Growth engines through history have been enabled by new utilities - electricity, roads and railways, telephones and, for nearly 20 years, the internet. This relatively new utility continues to churn out disruptive technology at an ever-increasing pace. Mayank Prakash, Director General, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) takes a look.

This potential of internet, data and innovative cognitive technologies has a new shorthand - digital. Digital presents tremendous opportunities to change existing business models, create new opportunities and change how we live as human beings, but also introduces serious challenges like privacy and how we socially interact.

So what does the future hold? Is it just more websites and phones, or is there something more fundamental happening? Will the ‘internet of things’ change our lives unrecognisably? What will the new generation of digital natives in the workforce want and expect from their employers?

In this context, the Spring 2016 issue explores how industry leaders are innovating to stay on top. Three drivers unlock digital value propositions:

  1. Aspirational leaders who see the possibilities of what can be done with disruptive technology, then lead and deliver that strategy. Peter Sondergaard shares Gartner’s view of how to unlock value.
  2. We are only as good as what we deliver. Digital technology and data unlocks new products, new ways of working, turns business intelligence factories into real-time analytics on secure, flexible infrastructure, while embracing the reality that markets like technologies are in a perpetual state of transition. Mark Dearnley shares what is being delivered in HMRC.
  3. Talent matters. Disruptive technologies create new waves of opportunity that attract innovators, pioneers, and people who enjoy creating order out of chaos. Millennials (really anybody born after 1985) continue to flow into the workforce, and bring with them a new philosophy: money is only part of the package. Increasingly talent is inspired by the opportunity to create and make a real difference. Robin Johnson shares how Maersk IT is changing.

At DWP we believe that a digital step change enabled by the internet and its derivatives has the potential to positively affect every aspect of society. We’ve moved in how we deliver digital technology and data from a series of rolling waves of off-the-shelf products, to the tumult of stormy agile waters with 4,000 rapid iterative deliverables in the last six months.

Every organisation needs to prepare for this new way of working using best-in-class open source technologies to re-imagine how a business operates and to create a competitive advantage by analysing data trends in real-time.

People change

People have changed. The workplace needs to adjust accordingly. Aspirational leaders, who consider their leadership to be a privilege and not just a position, will attract the best talent, aspire to deliver legacies people are proud of and allow their people to flourish and strive to perform at their best, both in a personal and professional capacity.

Millennials are mobile first, used to social media and care a lot about the world, society, and making a real difference. They ask if human lives can be meaningfully affected by what they’re doing. They’re attracted by companies that value principles like the triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) and ethical computing.

Businesses have responded variously with remote working, flexitime and multichannel, high-frequency collaboration across organisational structures. But what perhaps isn’t quite as obvious is that communication and collaboration is now often more than 50 per cent of what people do, even for individual contributors. It’s actually quite rare that anything valuable is created by a single person or team.

It’s about user experience design

The other big change is that delivering functionality is what mattered in the last century, this century is all about user experience design. Market leaders of consumer products have experienced the reality that an excellent user experience trumps more functionality every time. Design thinking is an essential skill for every computing professional, especially the smarter ones.

Forward-thinking organisations are acknowledging the importance of collaboration, and how to treat technology as a core business competency alongside other business functions to create digitally enabled, organisation-wide strategy. For organisations, leaders and professionals used to treating IT as a supplier that delivers business needs, this is a new way of thinking.

This requires substantial investment in professional development and new capabilities, and the right next generation technologies to enable it.

All functions need to re-imagine and come together. IT organisations have visibility of all parts of the organisation and understand the disruptive potential of technologies, so they can often be the enablers of change to unlock the potential of modern technologies and data.

It’s for this reason that DWP Technology Group, covering digital technology, data and security, is treated as a core part of our business. We don’t use the word business to exclude technology, data and security.

In the last year, we have attracted some of the most talented professionals across the UK, inspired by the opportunity to take business ownership of the potential of new digital technologies and data on an unprecedented scale – including serving 22m customers, delivering Europe’s largest implementation of Javascript micro-services architecture and using real-time analytics on flexible cloud infrastructure deployed as code.

The challenges

Meanwhile, however, the world has got a lot more challenging. Across the world, cyber-attacks happen every day. Many are extremely advanced, persistent, and possibly state sponsored.

In a world of diverse information assets, moving targets of vulnerabilities and growing threat profiles; every organisation needs to build security capabilities and prepare for a breach. It seems like not a week passes by without another data security breach in a major corporation being announced in the press.

What does security look like in this world? The dynamism created by cloud, cyberattacks and a mobile workforce calls for an updated and carefully-nuanced security strategy.

You can’t just clamp down on everything or it will stifle the lifeblood of the organisation. Equally the cyberattacks are real.

Two-factor authentication, comprising something you have and something you know, is now a given. The threats are real and diverse, the vulnerabilities have accumulated over decades, so urgent action is needed and organisations need to prepare for a breach.

New technologies, data and security are unlocking exciting new digital business models across industries. This is an exciting opportunity for the computing profession to design and deliver.

The next generation digital professional

Programming is easy. People are hard,’ says Bill Coughran, former SVP for Google Engineering. Google recently published survey results showing that the individuals on a team matter less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.

In Debugging Teams by Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Colins-Sussman, this message is underscored further. The myth of the lone hero programmer is not only largely a myth, but it’s simply not enough anymore. You don’t need a team of rocket scientists to create high performance teams.

Hire good, curious, thoughtful and collaborative people, give them the tools and access they need and you will have top performance.