Digitech19: Challenges and rewards










Socitm is proud to be supporting Digitech19. Steve Mallinson, from Public Sector Connect, explains more about this remarkable event in a guest blog.

Picture this: 700 delegates, 80 plus exhibitors and over 60 high level, expert speakers from across public and private sectors coming together at one time, in one great Manchester location. Add the logistics of sound, lighting, carpets, refreshments and furnishings and with any luck and a fair wind, 19th November will find many readers of this blog at digitech19, the year’s largest gathering of public sector technology and technology procurement specialists.

Staged in partnership with Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and supported by Socitm, Government Digital Service, NHS Digital and a host of other bodies, digitech19 presents many challenges for an event organiser, not least of which is the complexity, diversity of offerings and the pace of change within the technology sector. From the largest players in the market to the smallest SMEs, suppliers from all of CCS technology frameworks have the opportunity to toss their hat into the ring as exhibitors and sponsors, allowing delegates the chance to engage directly with them and to expand and refresh their networks, taking back fresh information to their own organisation on new and innovative solutions to the myriad challenges they face.

From our perspective here at Public Sector Connect, digitech19 is a great opportunity to renew contact with many of the speakers, supporters, delegates, sponsors and exhibitors that we welcomed to digitech18 last year over in sunny Leeds. Having said that, this year’s venue, Manchester Central, means that we are able to open digitech19’s doors to a wider public and private sector audience so if you’re from public sector and haven’t yet booked your free place, why not do so now? Just register at https://www.digitech19.co.uk/ and we look forward to seeing you on 19th November!

Digitech19: Challenges and rewards

Empowering women: changing the world

Since its conception in 1982, the Internet of Things (IoT) has grown to become one of the world’s most talked about technical innovations. Undoubtedly, in the not too distant future, the IoT will revolutionise the way services are delivered in the public sector.

Whether it’s adult social care, AI bots for local authority information delivery or making outreach services more accessible for rough sleepers, the only limitations to the possible use of the IoT in public service are set by human imagination.

However, while it may well be the future of our sector, the IoT is not a recent concept. Nor do the roots of its development rest in shallow ground.

In fact, the vision behind its development can be traced back to the late 1920s and it’s been developing and evolving ever since. The foundations of the technology required to bring the IoT to life also took shape long before Proctor and Gamble’s Kevin Ashton coined the phrase that’s now synonymous with the future of public sector service delivery.

Among those who first mobilised their ingenuity and vision to help set the wheels of IoT in motion were some remarkable and surprising people. Not least an unlikely female trailblazer helped sculpt the powerhouse of possibilities IoT it has become.

Once dubbed ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, 1940s screen siren, Hedy Lamarr, always regretted being more known for her face than for her intellect. Having starred in 30 films, alongside a host of Hollywood legends including Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, Lamarr could hardly be described as one to shy away from the limelight or the public adoration it afforded her. Despite this, she was acutely aware that her revered beauty was only skin deep and that it was her passion for inventing that afforded her life more substance and meaning.

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” Lamarr once said. Whether or not one agrees with this sentiment, most people would concur that it takes a very special ‘girl’ to become a prolific and globally famous film actress while, at the same time, spearheading the development of wireless communications.

In 1942, together with co-inventor, the composer, George Antheil, Lamarr was awarded a patent for a ‘Secret Communications System’ the pair had developed in an attempt to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr had no formal engineering training but had recently escaped an unhappy marriage, in her native Austria, to one of Europe’s largest armaments manufacturers. During the oppressive union, Fritz Mandl, Lamarr’s possessive and overbearing husband and arms supplier to Hitler, had openly mused about weapons control systems with Lamarr. At the time, research was indicating that radio waves were better than wire for controlling weapons such as torpedoes and Lamarr had the necessary brain power to pick-up on the salient points.

For one thing, Mandl divulged, it was hard to make a wire long enough to ensure that the communications channel between a commander and a torpedo would not break, leaving the torpedo to chart its own course. Even at a length of ten miles, a wire would not be sufficiently long. Radio waves, he told her, solved this problem by eradicating the need for a physical communication connection between commander and torpedo. However, radio waves had a serious flaw in that enemies could access the same radio wave and jam it.

The significance of the invention wasn’t recognised for several decades and it wasn’t until the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962, that Antheil and Lamarr’s ‘jamming proof’ technology was added to the radios of US naval ships. Subsequently, it has rolled-out into numerous military applications but the “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped to invent is most significant for forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations, including IoT, possible.

Her other inventions, including a bouillon cube which – when added to water – was supposed to create a sparkling soda drink but, instead, (as Lamarr herself admitted) tasted like Alka Seltzer, were less impactful and her passion for engineering seemed to wane as her film career faded. Her last film was 1958’s The Female Animal, with Jane Powell and she gradually slipped wilfully into obscurity. Six times married, Lamarr was arrested (but not convicted) twice for shoplifting, once in 1966 and once in 1991. In 1981, with her eyesight failing, she retreated fully from public life and settled in Miami Beach, Florida, where on January 19th  2000, she died aged 86.

Lamarr’s innovation and insight are inspirational but where did that impetuous come from? Was it because her roots in adversity gave her an edge that preceded her time? Whatever enabled her to think so very far outside the box, Lamarr refused to conform to the narrow and constrained view of women’s potential to shape the world at that time. Depressingly, contemporary society still comes with a set of predefined archetypes women are supposed to adhere to. Despite a dramatic transformation in the digital landscape, women remain woefully unrepresented in technology, with only a tiny percentage working in IT.

Socitm is proud to be challenging this stereotype and, as such, it’s Leadership Academy runs Empowering Women in a Digital World (EWDW). Established in2015/16 by Nadira Hussain, this ground-breaking programme is designed to enable women to exercise their leadership skills confidently, fearlessly and without boundaries irrespective of adversity and gendered criticism.

Hussain said:  ‘We are so hugely proud of the Leadership Academy and the continued achievements and success that our participants are experiencing. It has been a pleasure to see the growth and development of women colleagues within the profession and the sector and for them to personally recommend attendance of this programme. Take the opportunity; it can be life-changing!’

The next EWDW programme begins in Newcastle on 16th & 17th July. To enrol visit https://www.lead.socitm.net/ewdw or email: hello@socitm.net.

Empowering women: changing the world

Planes, trains and automobiles: The long road to User Satisfaction



Socitm’s Matthew Fraser recently went on a road-trip to Wales with Interim Head of Membership and Partners, Aimie Francis. Here he explains how Improve literally improves service delivery. And how Aimie’s driving led to a white-knuckle ride!

It was a long journey for the twelve participants who joined us at our recent Welsh Improve Workshop in Llandrindod Wells, with many travelling from the corners of the Principality to join us for our 10am start.  None however, had travelled as far as myself.

While many had left home at 7am, my journey began at 11am the previous day as I travelled by plane, train and finally by foot from Inverness to the middle of Powys.  I say travel, but this included an hour delay to my flight, another two hours waiting for the single train that travels from Birmingham to Llandrindod and finally a one hour lay connection in Shrewsbury.  All told, it was 8pm when I finally reached the station in the centre of town, but not seeing any taxi rank (or indeed many people) I foolishly chose to walk to my hotel – incidentally Google Maps estimate of 46 minutes was incredibly accurate.  So after a total ten hours, I had finally reached my destination (and you dear reader have finally reached the moment when I start to discuss User Satisfaction).

Long as our respective journeys were, they are but a fraction compared to the effort involved in making and keeping our end-users satisfied.

As our workshop discussion began, one thing quickly became clear.  Welsh councils are very good when it comes to User Satisfaction!  Could it be that the Welsh simply give better service?  Or is it because as a nation they are more easily pleased than the Scots or English?  Unfortunately, our data cannot explain this.   But it did show that only one organisation had an average score below 4.9 (on a scale of 1 to 7).  While we could sense their shame in the room, even this score is very close to typical levels elsewhere in the UK.

But what affects these “Satisfaction Scores”?  As the group discussion continued, we realised that while we are all diverse with each participating organisation being unique similar themes and challenges recur.  These include:

  • New devices make a difference: Everyone likes shiny new things.
  • New systems and ways of working can have teething problems.
  • Users exposure to consumer devices affect their view of corporate IT.
  • Curiously, the more you request feedback, the happier users become – provided you are seen to act on it.

A key benefit of conducting User Satisfaction along with your peers is the ability to discuss these challenges with one another and learn how different approaches are working or can be refined.

During the morning session we also discussed how we can get more feedback from our users.

Once again, hats off to the Welsh organisations with five receiving responses from over 30% of their users compared to the national median of 24%.  One participant attained a colossal response rate of 38%.  The key to such high rates appears to be:

  • Publicise the survey well in advance, explaining why it is important
  • Be a nuisance: Keep on asking for responses via reminder emails and newsletters
  • Conduct regular surveys.
  • Ask your whole user base, not just those who have recently contacted you.
  • Demonstrate that you are using the data and comments provided.

Now throughout my travels, I couldn’t help but notice how often I was asked for feedback.  Hotels, cafes and trains all requested that I complete a short survey either via a note on the receipt, a sign on the wall or a follow up email.  Of course, like the hypocrite that I clearly am I haven’t completed any of these.  This illustrates how difficult it is to get feedback from the average service user.  Therefore, I would like to thank the over 8,000 users who completed our survey within Wales.

After a break for lunch participants were asked to to “Mind the Gap”.  Not the gap between train and platform, but the “Expectation Gap”.  Improve’s User Satisfaction survey requests users to rate twenty aspects of service delivery by their 1) importance and 2) satisfaction.  These can then be compared to see if participating organisations are successfully delivering the elements of the service that users really care about.

For example, my flight may be happy to serve “premium brand” coffee.  But I’d be happy to drink anything provided my flight arrived on time. (You may guess from this example that my return flight was also delayed.  Perhaps next time my “expectation gap” will be lower due to anticipating poor service in the first instance.)

It was interesting to note that while most organisations faced similar issues, the extent to which expectation was being met varied considerably.  Our group discussions therefore gave some the opportunity to show off by explaining recent changes, while others gained valuable insight.

This cohort of organisations was the first to analyse the IT competency of their users, utilizing our new “User Skills” set of questions.  The results from this section showed that in general most users are very skilled in IT.  However, some participants were able to identify key areas where additional training or awareness could be beneficial.  Oddly, we also found an interesting proportion of users who expressed a “Don’t know – don’t care” attitude to IT skills.  This could show that a different type of training may be required.

For my journey back to Birmingham I abandoned the train, accepting the offer of a lift back with my colleague – Improve Manager Aimie Francis.  This certainly removed the stress from my return leg, or at least part of it (a future blog on Aimie’s driving may follow).  This made we wonder, could we take away some of the stress you may have when conducting User Satisfaction surveys?

Socitm Improve can:

  • Provide you with a set of established peer-assured questions
  • Send out invitations and reminders
  • Present your results in a dynamic Tableau dashboard, all ready to be interrogated

Most importantly, you’ll get the chance to discuss your results at our next workshop (hopefully at a location that is nearer to me), where you can learn from your peers how they are driving up satisfaction.

The workshop can also provide a happy reminder that no organisation is perfect.  In fact, even the best performing organisation (with an overall satisfaction score of 6.06) still had a one individual who said the service was awful!  Maybe they were just grumpy after a ten-hour journey.

Planes, trains and automobiles: The long road to User Satisfaction