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diginomica 2017 - the year according to Madeline

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett December 20, 2017
Continuing our year-end countdown, Madeline Bennett picks out ten of her personal highlights from the year at diginomica. 

(1) Diversity (not) in tech

Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Why? 2017 has been another year of promises made and initiatives begun to tackle the lack of diversity across the technology industry. Unfortunately as the quote above highlights, taken from the infamous ‘Google memo’, there are still many who believe a tech sector dominated by white men is the right way; and there are still far too many organisations simply paying lip service to the issue without enacting any genuine changes. 2018 needs to be the year that proper strides are made to ensure equal opportunities and pay for all in tech.

(2) Fair AI

AI is a mirror that will hold up your biases.

Why? The gains from AI could be massive – a fact that hasn’t escaped the UK government, hence its current obsession with the Fourth Industrial Revolution and self-driving cars. But it’s the question of whether robots are going to take over our jobs and lives that dominates the artificial intelligence debate. Actually, what we should be more worried about in the near term is who are the people developing the AI systems, and what are they teaching the technology to think about different people and situations. Data sets and algorithms need to be completely clear of biases if they are to be trusted as the foundation of AI.

(3) Healing the NHS

People genuinely want to help the NHS make things better, but we actually make it quite hard for people to help us by taking the pressure off.

Why? The NHS has had as tough a year as any in its recent history, with failing hospitals and mass skills shortages. The digital team are hoping that allowing third-party experts to develop and upload new healthcare apps will improve patient care. Hopefully 2018 will see work underway on this project, and the requisite trust built between the NHS and these external experts, as a way of easing a bit of pressure on our healthcare system.

(4) Digital transformers

The driver should always be changing the customer experience.

Why? I talked to many IT leaders over the course of the year about modernising their organisations for the digital age. While the approaches and outcomes varied, most had a common theme: you need to put the customer at the heart of digital transformation projects. But as the former NAO digital chief Dr Sally Howes noted, a lot of organisations still prioritise tech over people.

(5) Brexit

We just want everything to be dealt with as quickly as possible to gain back that confidence that the UK is the place to be involved when it comes to tech startups.

Why? So said Baroness Mone when I spoke to her on the launch of her new bitcoin-themed property development. 2017 has been a year dominated by politics, with embarrassing election results and unpleasant Brexit wrangling. I’m hoping the New Year will bring some much-needed clarity on how the UK will look post-Brexit to make sure potential tech investors and businesses aren’t scared away to other EU hubs.

(6) Skills shortages

A pork pie is a heavy, bulky piece of equipment. There are limited add-ons, you can’t pull it apart and create anything with it, you can only add mustard and pickle.

Why? Anything with a food analogy goes down well with me, and it’s certainly a unique lead-in for a conference session highlighting digital skills shortages among charities and small businesses. Exeter Leukaemia Fund (ELF) CEO Mags Naylor shared some great insights into the fear among her team of accepting new technologies and how she got them to embrace digital – an important lesson as we face growing skills shortages going into 2018, and desperately need to find willing and able individuals to train up.

(7) Silos survive

The idea that you need a single platform is culturally at odds with the idea that you need all these specialist services using their own bits and pieces of software.

Why? Just as charities and small businesses have their concerns about the shift to digital, local councils are also facing pockets of resistance. When Tandridge Council rolled out Salesforce as part of its modernisation project, it faced a few years of reluctance among staff used to their own fiefdoms and niche applications. Putting people at the heart of transformation projects will hopefully see this siloed approach banished in 2018.

(8) Quality over quantity

It doesn’t make a bloody bit of difference whether you go after 20 million or you go after 25, if none of them are active, none of them are engaged or none of them are worth having.

Why? Data is now king for most organisations. But Chief Data Officers are not happy with the ‘bigger is better’ approach being applied to customer data, and the tendency to focus on top-level numbers. One of the New Year’s resolutions companies should make is to drill down into their data to locate those users or data points really worth having.

(9) Tech for good

When you’re sitting there all day long on your own, and your family has gone out to work or your kids are off to school, you’re basically just living to die.

Why? I’ve come across dozens of excellent uses of technology for the greater good, but this one really stood out for me for two reasons. It’s an app tackling an oft-forgotten or overlooked area: helping those living with serious illness or the after-effects of it get back into the world of work; and more importantly it’s been developed and promoted by two people with direct experience of this who deserve all our support.

(10) Looking far ahead

Unless you equip us with tools to make sure that record can be opened in 50-60 years time, you’re not going to know how to repair that escalator.

2017 went by in a whirlwind, and I hope 2018 brings a little more time for reflection and, dare I suggest, relaxation. The technology sector is often focused on rushing out the next big thing, and developing products that help get things done quicker and with immediacy. So the conversation I had with a TfL archivist working to preserve London history, among all the tech executives and CIOs I spoke to during the year, stands out for me as someone looking back for the good of looking far into the future.


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