6 May 2017, by Francine Barsam
With the general election swiftly approaching, conversation in the office this week turned to why we’re still unable to vote online and what might have to change in order to make voting online a possibility.
The first and probably most obvious argument against online voting is security of the system. In a year of particularly prominent news relating to online security breaches and cyber-attacks, such as the recent attack on the NHS, it’s only too clear that the internet isn’t exactly the safest of places. Moving voting online opens it up to many potential problems, not least from external groups but even from the people who might take responsibility for building the systems by which we could vote online. Simply, it would be too difficult to find a totally impartial party to create a voting system. Regardless of whether a company had any political affiliations or motivations, it would be nigh on impossible to put together a team of developers who had no political leanings of their own.
And if it’s not possible to impartially build a voting system then, it’s difficult to expect the public to put their trust in the system and believe that their vote will be accurately counted and untampered with. Trials of electronic voting machines in the past have already flagged various problems, including demonstrations of the ability to alter the software they run on with just 60 seconds and a USB stick. Creating a voting system where anyone could simply vote from their desk at work or their smartphone would throw the net wide open to all manner of threats. There’s no simple way that the public could be shown that their votes had been counted and communicated accurately.
Convenience would be the most cited reason for allowing voting to take place over the internet, but one could argue that the fact that people have to make the effort to go and vote means that only those that have a real interest in the outcome of the election are likely to bother voting. Online voting would be open to manipulation on a large scale, but also due to convenience, it could be quite easy to persuade someone who wasn’t planning to vote to let someone else use their vote. By making voting so convenient, votes could end up being traded for something so minimal as a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Postal voting lessens the likelihood of such simple manipulation taking place.
It doesn’t seem that online voting is something that will happen anytime in the foreseeable future and with the majority of the kinks having been ironed out of the current paper voting system, other than convenience for both the voter and the people responsible for counting the votes, there’s no great argument that online voting would improve anything other than voter turnout. It would however be interesting to see online voting tested parallel to a paper vote to test the increase in turnout, but until an online vote is counted as relevant it wouldn’t be open to the genuine threats that online voting is so exposed to. Essentially, even testing an electronic system alongside the current system would simply be likened to an elaborate exit poll at best. So for now at least, it looks like we’ll be sticking to paper and pencil.
1 March 2017, by Karl Graham
1 February 2017, by Karl Graham
We have met with business leaders from across the globe in diverse industries. They see the impact technology is having on their business and say, ‘We need that!’ They recognise the need to exploit digital transformation opportunities to discover new markets, find ways to do business more effectively and respond to the challenges from new entrants and movers in their sector. They realise that embracing technology will enable them to be more responsive to potential and existing customer demands. They recognise that being technically complacent will mean lost opportunities, lost market share, lost customers. But they don’t know how to go about getting the benefits that come from using technology in new and disruptive ways.
In the main, the business leaders we speak to are asking:
- How do I create a company culture that encourages and enables exploration and experimentation whilst acknowledging and managing risk?
- Where am I going to get the skills I need to make this happen? I have great people in my business but this is new to us.
- How do I make sure I’m getting value for money and not just kicking off projects that will wither on the vine?
- What benefits and ROI should I expect from digital transformation initiatives?
Below are some of our responses to these questions.
Think BIG. Plan BIG. Start small.
Organisationally you need to know where you want to get to, you need to have clarity on the vision you are trying to achieve, whilst being flexible about how you get there.
Core questions include
- What do you want to achieve?
- What will be different as a consequence?
- How will you know its been successful?
- How long can you take to get started?
- When do you need to start seeing results?
Answering these questions and others will give you a strong footing for making key decisions and a reference point when it starts to get hard and you come up against challenges or resistance.
The key point: Clarity. For you, for your leadership team and for your employees. Everybody needs to know what the plan is, how it’s going to happen and how excited leadership are about the journey. And when you tell your people about it – always err on the side of over communication. Tell and tell the story about how great things are going to be. Celebrate the successes. Publish them. Share them. Make a lot of positive noise.
Once you have clarity, you need to make someone responsible for action. We recommend a key member of the executive team. The most commonly selected role type is the CTO/CDO. They can then get on with selecting their team, making their lower level plans and executing them. We recommend a cross-functional core team. The make-up of the core team will depend on your objectives but role types include accountable leader, line of business owner who is seeking change, technical architecture specialists, business process specialists and programme management. Depending on the size of the organisation some of these roles may be covered by a single person. The key at this stage is to get a plan in place and start getting stuff done.
We recommend starting small. Based on the strategic vision and objectives this team should select some key hypotheses to validate and then using experimentation techniques to understand if the hypotheses will return the expected results. To facilitate experimentation whilst managing risk, businesses should adopt rapid innovation tools such as Lean and Agile. They should also consider coupling these to a change approach such as Kaizen.
Lean and Agile approaches allow businesses to quickly validate or discard hypotheses, whilst minimising investment. Coupling them to Kaizen as an evolutionary, incremental change method allows management of significant change from existing operating models without alienating staff along the way. Used correctly this approach can create a cultural paradigm shift. Whilst some businesses will have experience of these tools and methods, where you do not, we recommend investing in training and finding a partner who can work with you to embed this capability in the organisation.
The key here is to have tools and processes for getting stuff done and Getting On With It.
I.T. Skills Shortage
Look inside and outside the organisation for talent that is both complementary and challenging
There is a current and growing IT skills shortage. At some point this is likely to have a direct impact on your ability to achieve your objectives. It’s an Elephant in the room. Adopting a cross-functional and shared services approach can address some IT shortages, but it will not help support the skills that are lacking within a business. Therefore, you need to be open to and actively seek ways to create a highly collaborative culture. To facilitate external collaboration, leaders need to seek collaboration opportunities with partners, such as Softwire. These partners should have, or be able to develop a deep understanding of your business and help design and implement digital technology solutions.
Controlling costs and generating ROI:
Leverage legacy systems to free up investment capital. Allow for reasonable failure. Learn from it fast.
Leaders need to be clear on how they are going to invest and how they are going to measure both tangible and intangible ROI across the organisation. Digital transformation is technology driven. However it is not solely driven by the I.T. department. It crosses lines of business. It impacts ways of doing business – people, process and policy. It can succeed or fail based on the buy-in and attention given from people who are not directly I.T. staff.
Organisational silos can be a significant impediment to digital business transformation. When people are protective of their ‘turf’ or budgets this gets in the way of disruptive innovation. As already mentioned, creating cross-functional teams can reduce the negative impact of silos and this protectionism. Getting the right people hooked into the process and empowering them with clarity of purpose and confidence enables each team member to give their expertise and insight.
Adopting Lean and Agile methods means you can commit to small, incremental investments based on validating specific hypotheses – whether the outcome is learning quickly to kill an idea, or pressing the button to scale a proof of concept into a fully-fledged customer offering. The key is to keep investment small, work quickly to learn all you can and make active decisions based on evidence.
Where investment grows without checks and balances on the value, where decisions get bogged down in unnecessary bureaucracy or committees, you will eventually find a disgruntled finance executive demanding that this ‘waste of money’ be canned. So, when you have success, celebrate it. Make sure it’s shared widely and repeatedly.
We all know budgets are always tight. In most organisations the I.T. Department is seen as a cost centre, especially since 80% of an I.T. budget is generally spent on maintenance and support of legacy systems. As a consequence, we recommend leveraging existing legacy technologies and processes rather than creating new systems. That said, one of the major challenges with legacy systems is the inertia from decades of systems and processes. It’s true that the business needs to invest and maintain systems they rely on to operate. However, this is an area where budget can be freed up to aid experimentation with new technologies. In addition, years of organic growth in legacy systems across multiple lines of business can lead to a complex matrix of technologies and processes. We suggest significant benefits are achievable from harmonising processes, in particular where customers’ have to engage with these systems.
‘There’s a battle outside ragin’, It’ll soon shake your windows, And rattle your walls, For the times they are a-changin’[i].
We are in a period of significant upheaval across the business landscape. Macro and local economic impacts are meteoric. Technology disruption and innovation impacts are seismic. Whole sectors have been decimated. Some are under attack right now. Others are seeing the early waves breaking against their shores.
We have seen traditional responses to these attacks fail.
In addition customers are much more savvy. They realise how powerful they are. They demand to engage with the business on their terms. The quality of experience and service they receive is ever more in direct proportion to the level of loyalty they are willing to give. Customer tolerance for a subpar experience is at an all-time low. We see this demonstrated in the way they move on to a new supplier almost immediately something does not suit them.
This behaviour alone is driving digital transformation, and shaking up businesses. With customers expecting an experience that is fast, efficient and simple we have to find ways of meeting their needs, or be left behind. Its little wonder business leaders are looking at leading technology companies and saying, ‘We need that!
[i] The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan, 1964.
20 January 2017, by Yemi Olagbaiye
With so many new buzzwords and technologies, it is hard to determine which of these actually hold any clout in the modern business arena or have what it takes to become part of our lives in the future. Whilst we don’t profess to have all the answers here at Softwire, here are the top five trends that we believe will make a real impact in 2017.
We predict that VR will continue to be one of the most significant developments in the technology space this year. VR has the potential to complement and improve daily activities. Facebook has marked its space in this arena and we are likely to see VR-related upgrades from the leading social media players. Social media channels are one of the best routes for pushing the boundaries of this technology. Products including Google Daydream Viewer and Samsung VR have increased the level of content for consumers to digest and we’re likely to see this with games, movies, TV series and possibly gigs.
With the overwhelming success of games like Pokemon Go, brands now see the huge potential of this technology. It’s taken stampedes of people in parks, racing to catch their next Pikachu to make anyone pay attention. We predict that 2017 will see consumers less apprehensive of accepting AR on their smartphones and devices. In fact, with many of the shocks the world has faced in 2016, perhaps it may offer a more appealing ‘reality‘ whilst not completely detaching us from the outside world.
Following its recent upgrade, Microsoft’s mixed reality platform, ‘Windows Holographic’, now promises a varied new set of reality experiences for Windows users. Apple could make a play for a seat at the table with AR offerings. Who knows, Magic Leap may even start shipping at some point later this year (well, maybe…).
Where AR surpasses its counterpart, VR, is in its hardware simplicity. There is no need to purchase additional complimentary hardware, there’s a much easier gateway to the experience – a mobile device. AR has the potential to enhance existing games, toys, work and retail and we’re excited to see what comes next.
During 2016, AI has developed significantly and as a result machine learning has become more universally understood. Consumers have benefited from the increased choice of digital voice assistants and it’s likely that many big players will see 2017 as an opportunity to take advantage of consumers’ understanding and appreciation of this growing tech trend.
With Google’s Assistant, and Amazon’s Echo marketing themselves as must-haves in the home, we could see champions such as Microsoft and Apple releasing their own respective Cortana and Siri-based competitive devices. AI will continue to grow smarter and smarter.
We will take advantage of some of the emerging tech, AR and VR, on 4K screens and on smartphones. Yes, smartphones. HDTV technology is old news, curved screens and 3D just aren’t hitting the right buttons. Creating bigger and bigger TVs will not win any innovation prizes. Why is this one of our top trends? We believe that the manufacturing tides of transformation are turning towards the smaller screens, specifically those we have at our constant disposal.
We have seen OLED (organic light-emitting diode display) technology rise to become the flagship technology for smartphone screens. This year we’re likely to see the technology leveraged to help create thinner and more battery-efficient smartphones.
Why is this important? Why should anyone care? Will anyone ever really notice? Consumers are becoming more familiar with slipping their smartphones into their VR headset of choice.
With the screen so close, only higher resolutions can deliver the best experiences.
Security and Privacy
With the growth in artificial intelligence and IoT devices security is a key question. We will have thousands of connect devices, all communicating via the cloud, using real-time monitoring, logging, and data analytics – data on us. Security gaps with unpatched IoT devices could lead to significant compromises more damaging than previously thought. In order for these technologies to move forward security and privacy issues need to be taken seriously.
We will be closely monitoring these trends during 2017 and delivering bespoke digital solutions to our valued clients, to find out more read our blog.
9 November 2016, by Jenny Mulholland
Have you ever wanted to work for the public sector, but didn’t think that as an SME you would have the same opportunities as a large supplier? Softwire’s experience as a software supplier to the public sector has shown us that this is not the case. In this blog post we explore why bespoke software developers, design agencies, cloud product vendors or freelancers should consider working for the public sector.
- Firstly, the Government has a genuine commitment to increase public sector spend with SME’s. The target for 2020 is 33% * this follows an upward trend of 25% in 2015.
- Even if you have no experience in the public sector this should not detract you from applying. Softwire had little experience in the public sector but we have recently been able to win multiple varied and exciting projects. Experience in the private sector is extremely valid along as long as you can demonstrate your expertise through case studies and testimonials.
- There are procurement portals which list all the current opportunities available. Some good starting points are:
Explore all the frameworks on offer http://ccs-agreements.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/
Freelancers, bespoke providers, cloud product providers and cloud consultants should head to the digital marketplace https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/ and to search for larger digital projects from across the EU: http://ted.europa.eu/TED/misc/chooseLanguage.do=
- In most cases the projects have been scoped and funded in advance of selecting a supplier, mitigating your risk. Requirements and budgets are usually stated upfront allowing you to assess which projects would be a good fit for your organisation and there’s a clear and open process for asking questions.
- The scope and range of public sector work is very diverse. It’s not just local authorities and large public bodies. Public sector includes research institutions, infrastructure providers, regulators and many more.
- There is a strong government directive for digital transformation and you could be working on projects using leading-edge technologies, methodologies and design techniques. The Government Digital Service manual explains and encourages best practice to ensure project success. https://www.gov.uk/service-manual
- Public sector projects have a strong social impact. Through digital transformation the Government wants to push the boundaries of technology to improve and make public services more effective and efficient.
- The government mystery shopper portal ensures that the procurement process is fair to SME’s. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mystery-shopper-results-2016
- techUK works with the Government on behalf of the industry and is an advocate for the needs of small and medium sized tech companies.
- With the Government digital transformation budget expected to be around £1.8bn next year – what are you waiting for?
21 October 2016, by Anna Tindall
As a second year Computer Science student at Cambridge without much free time, I had learnt a lot of theory but had done surprisingly little useful programming. I therefore applied for a summer internship at Softwire to change this. I wanted to gain experience working a proper project from beginning to end and Softwire did not disappoint. I did a four-week training internship starting at the end of July.
12 October 2016, by Chris Arnott
These days, everyone has an app. If you are one of the people who decided to write a cross platform app using cordova and would like to now post it to the app store, then keep reading and I’ll explain how to go about doing that.
Just a word upfront, in order to build your app, and to post the built app to the app store, you will need an apple machine.
Building your app
There are three steps required to build a release version of your app. Create a certificate, create an app identifier and create a provisioning profile. Once you have done these steps, you will be able to build a signed ipa of your app.
Create a certificate
First, you will need to login to Apple’s developer website. If you do not have an app id, you will need to create one, and you will also need to register as an Apple Developer, which will cost you $99.
Now that you are logged in, go to the distribution certificates page, and create a new certificate by clicking the plus button, marking your certificate as Production > “App Store and Ad Hoc”, and then following through the instructions on the website, which involve creating a signing request.
Create an app identifier
Again, the first step is to login to Apple’s developer website. This time, go to the app identifier page. Fill in a short description, and then specify the app identifier for your app (this is stored in the config.xml in your cordova project:
<widget id="com.softwire.exampleApp" ... >
At this stage, if you want to add any extra services to your app (e.g. PushNotifications) then you will need to mark them on the app identifier.
Create a provisioning profile
On the next page, you will need to select the App ID that you have just created and click continue.
On the final page, you will need to select the certificate that you have just created and click continue.
Finally, give the provisioning profile a name, and click continue again.
You do not need to download the provisioning profile, we will get XCode to do that for us in the “Submitting your app”.
Submitting your app
In order to submit your app to the app store, you will need to build the signed ipa file, create an app store listing, and then finally submit the app you have built.
Building a signed IPA
Now that you have created a provisioning profile (see above if not), you must get xcode to download it. To do this, login to your Apple account on XCode (Preferences > Accounts), and then click the + button and follow the instructions to add your account.
Once your account has been added, select your account in the left panel, and click “View Details…” in the right panel. On the screen that opens, you should see the provisioning profiles attached to your account. One of these will be the Provisioning Profile you created above. Select the Provisioning Profile and click download. This will now be available to xcode when building your project.
The next step is to inform cordova of which provisioning profile to use when building. This is done using a build.json file. You should create a build.json file, and include in it the id of the provisioning profile that you downloaded.
Finally, you can now run a build on your mac using:
cordova build ios --device --release --buildConfig build.json
This will create a signed ipa of your app under
Creating an app listing
Login to iTunes Connect. From here, you can go to the apps page, and then create a new project. You will now need to fill in details for your app (there are lots to fill in, but the help Apple provides is quite useful), and ensure that you have uploaded screenshots of the app running on both phone and tablet (if relevant).
Once you are happy with the details, save them.
Submitting the IPA to the app store
Now that an app listing has been created, the next step is to upload the build (created above) to Apple.
To perform this upload, you will need Application Loader 3.0. You can download this from the “Prepare for submission” page on the app listing.
Once you have Application Loader installed, login and click choose. Select the ipa that was built earlier, which will upload the app to Apple. It will automatically be linked to your app listing, as the app’s id will match the one specified on the app listing.
After upload, the ipa will be processed by Apple, and following that, can be selected as the version that should be published to the store. If you’re happy with everything, then submit the app to review.
Apple will now review your app, and it will appear in the app store when it is ready. The review process will take a couple of days, and you will receive an email when the submission is complete.
3 August 2016, by Chris Arnott
This post explains the solutions to Question 4 of our speed coding 2016 competition. If you haven’t yet read the question, head back and have a go now.
27 July 2016, by Chris Arnott
This post explains the solutions to Question 3 of our speed coding 2016 competition. If you haven’t yet read the question, head back and have a go now.
20 July 2016, by Chris Arnott
This post explains the solutions to Question 2 of our speed coding 2016 competition. If you haven’t yet read the question, head back and have a go now.