Education – How can technology help?

Posted on : 28-03-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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The development of the Raspberry Pi, (a £30 computer designed to give the next generation of children programming skills) started a few of us at Broadgate thinking about technology and education – Are there ways that schools and other organisations could utilise some of the current technology trends?



ICT in the classroom has changed radically over the last 30 years. In the 1980s there existed  ‘the school computer’ where a select group of students could spend lunch-times and evenings writing programmes in incomprehensible languages resulting in simple calculators or battleship type games. Now computers are embedded in homes, offices and schools – the UK GCSE ICT course now includes a full project management lifecycle study from initial requirements gathering to system implementation. Outside the classroom computers are used for all the usual business processes including pupil records, finance, scheduling and communications.

In the UK the Professor Steve Furber of Royal Society  criticised the skills of ICT teachers (for example only 35% have a specific qualification in the subject contrasting with 74% of maths teachers) and teaching and proposed the standalone subject be scrapped. He said that IT was so important it should be part of the core curriculum integrated into schools to improve digital literacy alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.


Our Broad Thoughts

Integrating technology into the core of the curriculum is key and we think the opportunities for technology to improve, accelerate and enhance the educational experience for both pupils and teachers are huge.

A few of our ideas are below and we’d welcome your thoughts on these and other areas.


1. Social Media – collaborative approach

This is an area were the pupils excel and, as a rule, are ahead of the teachers. These technical natives have grown up with technology and the use of social networks is a natural extension of them. They are used for updating friends, promoting themselves, discussing & arguing and sharing information. Are there ways schools can utilise this technology and more importantly energy & enthusiasm?

The key element of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc etc. is socialising and sharing ideas. Discussions started in the classroom can be extended to home/remote working. These often happen informally amongst pupils but could have added value if teachers could interact and assist. Schools could create ecosystems for collaborative working. Initially it may be difficult to attract pupils to the school created areas so a more successful approach may be for the pupils to create and teachers to join. Obviously there are risks to this but the idea that there be a shared area for thoughts and ideas without negativity in a safe space.


2. BYOD/Mobility – help or hindrance?

Many pupils now carry smartphones some are starting to carry iPads too. These can be viewed negatively from a school perspective as they can, at worst, be a distraction in class and potentially a cheating and bullying device.

So, accepting they are not going away, how can the positive aspects of smartphones be utilised?

Simple techniques such as using calendar facilities to upload the class timetables, reminders for homework, coursework etc. Alerts for taking in gym kit could be pushed out to pupils (and parents) devices. Obviously this does not completely remove ‘The dog ate my blackberry’ issue for teachers but it should help!

Coursework, homework and useful reference material & links can be also pushed up to phones to consolidate knowledge and aide pupils.

Even more useful would be to think how people use their phones and tablets, as well as communicating they are great research tools and could be used within the classroom situation helping finding different viewpoints on historical events for instance (and so helping improve the critical thinking of children as there are so many different and potentially inaccurate ‘facts’ out there –  “Always check your sources!” as my history teacher used to say).

Tablets and iPads in particular are very exciting tools for learning. They move away from the conformity of keyboards and mice and can make learning truly interactive. They are starting to be adopted in schools but we think there is a great potential to radically change the classroom and learning experience.

Obviously not all pupils can afford smartphones so to avoid technology related poverty trap, less well-off pupils should be provided with the same phones/tablets. Cash rich technology organisations should be approached to assist and a need mechanism could be introduced such as that for school dinners. Also parents’ wishes need to be taken into account as the age that a child is allowed to use a phone can vary widely.


3. Data Intelligence – Capturing Trends

As with any organisation there are large amounts of data contained in multiple stores. Also as with any other organisation that data is often not connected with other relevant sources so the information value of that data is lost.

One of our colleagues moved from financial services to education and was surprised by the lack of management information available to the teaching team. The data is there but it was not being translated into meaningful information.

There must be potential to link an individual teachers/class/subject results to identify trends. E.g. if the interim test results for the year 8 history class is going down, is it because the course work has been modified, there is a new teacher or the pupils socio-economic make up has changed? A good business intelligence application can trawl the data to identify the causes and so the appropriate remedial actions taken.

Similarly if maths A level results suddenly improve, what are the reasons for this and how can then they be applied elsewhere (internally or externally see Communications below)

If an individual pupils attainment levels started dropping off then additional attention could be provided to that student to help them get back on track and also identify and help hopefully resolve the underlying cause of the issue.

Other areas which may be more radical may involve gathering the information and identifying the better performing areas within or across schools including measurements such as a ‘cost per GCSE’ or ‘Entry/Exit attainment improvement’ of pupils.


4. Communications – sharing

Schools can sometimes be inward looking. Often teachers stay in one school for a considerable time. This is great for continuity and progression but may result in lost opportunities for innovation and changes that are happening in the extended educational community. Some schools encourage visits to other schools, conferences and courses can help here and there is big opportunity to take this further.

Businesses utilise management consultants to help improve organisations for efficiency or growth with the view to build revenue and profits.

Could information sharing, more inter-school communications, best practice and teaching artefact sharing help schools and teaching? Information is now available locally, nationally and internationally so can be shared and used amongst educational establishments.


5. Cloud Computing – Who needs infrastructure?

Most schools have a room/office with the computers/servers. As IT requirements grew in terms of finance, pupils’ records, assessments, operational and staff information the amount and complexity of equipment expanded often requiring dedicated resources to support and change. As we have been saying to our clients, with the advent of Cloud and Software as a Service the need for this is reducing to the point where the default should be for someone else to host, manage and support a schools technology infrastructure.

Obviously, as with any sensitive information, the question of student data privacy and security needs to be addressed. This should already be the case and the existing policies should be proved by any potential vendor and tested regularly by the educational authority.


6. Security – Paramount

The most important part of the use of technology is pupil safety and confidentiality. This is obvious and needs to be kept in the forefront of any discussion in regard to the introduction of a system whether it is IT or other mechanism.


Final thoughts

The opportunities for technology to help improve schools is both immense and exciting, this is not an area we have worked in but are really interested in stimulating a debate and seeing if we can assist in any way. Every time we help people outside our core business areas of finance IT we find not only do we enjoy it but we too learn a great deal from different working structures and cultures.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” John Dewey – innovation & technology can help us help the next generation.



How much now do we need to “Run the Bank” ?

Posted on : 27-03-2012 | By : jo.rose | In : Finance

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The economic challenges of recent years have brought with it an increased focus on efficiency. Indeed, since the early 2000’s, technology organisations within financial services have been delivering cost reduction programmes on behalf of their client business units. In the main these have been successful, certainly in terms of meeting short term objectives.

The criticism leveraged at banks from a front office perspective over recent years is well documented and accepted ( by most ), both internally and externally. What is less opined is that the phenomenal growth with the Financial Services ecosystem also had side effects both culturally and structurally – many developed complex, and sometimes cumbersome, technology services organisations, the legacy of which will take time to re-engineer.

Now, there will many in FS technology leadership roles that will disagree, but there is an argument that at some point CIO organisations became detached from their clients. Indeed, many claim this to be part of the strategy…i.e. an internal services function which operates on a commercial basis, with defined business services, billing engines, contracts etc… maybe also coupled with outsourcing, offshoring and managed services. However, was it completely business aligned ?

There are two main organisational and cultural issues:

  • Agility: Two of the common phrases in the FS technology vocabulary are “Run the Bank ( RTB )” to represent baseline activities and “Change the Bank ( CTB )” to represent project activities. All very well, and a good way of dividing baseline versus discretionary resources respectively. However, you rarely hear the words Demand and Supply, Consumption Based Delivery, Unit Pricing, Commoditisation or the like. That’s because the internal services function, even if acting as a conduit to vendor delivery, cannot flex in the appropriate way or in a timely manner ( nor do they really have the incentive to ). The result is a resource baseline provisioned for close to “peaks” of demand.
  • Market Value: This is a bit tricky ( and will upset a few ). Whilst internal technology organisations provide an undeniably valuable service, there is only a small percentage that provide real enhanced business functionality, real competitive advantage and real innovation. Most are in the engine room – Running The Bank. The measure of success here is stability, time to market and efficiency. So with Business revenues under pressure, margins being squeezed and new regulation to comply with, the Front Office should quite rightly be asking questions related to the value and cost of RTB services.

But really…there is a serious point here. For the majority of technology staff the intricacies of business process, underlying instruments, competitive advantage and what drives revenues passes them by. So why such a large compensation premium ? And whilst we’re at it, how many Managing Directors in IT do business clients actually need ? ( told you you’d be upset… ).

Another area that has driven technology costs is the sheer volume and complexity of applications and infrastructure. We talk to many FS clients and their portfolio ranges typically from 1000 up to 6000 applications!

There are many reasons for the growth in applications to support business processes. However, whilst the efficiency programmes we touched on earlier removed people, renegotiated contracts and consolidated infrastructure etc…success stories in application rationalisation are more difficult to unearth.

Granted, it’s not easy. Portfolio rationalisation requires both time and investment…and that’s the issue. Business cases without a short term return don’t get out of the starting blocks. Besides, with objectives being set on a yearly basis, who wants to put themselves in the frame to deliver a multi-year programme of change when all the main stakeholders are on a short term incentive programme. Again, the application costs only go one way…and this needs to change.

The other major point in the application domain is that there needs be stronger evaluation and alignment of exactly what functionality is required to meet the business needs. Often, vendors will bring new versions to market with a whole raft of enhancements, many of which are hardly either used ( or wanted ). Of course, from a support perspective it is difficult to lag behind. But what about alternatives that offer what is actually needed and ignores the “nice to haves” ? Are some upgrades and enhancements technology for technologies sake ? Same applies to infrastructure.

With technology commoditising and Software as a Service gaining more traction, this is a perfect opportunity for businesses to redress the balance. As the market matures we see a much more agile, on-demand delivery of applications and infrastructure which is better aligned functionally and more focused on delivering business value. Of course, there are also downsides…CIO’s will need to manage differently, as more of a broker to external services, with a strong focus on vendor / demand management and dealing with more rigidity in functional enhancements.

The result will be a much leaner technology organisation which can focus on delivering real business value in a more efficient way. Whether they continue to Run the Bank ? …Well that remains to be seen.

Data Visualisation – Dashboard’s come of age

Posted on : 26-03-2012 | By : john.vincent | In : Data

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A couple of years ago, the partners of Broadgate attended an event hosted at Microsoft around their CRM product, Dynamics. It was a good day, but during the wrap up there was something even more interesting. We had a demo of Qlikview, which centered around a topical theme at the time, drilling in and making sense of the masses of data surrounding MP’s expenses. It was fast, simple and impressive.

Two years on and we attended the Business Discovery day hosted by Qlikview themselves. By now, we had heard a lot around the product and started to do some work in this area. This time there were some 800+ people in attendance and latest version (11) has moved on a long way.

The main premise is simple – Empower Business Users. Particularly at an enterprise level, the extraction, collation and presentation of data to end users has not always been as seamless as required. Multiple support organisations have needed to deal with technical configuration and this has increased time to market for what is basically a reporting service. Software providers such as IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft have strongly embedded solutions. However, often there is significant setup and configuration required which affects time to market and the agility accorded to the business user.

The diagram below shows the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence.

So, of course Qlikview is not the only choice. There are, however, four areas that we feel it excels:

  • Data Visualisation: getting the underlying data is key, but also the visualisation of that data can sometimes hamper the end user experience. Qlikview allows users to create dynamic dashboards with state of the art graphics and analytics.
  • Flexibility: the ability for end users to run reporting analytics in more of a “self service” approach is key. The low entry point in terms of technical knowledge allows for more empowerment and exploration of data and information.
  • Mobility: it is rare that decisions are made in isolation. People operate in teams, with peers and trusted advisors, and Qlikview allows for a collaborative approach to gaining an insight on an organisations data. It also provide access through mobile channels, thus freeing the end user from the traditional delivery constraints.
  • Accessibility: getting hold of the data in order to create meaningful MI has often been a challenge. Using Qlikview you can input multiple data sources into one searchable data structure, allowing for the whole picture to be presented rather than having to interogate across different applications.

The days when creating Management Dashboards was an arduous task, often negating value by having teams of people behind the scenes sourcing, cleansing and presenting data, may finally be behind us.

If you would like to explore how we could help your organisation in the area of Business intelligence please contact