The one thing we’ve learned from working with our customers – whether they’re large banks or small fintechs operating in a disrupted financial services sector, or major outfits negotiating their way along the tricky path of omnichannel retailing – is that digital means different things to different people. But we think that what we’ve also learned is that having a single definition of digital may not be possible or even useful – digital is as digital does. For some of our clients, digital means technology. For others it means customer experience. And for virtually all of them it means re-defining business value and how to deliver it.
So even if you can’t help us with a neat definition, we believe that our clients would like to hear from you if your digital skills and experience, gained on a permanent or interim basis, have come via a marketing, technology or business route.
We want to talk to you. Drop us a line and tell us about yourself!
According to the BCS, neurodiversity remains an overlooked issue in the tech industry — employment rates for neurodiverse people remains low and stigma remains. However, a growing number of companies are recognising that it’s not only right to offer opportunities to all, but people who think differently provide a competitive advantage and help to create an inclusive environment for everyone. For example, both Microsoft and Dell have an established autism hiring programme. So, what are the barriers to a neurodiverse tech industry and how can organisations help?
Neurodiversity refers to the differences in thinking patterns, interests and motivations that naturally occur throughout the population. A neurotypical brain functions in the way that the majority expects. However, an estimated 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent. This is an umbrella term that refers to people who have Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and other neurodevelopmental conditions.
Employment rates vary across conditions. For example, according to research conducted by the National Autistic Society, just 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work and many are working in a job below their skill level. Worryingly, a recent study found that half of leaders and managers would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent person. The highest level of bias was against people with Tourettes, ADHD or Autism. In addition, the majority of neurodivergent people surveyed felt their workplace was not inclusive to their needs. Up to 40% of employees in the tech industry have not disclosed their neurodivergent traits, meaning that their needs are unlikely to be supported.
It’s important to firstly point out that stereotypes around neurodivergent behaviour are unhelpful and often cause unrealistic expectations. For example, the idea that autistic people are maths or computer savants. However, there are many benefits that go beyond superficial abilities including:
Software and data quality engineering start-up, Ultranauts, is a fantastic demonstration of a company leveraging the power of a neurodiversity. 75% of the workforce are on the Autism spectrum. The small company is now winning contracts from Fortune 100 companies over established global IT consultancies. The company’s founder credits their success to their neurodiverse workforce, saying that, ‘with different learning styles and information processing models, to collaborate and focus on attacking the same problem, we’re just going to be better at it.’ Crucially, Ultranauts also worked hard to create an inclusive culture that supports neurodivergent people.
Importantly, hiring neurodivergent people has a positive effect on the entire workforce by fostering a culture of inclusion. Accommodating individual needs is a wonderful thing that everyone can benefit from by encouraging both innovation and empathy within the organisation.
Many neurodivergent people will require accommodations in their workspace. For example, Autistic people who suffer with sensory processing disorder may benefit from adjustments in lighting and noise (however, it’s important to highlight that variation exists — one autistic person could be over-sensitive and another under sensitive). ADHD people who experience periods of hyper-fixation accompanied by distractibility may benefit from a flexible schedule. In addition, making interviews neurodiverse friendly will support fair assessment practices and encourage hiring of neurodiverse candidates.
Finally, many neurotypical people overestimate their knowledge of conditions such as Autism and ADHD. Awareness training can help build understanding and avoid further workplace barriers being created for their neurodivergent peers.
Several major employers, such as Twitter and Facebook, have announced that remote work will continue indefinitely. For those who enjoy the flexibility and lack of commute that working from home offers, this will be welcome news. For others who thrive in an office environment or who lack a suitable home-working space, a remote future could be a nightmare. There are also growing concerns about what remote work will mean for training, teamwork and sustaining company culture.
The hybrid office is being touted as a solution, where employees split their week between their home and the physical office space. However, this comes with its own set of problems. For example, there is concern over a two-tier system arising between office and home workers, and a possible breakdown in communication as a result. Luckily, there are a number of innovative new technologies being designed — could they help build a hybrid office that people want to be part of?
One of these new technologies is Yonderdesk, a custom digital workspace. One of the main issues with a hybrid office is that it lacks the ‘sense of togetherness’ created by physically being in the same space. This means employees miss out on socialising and are less likely to ask their colleagues quick queries. Yonderdesk is a digital floor plan that can mimic the organisation’s actual office space. Employees are given an avatar and a desk, so that it’s easy to see where your colleagues are at (e.g., in meetings, available or working on a task). Digital floor plans have been a key element of online games, such as Habbo, for years because they are fun, engaging and make people feel like they are having a shared experience, so it will be fascinating to see whether ideas like Yonderdesk prove popular.
On a more tech-heavy futuristic note, there is plenty of development in virtual and augmented reality technology. Digital start-up, Spatial, are working on augmented reality filters that create the illusion that your co-worker is right in front of you (similar to Pokemon Go). The avatar has facial expressions and can even sit down on a chair. It also works on existing virtual reality headsets, but Spatial are particularly excited by the idea of lightweight glasses, which are likely to be far more practical for everyday use. In addition, Spatial allows your avatar to interact with virtual tools. In their words, ‘Your room is your monitor, your hands are the mouse.’ There are plenty of other virtual reality meeting applications, such as the ones on this list, but Spatial is one of the most immersive.
A more controversial development is the increase of monitoring software, sometimes known as ‘Tattleware’. Some of these products can be used without employee knowledge to spy on emails, software use and more, which can have serious data privacy implications and undermine trust. Given that, on average, people have been working longer hours during the pandemic, it seems unwise to use monitoring software in this way. However, when used ethically and transparently, such tools can provide a rich understanding of employee behaviour that can improve productivity, engagement and prevent fatigue and/or burnout. For example, software like Time Doctor has time-tracking features that can help employees and managers gain a better understanding of how long tasks actually take, which can be fed into future estimates and used to reshuffle schedules.
Last but not least, collaboration tools. If you haven’t done this already, finding and implementing effective collaboration tools is vital to successful remote and hybrid working. You are probably most familiar with services like Slack — instant messaging chat rooms are a great way for employees to show their availability and engage in more casual conversations. Take this further with tools like Donut, a slack channel that makes introductions with a random employee every couple of weeks and encourages virtual or in-person meet-ups. This helps build a cohesive company culture by structuring those random encounters from the pre-pandemic days.
Clearly, it will take time to build a hybrid office that suits your organisation. Exploring new tools is a great way to avoid complacency and ensure the hybrid office experience is something your employees want to be part of.
Data Science has become an umbrella category for a number of roles. It is being increasingly recognised that the ‘unicorn’ data scientist who is a master of all the in-demand skills is largely a myth, and that data science roles need to be further specified to serve business needs.
Unfortunately, job titles are still sometimes used inconsistently, which can be confusing if you are looking to pursue a new direction or find a new job. Here is a quick and handy guide to the top job roles, and a breakdown of what each one involves.
This is probably the most common overarching job title. A data scientist’s core responsibility will be to provide actionable business insight from a dataset. Stitch Fix’s Director of data science, Michael Hochster, suggests that the roles tend to fall into two camps: analytical or building. The first focuses on the statistical interpretation of data, whereas the latter builds models based on data. The extent you’ll be expected to diversify your talents will depend on the structure and size of the data science team (i.e. your role is likely to become more focused on true data science in a larger team). Regardless, a data scientist will need to be comfortable with a range of machine learning and data mining techniques. Key skills include expertise in programming languages such as R, MatLab, SQL and Python and a strong background in computer science or related field.
These titles refer to a number of related roles which all focus on communicating data insights and putting them in context of the wider business goals. People in these roles will need a talent for creating a data story and presenting it to people without data expertise or even without much IT knowledge. The focus will be on understanding how data trends can be leveraged to drive the business forward, whereas a data scientist may want to know the root cause of such trends. Though a statistical and coding knowledge are important, it is communication, a business background and an in-depth industry knowledge that are the key skills to these roles.
Now, an analyst and a statistician may rely on similar methods to analyse datasets, but they are very different roles. Harvard Business Review describe the difference as a narrow and deep approach (statisticians) vs wide and shallow (analysts). Statisticians can estimate how data insights might hold up in a variety of circumstances by incorporating error into a model — so they are useful for in-depth insights and minimising the risk of reaching an incorrect conclusion. On the other hand, a data analyst can code at lightning speed and discover potential insights extremely quickly — they can then point statisticians in the right direction. Utilising both a statistician and an analyst can make for a highly efficient system.
Engineering roles often fall under data science (and these roles can often be combined), but when there is a specific engineering role, these people are likely to work with data at an early stage. As a data engineer, you will build and optimise data and data pipeline architecture. Think of engineering as creating the infrastructure necessary for further analysis. As a result, a technical computer science background and exemplary coding skills are essential to this role. It will also be an advantage to gain experience with big data tools, SQL and NoSQL databases, data pipeline tools and cloud services. Machine learning engineering is an additional specialism, which focuses on identifying and applying appropriate models to big datasets.
Big data just keeps growing, and in response many companies are hiring specialists to manage these large datasets. If you are working in one of these roles, you will be expected to create systems that enable integration, centralisation and protection of datasets. You ensure the data engineers and data scientists have an efficient dataset to work with, that it is safely backed up and can be easily recovered. Therefore, you will need to be comfortable in data modelling techniques, data warehousing and security procedures.
We surveyed more than 1,500 employers to gather data on current hiring trends, changes to learning and development programmes, the impacts of Brexit and the upcoming IR35 regulations, the pandemics influence on salaries and rates, and current skills in demand. We are pleased to be able to present the results for January below:
Diversity remains a key issue for the technology industry. According to a recent BCS report, 18% of IT professionals have BAME backgrounds. BAME people are also less likely to hold senior positions — only 9% are directors and 32% are supervisors (for comparison 43% of white employees have a supervisory role). The lack of diversity becomes even clearer when considering specific ethnic groups. For example, black women make up just 0.7% of the technology industry — a representation rate that is 2.5 times lower than in other industries. Clearly, the technology industry is still struggling to achieve true diversity, so what can companies do about it?
It’s easy to say the right thing, harder to put this into action. Setting targets, continually measuring diversity and reviewing progress helps organisations to commit to change. For example, some big companies like Facebook and Pinterest have tried to use the ‘Rooney rule’ where at least one woman and one person of colour are interviewed for director positions within the company. However, progress has been limited and concerns about it being a ‘diversity tickbox’ exercise have been raised. More recently, it’s been emphasised that targets need to be set at all levels of seniority, and that there needs to be external accountability for failure to meet targets.
On the other hand, sometimes companies fail to say enough. Statements of diversity support are important to attract new staff and ensure existing employees are reassured by an inclusive company culture — both those with BAME backgrounds and beyond. For example, Unilever recently pledged their support for a campaign working to end discrimination against hairstyles associated with racial, ethnic and cultural identities. Given that this kind of discrimination often happens in the workplace, a major employer taking a stance sends out a powerful message.
Many people from under-represented groups have concerns that a career in tech is ‘not for them’. This can be reinforced by a lack of people who look like them in senior positions. In addition, some BAME communities prioritise traditional jobs such as medicine, law and finance over technology careers. Companies can participate in outreach in schools and other settings to expand on what a technology career looks like and address concerns someone might have about entering the world of technology. Outreach can help to shed a light on available opportunities while also sending a clear message about the company’s commitment to a diverse workforce.
There’s been a recent discussion about diversity training — particularly the low reliability of the implicit association test and its lack of impact on reducing real-world biases — to the extent that the civil service has stopped all unconscious bias training. However, while certain tools have been criticised, research shows that ongoing diversity training is successful when it combines a range of techniques and is complemented by other diversity initiatives. It’s clear that diversity training needs to be ongoing and not seen as a substitute for wider policy change.
After the Black Lives Matter movement put the spotlight on diversity in 2020, many companies turned to their staff for advice. There have been several instances of people from BAME backgrounds being asked to speak about and advise on diversity practices amidst a climate of emotional trauma and, in some cases, fear of later reprisals from the organisation they were asked to defend. It’s important not to place the burden of improving diversity on individuals — especially if they are unsure how to refuse and are not being compensated for their extra work. Diversity — like any other organisational strategy — should be managed by qualified professionals and engaged with by interested employees.
The technology industry’s track record when it comes to diversity is far from perfect. However, changes are being made. It’s clear that actionable, long-term strategies are needed to truly support organisational diversity in tech.
COVID-19 is changing the way we work and live. With the increase of remote working and reliance on screen-time for entertainment and social interaction, the digital industry is said to be booming. The Financial Times reports, “Tech companies are still hiring feverishly as they move to take advantage of a world shifting increasingly to digital as a result of the coronavirus, despite mass lay-offs elsewhere and growing concerns over plummeting global markets.”
Companies with existing online infrastructure are seeing new subscribers, more time spent on digital platforms and increased reliance on e-commerce. According to The Economist, “Alphabet, Google’s parent, saw sales rise by 13% in the first quarter compared with the year before, and profits reached $7bn.”
But will this digital trend last?
Although we expect an eventual return to in-person activities, COVID-19 is expected to have a long term impact on digital engagement. For example, “tech phobia” is commonly cited as a reason why some, particularly those over 65, may avoid new technology. However, with no alternatives, this age group are embracing new technology. In addition, younger family members are taking the time to help them get set-up and familiar with these new apps and services. What this means, going forward, is that mobile and digital offerings will have a much wider audience, beyond tech-savvy customers and digital native millennials.
MckInsey recently highlighted the post-pandemic trends beginning to emerge in China. For example, there has been a 55% increase in customers planning a permanent shift to online grocery shopping and an increase of 3-6% percentage points in overall e-commerce. Once people overcome the initial barriers, this data indicates that customers may permanently switch or significantly increase their use of digital services.
These behavioural changes are being supported by rapid transformation of digital infrastructure. On an individual company level, businesses are investing in digital strategy – for example, Hotel Chocolat recently announced a multi-million pound investment plan. There is larger scale investment from business – Alibaba Cloud will be putting $28 billion into developing their infrastructure over the next three years. Further government support will be available for UK businesses driving innovation and development.
Finally, an internet connection is now essential for information regarding the pandemic and accessing vital goods and services for those self-isolating. The Human Rights Watch have emphasised the importance of achieving equal access to digital services (and particularly a good quality internet connection, which thousands are currently struggling with). It is clear that we can expect further investment in digital infrastructure in our future.
Who will thrive in the post COVID-19 world?
Evidently, those with a strong existing digital service will be well placed to retain their position once the pandemic has subsided. COVID-19 has created a form of ‘digital Darwinism’ according to Mary Meeker, author of the annual Internet Trends Report, whereby businesses with a clear digital strategy will leave behind those without. In a recent report, McKinsey outlined several actions that should be taken to meet customer needs and prepare for the future. These actions include:
Focus on care and concern: prioritise employee needs and the wider community by reaching out and staying true to company values.
Meet your customer needs: adapt or create digital services and models that meet remote and social distancing requirements.
Reimagine the post-COVID-19 world: plan for economic cuts, changes to brick and mortar stores and increased uptake of digital channels.
Build agile capabilities for fluid times: utilise resources such as social media and ‘ear to the ground’ insights to respond to fast-moving customer signals.
It is these companies, who support customers through the crisis by providing efficient digital services, that will retain customer loyalty in the post COVID-19 world. Those who look further ahead, to develop exceptional experiences and utilise developments in infrastructure, will thrive in our digital future.
Times of crisis have often sparked innovation. The Second World War, for example, brought us the forerunner of modern-day computer, advances in radar, the basis of microwaves and mass production of penicillin. COVID-19 is having a similar effect on digital development. Ideas that might have seemed far-fetched (such as the rapid scale-up of online grocery shopping and other e-commerce) are promoted by a crisis-inspired culture of experimentation. Here are five examples of how technology is developing in response to extraordinary demands.
1. Data Analysis Tools
Finding data is easy, understanding it is hard. To this end, the pandemic has inspired several AI tools to help us make sense of the large amount of available information. Data analytics company, Arria NLG, are involved in two projects helping to transform data into an easy-to-understand narrative – the COVID-19 Live Report and the COVID-19 U.S. Tracking Report. AI analysis is also being used by a group of Northwestern University researchers to identify which research will return reliable, usable results that will help aid the search for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
The power of blockchain was recently demonstrated in a $12 million cross-continent commodity trade transaction of wheat. Usually, a transaction of this kind can take up to a month. However, using dltledgers’s blockchain platform, this was reduced to just five days. More and more businesses are expanding their reliance on blockchain – such as Nestle, who recently extended their use of the IMB Food Trust blockchain platform to their Swedish coffee range. The implications for keeping supply chains running seamlessly – something the coronavirus has highlighted as a serious challenge – are remarkable.
3. Natural Language Processing
With varied applications, such as helping customers navigate online platforms or as efficient medical tools (such as those used by Providence St. Joseph to offer coronavirus-related information), chatbots are proving useful during the pandemic. Chatbots are most commonly used to increase efficiency by answering simple queries, while forwarding more complex requests to a human operator. However, natural language processing, which refers to the deep learning that allows the chatbot to extract meaning from human conversation, improves with increased data. With some custom-made chatbots already proving useful in advanced interactions (such as Replika’s virtual friends, helping some people cope with the effects of social isolation), the uptake in chatbot use may enable the AI underpinning them to become vastly more sophisticated in the years to come.
At their recent virtual event, IBM announced a new range of AI-powered services, designed to support businesses in automating their digital infrastructure. According to Verdict, the new offering will “use automation to detect, diagnose and respond to IT anomalies and will integrate with other products such as those from Slack and Box.” Developments such as these will allow businesses to successfully adapt to a more digital future.
Many companies have reported that they are looking to increase use of robotics for food service, warehouses and cleaning operations. Blue Ocean Robotics have responded to this increased demand by creating a cleaning robot, able to destroy viruses, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms with concentrated UV-C ultraviolet light. It can sanitise environments such as hospitals, offices, shops and schools without the need for chemicals, meaning that people can be present during the cleaning. Production was quickly accelerated due to coronavirus-related demand, and it now takes less than one day to create a robot. The general public have often been uncomfortable with the idea of robots (and the issue of replacing human jobs with robot labour remains). However, with social distancing likely to be in place throughout 2021, robot labour may become more acceptable, stimulating demand for and development of robotic technology.
This article has showcased a small handful of the exciting innovation occurring during the pandemic. Given that there is expected to be a permanent shift towards use of digital services and practices such as remote working, these developments could have far-reaching implications for the technology industry for years to come.
Our Technology Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2020 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our Technology Recruitment Teams, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.
Our Digital, Marketing & Communications Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2020 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our Digital, Marketing & Communications Recruitment Teams, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.
Nathaniel Hinds gives his insight and overview of the trends seen in 2018, moving into 2019 and beyond within Digital and Financial Services. He also gives an in-depth look into the Digital desk that he looks after at McGregor Boyall, including the areas and roles which he covers.
Our Scotland Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest salary data collated by our specialist Recruitment Teams covering:
Although the deadline for GDPR has come and gone and the furore has died down, companies must ensure their DPO and legal teams stay on top of the requirements or risk the consequences.
The deadline for companies to comply with GDPR – 24 May 2018 – has come and gone. Despite the panic that most companies felt in the run-up to the regulation, there have (so far) been no high-profile casualties.
While we don't know what the ICO has up its sleeve, it's safe to say that the smooth passing of the due date is in no small part down to the hard work and expertise of the legal teams who helped whittle their companies into shape.
It feels somewhat of an anti-climax. Is that it? Is GDPR over? Can legal teams relax and concentrate on something else?
The all-important DPO
The answer is a resounding 'no', of course. GDPR is very much in swing, and no doubt everyone is itching to see its first victim, partly to put some more definition on some rather fuzzy rules.
The ultimate responsibility for compliance rests on the shoulders of each company's Data Protection Officer. It is they who will have the final say on company processes going forward, and on the actions of the third-party companies they trust with their personal data.
Although they don't have to be a full-time employee, your DPO must have an in-depth knowledge of the rules and requirements of GDPR, be technologically savvy, and preferably backed by an expert legal team who can advise them. If your company isn't 100% confident in this person, it's most definitely time to find one who deserves your trust. Given the size of the fines laid out by GDPR, an experienced and knowledgeable DPO is harder to find and recruit than ever.
Impact on recruitment industry
GDPR has also had a significant impact on the recruitment industry. Given the need for individuals to opt-in, the position of bad-practice and cowboy recruiters has been severely hampered. Although the worst of the worst will probably carry on unperturbed, the hefty fines will put many off. It offers quality recruiters even greater chance to flourish among a backdrop of more positive PR.
Although data protection was important before GDPR, it's now an even-greater requirement for business' in-house legal team to have data experts. As mentioned already, the penalties could be huge – 4% of turnover or £20 million, whichever is greater. Numbers worth remembering.
Finding the right candidates is tricky, because they need the relatively unusual mix of legal knowledge and experience as well as a sound technical understanding of data processing and storage. They must also be aware of how marketing teams operate, particularly in regard to user data, in order to advise them on best practice without overtly stifling their creativity.
Although the talk about GDPR has quietened from the deafening roar of questions and opt-in emails we experienced in May, its impact has really only just begun. Companies with solid internal teams can breathe easily. Those without should be looking to recruit the necessary skills or face the unknown – but potentially very expensive – consequences.
Our England Regions Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest salary data collated by our specialist Recruitment Teams covering:
Our Technology Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our Technology Recruitment Teams, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.
Our Compliance, Finance / Audit, Financial Crime, Legal & Risk Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our RFCL Recruitment Team, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.