From Big Org to Opencast – Nick’s Story

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In this blog, we tell the story of one of our agile BAs joining Opencast, how he felt his career was at a standstill and how moving from a large, grade-based organisation to Opencast opened up new opportunities.

“After 14 years in a big organisation, moving to an SME consultancy was something that was well outside my comfort zone but on reflection, is one the best decisions I have ever made.

So where do the differences begin? Well, they start at the beginning: recruitment. Going from a long, convoluted process that takes weeks/months to one where being interviewed and offered the post inside 2 weeks was amazing. There’s no room for bureaucracy at Opencast and this is reflected how they recruit people. There’s not an endless trail of emails between post holders, applicants and the resource department. You deal with one or two people from start to finish.

So, after accepting, I began working with one of their clients where several other Opencast employees worked. I was personally introduced to everyone and was taken for lunch as a way to meet my new colleagues. With those niceties over, it was time to get to work. And this is where I saw probably the biggest difference.

From day one, Opencast trusted me as a Business Analyst. I was trusted to work effectively with the client, provide them with my expertise, knowledge and skills as a BA. I wasn’t given performance targets or work objectives to meet along with those boring (mainly pointless) monthly 1-2-1s to review my progress against targets.

They feel that as a specialist, you should know what ‘good performance’ is, regardless of your role. This approach makes you feel solely responsible for how you carry out your role and how much value you bring. This is quite an enlightening feeling after spending what must be 100s of hours over the years being told what to do to ‘get better’ at my job. If you’ve ever worked for a large, grade-based organisation, you’ll know how painful that process is. Here, I can sort out my own training for my own ambitions and I can talk when I want to.

Being made to feel welcome at Opencast is one of our biggest attributes I believe and is at the foundation……the staff are the main asset. I’ve felt this feeling of being part of a team, with Opencast t-shirts, mugs and lanyards along with various team events throughout the year. There are absolutely no heirs and graces at Opencast and everyone you speak to whether they are based with clients or in the office at Hoult’s Yard, they always greet you with a smile and genuinely pleased to see you. After all, you’re part of the Opencast family!

So, I am now one of ‘the’ BAs at Opencast, not just ‘a’ BA, I now feel I am respected by my colleagues for my skills, knowledge and experience as a Business Analyst and not by what someone who ‘thinks’ they know what a Business Analyst is/does.

Everyone else at Opencast are specialists at what they do too, they are not ‘9 to 5’ people. They strive to get better in their role and are constantly learning new practices whether that be by attending role specific seminars or community events.

And finally….

If, like me, you find yourself at a bit of a crossroads in your BA career and you’re not sure what to do, don’t think it’s the end of the road. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with an organisation. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, get out. Don’t let your current circumstances stop you from being a great BA (if that’s what you want to be). If it takes a leap of faith to join Opencast Software, then weigh up your options and go for it. After all, this is your future we’re talking about here and there’s more to life out there.”

Fiona Talks Women In IT

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This week, we spoke to Fiona Hobbs, our Head of Technology, about the drive for more women to work in tech.

Fiona started her IT career, as many people did, by studying IT for GCSE. “I only did it because it sounded interesting” she says. “I seemed to do well and, what’s more, I found I actually enjoyed it”. After leaving school to try the world of work, she felt the need to go back to the academic route. “I decided to go to college and did Computing, Maths and Chemistry, which also went well, so I decided to go keep going with it at Uni, studying Software Engineering. From that aspect, my route in was pretty normal. I took a grad position as a developer and went from there. Looking back, on a course of around 80 people, I can only remember about 5 of those who were women, so something was already amiss.” That was back in the late 90’s and Fiona feels we see the effect of that now. “There are women in IT, but when I look around I still feel the quantity of technical roles occupied by women is low, albeit nice to see more and more women in IT management positions.”

So what does Fiona think the solution is? “I’m not sure to be honest, I don’t feel there’s a stigma attached to women in IT, in fact many of the pioneers were women, but for some reason the balance is still way too low. I see some great initiatives such as HMRC’s apprentice program which had a much healthier intake, and I’m trying to spread the word by supporting various forums including Ladies Of Code so maybe we can just make it a more visible as an option to young people making choices.”

 Fiona’s not alone in trying to promote women in tech. We’re firmly supportive of this and we work with other like minded people. And, let’s not forget that women have pioneered in tech right from the early days. Throughout the Second World War, with over ten thousand people, women made up half of the code breaking force. Grace Hopper (the person who coined the term ‘computer bug’ after physically finding a moth in her computer system) created the compiler for the first ever commercial computer and Ada Lovelace is considered the world’s first ever computer programmer in 1840.

Last year, Fiona encountered Dame Stephanie Shirley at Dynamo conference. Dame Stephanie founded the revolutionary software company Freelance Programmers in 1962. Fiona found her story fascinating, although the challenges for equality in that era were somewhat different to today.

So, any final words of advice from Fiona to young women (or indeed, any young person) looking to get into tech? “It’s really no different to any other career. Just do what you want to do” she says. “Try it and see if you enjoy it. It’s a rewarding career with many great opportunities in the North East. Younger people can attend code clubs or maker parties, those a little older can come along to various forums or any of the free coding classes that are available. Get involved with the community and hackathons. Being a developer is a great career in itself, but it also opens up the doors for so many other career paths in IT.”

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more like this, we would love to hear your thoughts.

An Interview With Mike O’Brien

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Image: The Chronicle

As the year is drawing to a close, we decided to pick Mike O’Brien’s brain, founder of Opencast Software to find out the answers to some burning, important questions that have been raised over the course of the year.

Mike’s background and knowledge of the industry means that he is always on the pulse, offering intelligent insight, striving to always move forward and help shape the digital industry towards a much better, more intelligent and practical environment.

What are your thoughts on the digital switch for the NHS? How do you think it will change the NHS for the better?

It’s important for Government to use more digital services, but it must ensure that they are really well thought through, executed and delivered in a way that makes our lives more straightforward. All parts of Government need to be more efficient and in light of an aging population with longer life expectancy, the NHS needs to make its budgets go further. Technology certainly isn’t the only answer to saving money or making it go further, but if executed well, it can make a huge impact.

This month, the media spoke of billions of pounds of fraud within the NHS. Technology can certainly be used to tackle issues that would have taken armies of investigators in the past.

Any visit to a GP or a hospital immediately reveals integration issues with many disparate modern and legacy systems. As a patient, you can see issues with record keeping, exchange of data and accuracy of data. The reasons for this are well documented, but there’s no reason for this to just be accepted. Different thinking is needed and a move away from legacy thinking in terms of procurement of technology services is required.

So, back to the question – we need the NHS to be more digital and efficient, but we need to be careful how we do this and make sure that as a service it makes the life of a patient easier and more painless.

 How do you think digital transformation will affect our next generation?

 It’s a good question. It should make the next generation’s lives a lot easier. It will certainly mean they are even more dependent on technology than we are and hence it needs to be fit for purpose, secure and resilient. There’s no point in having a digital society if the infrastructure and the tools that support it aren’t up to scratch. 

What about your concerns, do you have any for the industry?

On the digital front, that we ensure the right end to end experiences are built. There are so many terrible examples right now where companies are basically giving all of their problems, internal complexity and admin to their customers. That’s not really a transformation in my mind.

Every business needs to make sure it really values its investment in technology and that it’s an integral part of business today, not just a cost centre that has to be tolerated.

What would you recommend to people starting out in this industry?

I’d say that it’s not easy. There’s a lot to learn. I’d recommend studying an excellent IT course at university that definitely has an industrial placement element. I recall that’s where you learn what the industry is all about. I’d also recommend creating a network of mentors that can help you learn the best practice in software development along with ideas on how to develop your career. There are so many different roles in the industry that are mind-bendingly complicated. I think it’s super important to have a network of experienced people to talk to in order to figure out where you should go next…

 Where do you see the world of Tech in 5 years? Will it have evolved much?

Wow. who knows? If I knew, I’d be working in a Private Equity firm!

But seriously, I think we will have more stable and well-built systems and applications as we will depend on them more and more. I’m sure we will see many old ideas resurrected as new which so often happens in our industry. Some industries will be well on the way being totally transformed like the motor industry. I really hope than utilities and telcos will improve their use of technology as they seem to be hugely lagging behind retail for example. The use of technology in the home in a more integrated fashion will make huge leaps forward.

I certainly look forward to not having to remember hundreds of log-in ID’s and passwords, or having to read electricity and water meters!

Mike believes in being results-focused, working in an Agile way. He likes to involve clients, ensuring that progress is clear and that any changes can be made rapidly. This reflects wholeheartedly on the ethos of Opencast. To find out more about what we do, you can visit our website here, http://opencastsoftware.com/ . Alternatively, you can call us at 0191 276 5656

 

 

 

 

Is A CSM Better Than A PSM?

This week, an interesting conversation was sparked when asking one of our Scrum Masters about his role and background in the industry. Rich spoke about PSM and CSM and what the positives were from acquiring these qualifications.

What exactly are positives of acquiring a CSM then?

A CSM, otherwise known as a Certified Scrum Master, is a foundation level certification and often provided by the company that you work for. It requires two full days at a training course to soak up a wealth of Scrum knowledge. From this, you then have six months to complete your exam with a 67% pass rate (with room to research and adjust any mistakes that have been made). After completion of this course and the exam, you will become a Certified Scrum Master.

CSM is currently much more widely recognized than Professional Scrum Master (PSM), and although it isn’t entirely necessary to have a qualification to apply as a Scrum Master, being certified as a CSM is advantageous when applying for a job role.

Agilescrummastertraining.com stated that There are over 220,000 Certified Scrum Masters so the program has certainly been successful and has also helped promote the role of Agile as a viable methodology to use with software development projects.”

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As CSM is much more commercialized, it will often carry more weight than a PSM. However, obtaining a PSM is becoming much more highly regarded as more people start to gain this certificate.

Why is this?

As the two day CSM is massively popular and absolutely anybody can attend the course with a 67% pass rate, it somewhat devalues the qualification as it is so easily accessible. In contrast, acquiring PSM appears to shine a light on how much more of an advanced level scrum master you are.

Unlike a CSM, A PSM gives you the option of attending a two-day course which does not require you to go to if you feel confident enough with your existing knowledge, A PSM permits you to take an assessment straight away through Scrum.org.

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While PSM shows that you have a consistent terminology and approach to Scrum, it also requires you to obtain more knowledge on the role of a Scrum Master and while it is actually more difficult to pass, it provides a wealth of useful and relevant information.

Let’s talk about cost, too. With PSM costing just £150 and CSM priced well over a grand, cost certainly sways a percentage to PSM.

Finally, as the PSM certification becomes more popular, it now appears to be an attractive addition to your CV when applying for a job. Not only does it show that you have answered a number of difficult questions in a short period of time, but it shows that you have a passion for the role and an inquisitiveness to know more.

Regardless, Passion Is Still Crucial

It is important to understand that whatever certificate you end up achieving, you must be passionate about the Scrum Master role and have a clear understanding of, and passion for, Scrum. While CSM and PSM can increase your longevity by opening some doors, and they do say something about your commitment to the role, you need to mix in the right circles to share ideas and to learn new techniques.

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There’s a world of great agile and Scrum forums and meet-ups. Get out there and join in!

What do you think of the PSM and CSM? Do you have both of these? Or none? We would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

The Importance Of End To End Digitization.

This week in our office, we have expressed our frustration with digitization. Why? It stemmed from a conversation with a member of our team who hired a car from a high end, glossy site. However, upon collection, further information was required. Carbon copy forms, stamping documents and photocopying called for a much lengthier experience than anticipated and it left us thinking “Was that really necessary?”

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At Opencast, we recognize that we are living in a smart, forward thinking world. However, there are still reoccurring issues with UX design for big organizations that irk us. When it comes to a customer journey, it shouldn’t just be front end digitization that people are presented with, but rather the whole experience.

Effective and consistent changes to interfaces can really shape a customer journey, enabling a speedier process, saving businesses and people time and money.  After all, there is nothing more frustrating than filling out a simple online form and then having to fill out yet more information upon completing a purchase.

Businesses that work with an imaginative team of UX Designers and Researchers can really help create effective solutions across a whole company. For example, according to HM Revenue & Customs “Our customers will be able to interact with HMRC digitally and at any time that suits them. They already have access to a digital account which will present them with an increasingly personalised picture of their tax affairs, along with prompts, advice, and support through webchat and secure messaging. And digital record keeping software will be linked directly to HMRC systems, allowing customers to send and receive information directly from their software.”

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Although, if companies do successfully create solutions end to end, they must always monitor customer feedback so that they can constantly evolve as a business into a digital world. After all, these systems are built and put in to place to serve a customer’s needs.

Because businesses are now catering to a much younger, digitally reliable audience, it is now incredibly important that they adhere and fully embrace this transformation because this profile of people now fully expect to handle transactions online without any issues at all. Unfortunately, businesses that fail to follow this consumer shift can expect to lose out. Cisco has predicted that “as many as 40 percent of fortune 500 businesses will not survive this massive transition over coming years.  And as these big companies fall away, nimble tech-savvy start-ups will take their place.”

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So, to move forward and to avoid any possible issues, companies must always think about the end to end customer experience and strive to constantly keep their internal organizational bureaucracy away from their customers.

When these principles are implemented, you can always expect to have much better accuracy and efficiency in a business with increased customer loyalty and retention. After all, no-one likes form filling.

If you have had any gripes with digitization we would love to know. We would also love to hear from any companies that have benefited from maintaining and updating their end to end digital journey.

 

Why Companies Can Benefit From Using A Chatbot.

We now live in a world where we are constantly online, companies are able to consistently provide a rich experience for their customers through chatbots. These virtual assistants, which are currently an incredibly hot topic, are able to realistically simulate human conversation, providing quick, effective answers to any issues that someone may be having with their banking, taxes or any other similar money issues, saving time and building brand loyalty for their customers. This form of technology will affect the way that companies of all sizes work now and in the future.

Started by Facebook in 2016 for their online business and shops, people have been given the opportunity to interact with companies that use the AI interface such as NatWest who can answer your questions when staff aren’t able to. This benefits people, especially now that we live in a world where eight-hour working days are no longer the norm and people need answers on demand. Not only does this handy form of technology save time and money, but it can also provide quick answers and effective solutions to thousands of people all at the same time.

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Why do chatbots work so well? According to LifeRay, we are seeing a shift in consumer attitudes, noticing that “chatting has become the preferred mode of communication for many people, it also suggests that consumers may just as happily chat with businesses and banks, as they do with their family and friends.” and so the need for chatbot technology is both beneficial and rewarding because not only does the interface give customers a better experience, but it gives people answers when they need them, cutting down company costs.

Let’s also point out the obvious that using this form of technology for business such as the HMRC can save people from having to go through a painfully arduous call system that takes time and costs their landline a fortune, leaving them feeling dissatisfied and frustrated. Something which we all want to avoid.

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Since the beginning of 2017, the NHS have actually implemented chatbots into their systems. This has proved incredibly beneficial as these interfaces have been able to sift through data history and recognize the prescription that a patient needs, solving issues more quickly than a human would.

Since January 2017, certain parts of London including Camden, Haringey, and Islington were able to access 111 emergencies through an app powered by Babylon. Through data and information, these chatbots have been able to identify the seriousness of an illness and how immediate help would be needed. Providing fast, free, urgent health advice, this is increasingly beneficial as the NHS have recently faced criticism over advice given out by non-medical staff. Providing more successful and effective outcomes, we can expect to see these used throughout more of the UK in the near future.

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It is absolutely clear then that the chatbot is revolutionizing the way we interact with our customers. Not only do they benefit companies, but they can provide people with quick answers and a dash of human conversation. Saving money and time, chatbots will become more and more intelligent over the next few years, ensuring customers a smoother transaction and a much better online customer experience.

What are your thoughts on chatbots, do you agree with us? Or do you think that they are a passing trend?

 

 

 

Welcome to the Opencast Software blog.

Welcome to the Opencast Software blog.

Who are we?

We are an independent technology company, specializing in building and running the systems that organizations count on to deliver their core services.

We work with many brilliant government ran organizations such as HM Revenue & Customs and various NHS departments who inspire us on a daily basis, motivating us and creating a great conversation in our office.

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And so, with this in mind, we thought that a blog would be a brilliant place to share our thoughts, frustrations, and inspirations on the digital and IT world, so that you, as a reader can contribute your thoughts too.

We want to create a place to generate conversation on all things tech and software.

computer background opencastA source of stimulus, we hope that our series of articles and thoughts help to promote curiosity and interest, helping to create new thoughts, strong opinions and maybe even a solution to something that needs fixing.

If you would like to find out more about Opencast Software, you can find us at http://opencastsoftware.com/ , Alternatively, you can call 0191 276 5656.

See you in our next post!