaboration and flexible working tools that we wouldn’t have seen in peacetime, if you like,” he says. “I was doing some work in a trust in the English NHS and we gave everybody tools, laptops and mobile solutions, and redesigned the operating model and how we worked together. There was resistance, though, where people felt they still needed an office, but there was an exponential increase in the use of virtual tools and capabilities to how we interacted with each other as professionals, and with our patients. We need to make sure that how we deliver digital capability to our staff, and how we do digital enablement of services for citizens, is not allow that elasticity in bureaucracy to snap us back to traditional ways of working.”

CIO Leadership Live’s Drinkwater recently spoke with West about how to put people first in a system under increasing pressure to function as it strives to digitally transform amid a backdrop of political and environmental uncertainty. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On balancing efficiencies: To sustain health and social care services into the future, we need to find a way to get more output from the same or maybe even reducing resources. And I don’t think anybody would suggest that digital is some kind of panacea to all of this. The real requirement is in and around staff. But the absence of the money to hire more doctors and nurses, the lead time, and then training them to bring them into the service means that digital has to be part of the jigsaw puzzle to address those challenges. The projects and products we delivered during COVID-19 adopted some of the techniques and technologies that allowed more efficient digitally enabled services.  

On continuing important work: There’s an impact on the experience of citizens, interacting with health and social care services, and leveraging cloud technologies, smart phone apps, and agile delivery methodologies that allowed us to quickly put things in place in a way we haven’t done previously. The COVID Care NI app, for instance, is like a symptom checker and chat bot that provides a personalized package of advice based on personal circumstances and how it related to evolving regulations. Also, the Bluetooth proximity app Stop COVID NI was the first of its kind to launch in the UK, and the first globally to achieve international interoperability, given our shared border with the Republic of Ireland and the Epidemiological Unit of the Island of Ireland. It was important for us to create our sharing capability. A new way of delivering vaccines and vaccine management and convenient booking capabilities was also big. All of those things really changed the paradigm. It moved away from the traditional, matriarchal approach to delivering healthcare services, galvanizing and empowering patients and their families more and how they interacted with services. I’m interested in how we could maintain momentum around those experiences in a post-pandemic world, to leverage technologies and techniques like that, to deliver improved and modernized experiences and services.

On progressing the digital conversation: The fail fast mentality to get product out there that can help us change the way people work and live is one of the key focuses for all technologists in parallel to public scrutiny. People will be more risk-averse than they were during the pandemic, so let’s not allow those big public processes to push us back into traditional ways of working. What we saw was the digital tail wagging the clinical dog. Historically, we tried to avoid that. We tried to have the operational care model and service design drive out technology requirements. I’m not suggesting that shouldn’t be how the world works, but during COVID, the technologists could go beyond the current operating environment where we were trying to build the pandemic response, and look around the world and see the pockets of innovation and best practice—like building a new vaccine management platform with a publicly accessible appointment booking service. That didn’t come from an operational or clinical policy discussion. It was something a colleague in Scotland introduced me to, and I then took it as a digital reader to the Public Health Operational and Clinical Response to say, “We need to start thinking about this.” We can bring digital upstream in the policy conversation and collaborate differently with clinicians who have a better understanding of the benefit and potential impact that digital can have, as well as the way they form relationships and transactions with citizens. All those considerations that allow us to alter the dynamic and accelerate how we can transform services is an environment that’s resistant to change.

On grassroots involvement: I had never done startup stage work in technology, but it’s something I’m interested in to build my own experiences. I’m also quite passionate about the local technology sector. So I’m helping a young reg-tech and insure-tech business to create an initial suite of products that will work within governments, the insurance industry, and home and business owners to address the fact that one in five properties in the UK can’t secure risk-reflective and affordable insurance against flood damage. That’s not sustainable for us, as a society. So technology has a part to play in the information relationship between governments, the insurance industry, and those businesses and homeowners, so that as we increase resilience of our properties through flood risk interventions, we can build that body of evidence that drives us toward a risk-reflected market in insurance. It’s a really interesting opportunity and a different environment to work in compared to the health and care day job. Belfast is getting a good reputation now for technology, so getting involved in a startup and taking it through a launch was quite an interesting opportunity.

On the value of people: To continue delivering and working through priorities for our trusts, and make the digital journey achievable is we have to recognize that projects and programs are just a means to an end. The technology itself is not what we’re all about. It’s about the people being able to deliver better healthcare services, our staff being able to do their jobs better, and our citizens interacting with safer, modern and more convenient healthcare experiences. It’s the opportunity to shift health and social care from being an economic burden for society in Northern Ireland to a real opportunity for growth and innovation. And those people aspects of that technology portfolio must be our focus over the next few years as we carry on this digitization journey in health and care. In a resource constrained environment, we have to evidence that all of these technology investments are delivering a real change for people in the region.

CIO, Digital Transformation, Healthcare Industry, IT Leadership

Dan West, Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO) for Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland, discusses health and social care reform, innovating through uncertainty, and balancing transformation with business-as-usual.

Speaking to CIO UK editor Doug Drinkwater, he also reveals how digital is improving operational efficiency and patient experiences, and the challenges that lie ahead through Covid-19, political instability, and the cost-of-living crisis.

Watch this episode:

Listen to this episode:

Careers, CIO, CIO Leadership Live

Reposted from Stack Overflow’s blog

Stack Overflow is named as a Sample Vendor in the 2022 Gartner® Hype Cycle™ for Agile and DevOps for Communities of Practice. We believe this is a powerful step forward in enabling organizations of all sizes to build strong internal communities that foster collective learning.

But before we get into too much detail, here’s why this matters…

Great engineering cultures

Great engineering cultures enable autonomy without creating silos that prevent cross-team collaboration and learning. To put it simply, people can share what they know, find what they don’t know, and discover what others know.

These are also the characteristics of a community of practice (CoP). These are employee-led, self-directed, always-on communities that enable individuals to collaborate, share knowledge and collectively learn and grow their skills. Or, a more formal definition from Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner is “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

For a successful Agile and DevOps practice, organizations must think beyond tooling. 

Engineering organizations need a strong community of practice culture that supports the collecting and distributing of knowledge, greater cross-organizational collaboration, and breaks down the silos that can happen in companies of all sizes.

The Hype Cycle

DevOps and Agile have both become ubiquitous in software engineering organizations of all sizes, but at one point, they were new and shiny, the subjects of wonder, promotion, and misinformation. The Hype Cycle takes innovative new technologies and inflates expectations to where they can’t possibly be met. Once enough organizations see what that technology can actually do, they get over their disappointment and start getting to a point where that technology becomes a productive part of organizations everywhere.

The success of DevOps and Agile has led to a whole slew of technologies entering the hype cycle: value stream management platforms, observability, container management, chaos engineering, and more. While many of these technologies are innovative and solve significant problems, they might not be right for every organization.

Tool adoption can sometimes be driven by individual teams within a larger organization. 

Vendors will be more than happy to sell a company solutions, but they won’t actually solve anything if they are siloed. For an organization to implement Agile and DevOps practices effectively, tools alone will not cut it.

Agile and DevOps require more than tools

When most people discuss DevOps, they talk about CI/CD pipelines, automation, observability, and other categories of tooling. But the best tools won’t improve processes on their own. People are what make DevOps work.

In The DevOps Handbook by Gene Kim, Jez Humble, Patrick Debois, John Willis, and Nicole Forsgren, PhD, the authors explain the principles underpinning DevOps: flow, feedback, and continual learning and experimentation. 

In summary: The first way (flow) is about the process. The end-to-end process must be continuously improved. The second way (feedback) is about communication. The people involved in the process need to be able to communicate, and that communication needs to be continuously improved. The third way is about experimenting and learning. To make big improvements, people need to be able to experiment, learn from failures, and keep the experiments that succeed.

Think of the culture created when business processes are ad hoc, the people involved don’t or can’t communicate, and/or failure is punished until nobody risked trying anything new.

To make DevOps a success, processes must be defined, visible, and always improving; communication must be encouraged, captured, and discoverable; and the ability to experiment and learn must drive innovation through an empirical and scientific process.

Tools can facilitate some elements of flow, feedback, and continual learning and experimentation, but it’s the people and the culture that underpins everything.

All the tools in the world won’t fix a culture that encourages knowledge hoarding, punishes people for not knowing, or isolates teams from working together and learning from each other.

The culture won’t be fixed by ad hoc or management-defined timeboxed initiatives meant to build collaboration within set boundaries and around set agendas or thinking that knowledge sharing will happen by just putting something into a wiki or a document. Changing company culture requires a movement, not a mandate.

Creating a community of practice

Because communities of practice are employee-led and voluntary, anyone within an organization can start one.

The first step to creating a community of practice is finding your people. Who are the people who have a common passion or focus? Think beyond the people who have a specific title or a specific role. With the rise of T-shaped teams, people will likely have an interest or desire to learn in areas outside their core focus. Ask around for recommendations or suggestions for people who may be interested.

At this point, you all can decide if you want it to be an informal community or if you want to build it out using a structured approach.

A structured approach involves:

creating a joint vision of the goal of the communitydefining how/where people openly collaborate (what platforms will people use, regular hangouts/meetings)knowing how individuals will benefit from the community – what will people get out of the time they put inidentifying how the community will benefit the business

At the end of the blog post, we’ve provided a few resources for you to read more about launching a community of practice, what to expect around participation, how to maintain momentum once you get started, and getting executive sponsorship.

Here at Stack Overflow, a couple of analysts in different groups realized they were trying to solve similar problems and started informally working together. They wanted to build standard approaches and definitions that would be used across teams. They shared what they were learning, collaborated on possible approaches, and brainstormed ways to solve cross-team analytic challenges. When they heard about analysts in other groups or people who just had a passion for analytics, they invited them to join their weekly hangouts. Working this way, the group came up with innovative solutions across the board. Projects moved along faster, they received buy-in with less struggle, and the business value of what each individual delivered increased.

Stack Overflow itself is a community of practice (actually, it’s several!). Coders of all skill levels and types come to our sites to better their skills and share the knowledge they’ve gained in the field. The result is that coders as a whole are more efficient — if you have a question, chances are someone else has already asked it and a solution is there for you. We’ve taken that community framework and the knowledge sharing and collaboration needs that enterprises have and built Stack Overflow for Teams so that organizations can easily start their own internal community of practices.

Communities of practice have business value

Communities of practice reduce the distance (real and virtual) between people and collective knowledge and learning.

What business value does it offer when employees spend time collaborating, contributing, participating, learning, and consuming all that the community of practice offers? Does it justify the time taken away from their day-to-day activities? The answer is resoundingly yes.

The Gartner® Hype Cycle™ for Agile and DevOps lists the business impact of communities of practice as:

Shorten the learning curve for employeesProvide higher levels of employee satisfaction, leading to higher motivation and innovationRespond more rapidly to customer needs and inquiriesReduce duplication of effortSpawn new ideas for products and servicesHelp members develop capabilities that align with organizational needs

In short, communities of practice enable organizations to see improvements in:

Onboarding, retaining, and upskilling talentImproving productivityAccelerating innovation

Read more

We’re proud that Stack Overflow is named a Sample Vendor in the 2022 Gartner Hype Cycle for Agile and DevOps for Communities of Practice. Click here to receive complimentary access to the Gartner research report.

Other resources:

Building A Successful Community of Practice In Your Company – HowDoCommunity of Practice Essentials, April 2022 (requires Gartner subscription)Building a community of practice in 5 steps | Opensource.comCommunities of Practice, A Summary For LeadersThe DevOps Handbook Companion Guide

Gartner and Hype Cycle are registered trademarks of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and are used herein with permission. All rights reserved. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Collaboration Software

Live shopping is one of the most exciting retail experiences in a long time. As shoppers become increasingly eager to buy via live shopping on social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, retailers face new challenges: How to capture the shoppers’ attention on social media when the urge to buy hits? How can retailers create seamlessly interactive and immersive experiences that prompt consumers to hit the “buy button” during the live stream?

While retailers see the opportunity to pounce on this new trend, the hurdles they face are immense:

Connecting social commerce touchpoints like TikTok and Instagram, as well as built-in chat, video and voice functions, to commerce experiences is a must for seamless omnichannel experiences. Still, it’s not always easy to deploy new features and channels in their current commerce platform.Autoscaling traffic peaks from the live shopping experience is necessary, so consumers don’t face slowdowns or crashes when buying a product. When shoppers see a 404 error page, they’re not likely to come back. Unfortunately, most retailers still face scalability problems during sudden traffic spikes. Experimenting with new touchpoints enables brands and retailers to be ahead of changing customer demands now and in the future. Yet, experimentation is challenging to achieve in today’s IT environment.

These challenges stem from the rigid and monolithic nature of commerce platforms most retailers and brands still use today. These solutions, built for the desktop eCommerce era, lack the flexibility and scalability needed for spontaneous and high-volume sales powered by live shopping.

Flexible, scalable, agile: modern commerce starts with MACH

What’s the alternative for retailers looking at live shopping and beyond? As customer demands and market conditions change quickly, retailers and brands must move faster to capitalise on new ways to sell, such as omnichannel commerce, digital clienteling and personalisation. This means adapting customer experiences on the fly by adding new touchpoints, products, features, locales, currencies and every aspect of commerce without hassle.

This maximum flexibility and scalability philosophy is powered by the principles of MACH (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native and Headless). In a nutshell, MACH-based architecture breaks down functionalities  such as integrating Instagram as a commerce channel  into modular pieces that can be easily customized, deployed, scaled and managed over time. In contrast to all-in-one legacy platforms, retailers using MACH can experiment, scale, change and adapt any functions at any time without disrupting their commerce backend or customer-facing storefronts. As 81% and 88% of adults under 55 years of age in Australia and New Zealand respectively shop online, and nine in 10 retail dollars spent offline during Australian peak season were influenced by digital, retailers are urged to rethink their digital commerce infrastructure to succeed in this new landscape.

For example, the Canadian menswear retail chain, Harry Rosenimplemented digital clienteling that sparked online traffic peaks. With MACH, the company had 0% downtime even as page views per session increased by 150%, coping with a three-fold increase in online sales without disruption.

Australian retail giant Kmart opted for MACH-based infrastructure to elevate personalisation and product categorisation, as well as autoscaling capabilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kmart handled three times the online volume compared to pre-pandemic levels, and still, their eCommerce infrastructure was twice as fast. The company doubled the conversion rate and, just as importantly, operated at a third of its previous infrastructure costs.

Lastly, fashion retailer Express saw online traffic spikes that were three times higher than the busiest hour of Black Friday after a sales promotion went viral. Thanks to MACH, the company could avoid downtime and slowdowns to its webshop, fully capitalising on the sudden surge in sales.

Many retailers are shifting to MACH-based platforms to cope with traffic spikes from digital shopping. With modern commerce, retailers can add new touchpoints and experiment with new ways of reaching customers without constraints to the commerce infrastructure. 

E-commerce Services

What is ESG and why is it important?

Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) is a strategic framework for identifying, assessing, and addressing organizational objectives and activities ranging from the company’s carbon footprint and commitment to sustainability, to its workplace culture and commitment to diversity and inclusion, to its overall ethos regarding corporate risks and practices. It’s an organizational construct that’s become increasingly important, especially to socially responsible investors who want to invest in companies that have a high ESG rating or score.

The three main pillars of ESG include:

Environmental commitment: This includes everything around a company’s commitment to sustainability and the impact it has on the environment, including its carbon emissions and footprint, energy usage, waste, and environmental responsibility.Social commitment: This covers a company’s internal workplace culture, employee satisfaction, retention, diversity, workplace conditions, and employee health and safety. Companies with happy and healthy employees perform better and are viewed as a stronger investment.Corporate governance: A company’s commitment to governance includes compliance, the internal corporate culture, pay ratios, the company ethos, and transparency and accountability in leadership. Investors are interested in companies that can keep up with changing laws and regulations, and that have a commitment to equity and equality in the workplace.

Your company’s environmental efforts will only become more important as the effects of climate change continue to grow. Companies that are more prudent with resources, such as water, coal, oil, and electricity, are predicted to fare better in a future where those resources may be limited in certain areas. Similarly, a company’s social profile is more important than ever in a time where a single Tweet can negatively impact an entire brand or company’s reputation. And as more laws and regulations arise around technology, most notably GDPR, a strong commitment to proper governance and compliance will be crucial for keeping a company operating and in business.

ESG score and rating

ESG scores are determined by third-party firms that have their own methodologies to identify a company’s ESG rating. Currently, this isn’t a process that is streamlined across the board, and different companies have their own way of determining a company’s ESG rating. ESG scores and ratings are important because they give an overall picture of the company’s performance in these three areas.

These scores help inform potential or current investors and can even help inform governments as to whether they want a company operating within its borders. A higher ESG score also aligns with a company being more sustainable, having happier employees, and being more productive and profitable overall due to better working conditions. Typically, ESG scores are rated from 0 to 100 with anything above a 70 classified as a “good” ESG rating, while anything below 50 is considered a “bad” rating. Some systems, however, rely on a letter-based scoring system where a grade of C is the worst and A is the best.

ESG investing and analysis

Because ESG has become a large part of the investment process for businesses, having an ESG analysis performed for your company can go a long way to showing investors that your company is worth their time and money. Investors have started looking at the overall values of the companies they’re investing in, and brokerage firms and mutual fund companies have responded by offering exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track ESG ratings.

ESG investing is often called impact investing, sustainable investing, responsible investing, or socially responsible investing (SRI). ESG investors want to invest in companies that have a commitment to accountability, sustainability, and that are overall good places for employees to work. Companies negatively contributing to the environment, social responsibility, or governance, aren’t viewed favorably by these investors as a solid long-term investment.

What does a good ESG score mean for business?

For companies looking to improve their ESG rating, one big change is switching to smart building technology to manage waste and improve efficiency. Smart building technology can help automate climate control, lighting, and monitor the building for efficient energy use. Using smart technology to manage your building’s energy consumption can also improve worker’s conditions, by ensuring that they’re in a comfortable environment, and can reduce potential waste by adjusting the lighting or temperature in areas of the building not in use. Automating building maintenance can also reduce waste, with sensors available to alert the staff when something breaks or needs repairing, detecting any issues with the building, and improve sustainability.

Companies with a good ESG rating also have a strong commitment to their workers, ensuring fair workplace practices, a commitment to diversity and equity, and creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and accepted. This also includes having safe workplace conditions, benefits for employees and strong support for employee’s overall well-being. Your company’s reputation relies not only on external interactions with clients and customers, but also on having high employee satisfaction within the company. This can boost retention, recruitment, and even productivity since happier employees have been shown to work harder and more efficiently.

Companies with a high ESG rating are also going above and beyond in areas around governance — typically doing more than is required of them in terms of compliance. They have high transparency with investors and employees and create an environment that allows for open and direct feedback. These companies aren’t just following the current laws and regulations, they’re looking ahead to what rules and laws might be implemented in the future and are making the call to make those changes early on. These companies also have a strong commitment to authentic leadership and holding leaders accountable within the organization.  

What does a bad ESG score mean for business?

Companies that have poor sustainability or high carbon footprints typically fall on the lower end of the ESG rating scale. These companies struggle with their overall environmental impact and have a history of energy-intensive practices and procedures. There is often a lack of automation, poor or bare-minimum compliance, and sometimes even unsafe or dangerous working conditions. These companies will have high turnover, poor retention rates, and employees reporting low levels of satisfaction.

At companies with low ESG ratings, there’s also often a lack of transparency with employees and investors, sometimes even going as far as to hide important or relevant information. These companies often do just enough on the side of governance to remain compliant but aren’t making the effort to do any more than the minimum. Companies with a low ESG score simply aren’t appealing to socially responsible investors, and they will struggle to be viewed as a solid long-term investment by this growing base of investors.

ESG challenges

There are some criticisms of ESG ratings — most notably that the scores and analysis aren’t streamlined and there can be variations between how companies give out ratings. ESG ratings also encompass a lot of broad topics in the workplace, making it difficult to standardize the scores across every company and industry. It can also be difficult for older companies to make the changes necessary for a high ESG score — especially around automation and building changes.

Diversity and Inclusion, Green IT, IT Governance