Sustainability in digitalisation can be seen as one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Everyone sees the obvious. Smartphones, laptops, IoT devices are shipped from factories faster than ever. Internet and online community are growing to match the ever-growing demand at an alarming pace.
Hold on a second, but we are not in the devices business, are we? No, we are not, we are a consultancy.
We are here to help our customers thrive and make Gofore the best workplace for everyone while doing so. We do this through the use of new technologies, agile and lean ways of working, working on the customer with their innovation gains, generation of new sales and value growth opportunities, working towards higher productivity and bringing efficiency into processes.
So are we to only measure the positive impact of our customer’s end result?
Are we to only measure the positive impact of the end result?
Consider products or services, such as, development of smart home systems to optimise energy consumption at home. Reducing food waste through the development of food-sharing applications. Implementing more intelligent and AI-powered transport systems to guide traffic through cities to reduce emissions. Apps to promote and ease the use of public transportation, bicycles, or car-sharing.
We are working as consultants in many big companies in which the difference can be made and measured through the end result. It actually feels quite straightforward to measure the impact of the end result but then again not the journey of how to get there. A great deal of software design, development, product and project management, cloud infrastructure, and development operations are needed. So what about measuring the impact on sustainability for the journey of how to get there?
What about the sustainability in development activities?
What kind of activities could make us and our customers think more about sustainability when doing design, development, product or project management, implementing cloud infrastructure, or setting up advanced development operations? Could we actually measure the positive impact of the good development practices we use in software development on a daily basis? Would it truly be possible to promote, visualise and measure sustainability actually through our own individual actions in our customer’s digital transformation and not just only through the end result?
So how can we make a positive impact through sustainability in development activities? Can we actually work towards sustainability, for example, create services and products that consume less energy or use fewer resources? Simply put, yes I believe we can.
Technology will save the world but it needs to be organized around doing so
Technology will save the world but it needs to be organized around doing so. In order to show, measure and verify the positive impact, we need to start walking the talk and spread the message that we can actually make a positive impact on sustainability through the daily work we do. Most often the work starts from realizing that there is actually a negative or neutral impact being made contrary to positive.
But what would sustainability in different software lifecycle processes entail? What about in quality assurance, software testing, test automation, or load and performance testing? What about runtime sustainability not to forget maintenance and support? What about all other environmental, societal, governmental aspects of sustainability in general?
So how can we incorporate sustainability into our software development activities? What could we measure? What about monitoring consumption and aim towards reducing it? Not just because it should be cheaper but because it is more sustainable? Creating current state analysis and trackable metrics on sustainability? Sharing code and using open source to promote sustainable use of resources? Preventing the collection of irrelevant and non-mandatory customer data? Stop storing years worth of useless logs you newer go back to?
How could we do it? What could we measure?
What else? Could we consider this as a discussion starter, a wake-up call of sorts? How could we incorporate sustainability into our software development activities? How could we do it? What could we measure? Are we interested? Connect and let’s start ideating! Remember to also check out what Good Growth is about!
The Hello World
First, I want to introduce myself to everyone: “Hello” to everyone around the world, or at least to those reading this. My name is Aki Mäkinen, and I am a software developer, devops philosopher, and a professional rubber duck. I am a sailor in the seas of software development, on a journey to unknown shores while surviving the storms and avoiding the shoals, always ready to help a fellow seafarer.
My journey with devops started five years ago in my first project. Back then, I was a front-end developer in the project, and we had a dedicated “devops guy” taking care of doing the infrastructure as code and handling the deployments. It was also the first time I heard of devops. Initially I did not wonder what it was all about, or rather, I was happy with the fact that it was about automation and deployment (at least). The project continued and I slowly moved closer to the back-end part of the software. I worked on the API, started doing debugging and scripts to help me with it. Before even realizing it, I was working on the CI/CD pipelines and the infrastructure with Ansible. “So, now I am doing devops, right?” I was thinking.
Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Time progressed (alas, still no time travel) and so did the project. Then we started talking about features such as doing semantically versioned released of our software components and improving the monitoring and logging of the system. By itself this is not much to mention about, but it was mentioned to be part of the devops work. While this was not the first time I wondered where to draw the line with the concept of devops, it did cause me to further question my, at that time, current understanding of what it contains and where the responsibilities end. This did not help me understand the phenomenon any better and I could not elucidate a better explanation from it than “it is what brings together dev and ops”. I was left puzzled. Often on downtime, and especially in the shower, I was putting the pieces together trying to find the thread connecting all the little nuggets of information.
I moved on to the next project, my role in it being the “devops guy” together with one other team member. Our initial goals were to reduce the build time and the update time after each software change. Later as the team grew, we did other improvements to the software such as UI lazy loading, ahead of time compiling, near zero downtime UI updates, tooling, and so on. All this required that we understood the codebase at least on some level. All of these I added to my “devops philosophizing” and continued thinking.
The Gradual Enlightenment
After thinking long and hard, I saw the first ray of light from the horizon. No, I did not spend all night thinking and wondering devops, rather, it was the light of realization: it is not about tools, or a concrete methodology but a way of thinking, a philosophy. This was the reason I could not draw lines around what it is and what it is not, it was too broad to limit strictly. Based on the observations and some additional thinking, I designed my first version of the definition:
“DevOps is a way of thinking and a way to approach a software project, aiming to optimize the development pipeline and shorten the feedback loops.”
By Douglas O’Brien from Canada – IMGP2543, CC BY-SA 2.0,
This definition did not limit what methodologies one should use or whether some technology is or is not devops: if something counts towards the goals set in the definition, it is devops. Finally, I could move forward and start doing work based on that definition. My further work considered the role of developer experience, usability and quality of the tools, failures as a way of learning and so on.
The next step towards further enlightenment came in the form of a request to write material on devops. I happily accepted the challenge, but I needed further support and sources to quote. Once, when I was thinking this out aloud with a great colleague of mine, he told me about Google’s state of devops report: Accelerate: State of DevOps 2019 by DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) / Google Cloud. I read through the report and was amazed. the report took into account both the technical and non-technical sides of software development, including human factors such as psychological safety and, through several factors, work recovery and risk of burnout. From the report, another source was also found: The Effective Devops. These two sources soon formed the basis of my devops research that continues today.
My journey describes the problem perfectly. The model of devops is not often taught, but instead learned and pieced together from observations and pieces of information, with the blanks filled in by common sense. A model born though this kind of process is known as a folk model, and in this case the result is a folk model of devops, an incomplete and at worst a partially wrong picture of the phenomenon. The result is that the model may lead to wrong conclusions and bad decisions, and at best, inefficiency in putting the concept into use from the point of view of the actual model. Based on the observations from different projects, this is a common phenomenon with devops and makes related communication much more difficult. Usually people use it as a term to refer to CI/CD, automation, testing etc., and in this sense, I agree that it has become a buzzword. However, behind the buzzword is an actual and very useful phenomenon that needs to be brought up much more.
So, what is devops? This is an incredibly complex question and impossible to answer in a single blog post. Rather than attempting to do that, I will concentrate on the definition, building on top of that in later posts.
While researching the subject, I have seen several attempts to define it. Some people see it as a software development process and visualize it as an infinity symbol with different phases written on it, but the problem is that it leaves the human mostly outside, as well as tooling. One could also argue that it is an extension of agile software development. While agile methodologies are important and are almost always de facto tools in the devops transformation, they are not strictly required to be able to bring the culture and other aspects of devops into an organization. To include communication, information sharing, organizational culture, national culture, technical aspects and the role of the person in the process and the organization, the definition needs to be vague enough to allow variation in the means but still define what it is about and the goals. Building on top of the definition by Google Cloud and using the aforementioned sources to define the goals, my definition is:
“DevOps is an anthropocentric organizational and cultural movement, and a philosophy with a goal of improving organizational and SDO (software delivery and operations) performance, productivity and the quality of the service.”
This definition takes into consideration that devops is a cultural movement and the means to achieve the goals may vary greatly depending on factors such as the national culture, team structures, maturity of the organization and the domain. The details behind the definition will be addressed in later blog posts, as for now the goals are more important to know.
In this short blog post I have shared my journey to devops enlightenment, and through my experience as an example, described the problem: the birth of folk models and the spread of these models. To fix the situation, more detailed and deeper information on devops must be spread and taught to everyone working in the field of software development. Now that the goals have been set, we are ready to go deeper and start looking into the specifics.
Now, one could ask how do I know this definition is the best and only correct one? The answer is that it is so far the least incomplete and inaccurate definition encompassing most of the true nature of devops succinctly. While knowledge on devops deepens and time goes on, I believe that it can be improved upon and made more precise to envelop the true nature of devops even better. For now, however, I consider it to be accurate enough to communicate the basic goals and idea.
I hope that this post has given my readers something to think and helped with their own devops journey. In the next posts I shall be taking a closer look into the fundamentals of devops, tooling, and methodologies. Stay tuned for the next post and stay safe!
Accelerate: State of DevOps 2019, Google Cloud / DevOps Research And Assessment, available at https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/state-of-devops-2019.pdf
Effetive DevOps, Jennifer Davis and Ryn Daniels, published by O’Reilly, available at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/resources/effective-devops/
Human factors and folk models, Sidney Dekker and Erik Hollnagel, available at https://sidneydekker.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/899/2013/01/Folk-Models.pdf
Understanding people’s needs and goals is the best way of setting a course towards sustainable business, as well as being the basis of a well-functioning society.
Exceptional and uncertain times can make us want to curl up in a corner somewhere. Won’t it blow over soon? Unfortunately, there is no returning to past certainties or escaping change. Even the new normal is changing rapidly.
We must therefore find ways of reinventing ourselves.
Decisions to do so should be made on the basis of information about customers’ needs and goals. As a service designer and consultant at Gofore, I’ve been able to work with a range of fantastic organisations. My own and customers’ experiences suggest that listening to employees’ and customers’ needs is more helpful than historical data when seeking a future direction.
In the midst of uncertainty, certainty can be increased by understanding what customers value.
Service design is one means of renewal
Operations can be profitably developed by understanding customers, employees or partners. The keyword is ‘systematic’ – customer surveys or service design should be a continuous approach rather than individual projects.
Service design is a fascinating blend of human science and technology. It combines the best of both. When we combine understanding — gained by observing human activity, and from interviews and other participative means such as workshops — with data obtained via data analysis and artificial intelligence, we can solve problems of greater complexity than before. The cumulative effects of dozens of individual problems in the service-event chain can be hidden from view. These are child’s play for AI (link to Pasi’ blog).
The root causes of problems are identified in this way. Once such causes are known, solutions can be developed that generate value at both the human and economic levels. This provides a basis for creating agile services that can and should be scaled and duplicated because they were made to be self-renewing.
For example, systems must not burden people during widespread uncertainty. They must adapt and reform. This is what I regard as business creativity, the starting point for creating sustainable value.
How to ensure continuous renewal?
Renewal must occur at both individual and organisational level. As a service designer, I continuously update my expertise because I know that only this enables me to help customers deliver positive value and grow sustainably.
I view continuous renewal as unavoidable. It boils down to three sub-areas:
(1) Listening to employees, customers and other key partners must be systematic and continuous. Credible changes arise from using a range of expertise to collect and analyse a range of data.
2) You need the courage to try. Even the best-informed guesses are no substitute for experimentation. Understanding people and practical experience of how solutions work helps to clarify, or even find an entirely new focus for, business and one’s own place within it.
3) You have to pick your playing field and understand your strengths in relation to those of others. Now more than ever is the time to be a team player. Not everything is worth doing yourself — finding a partner can lead to significantly better outcomes.
Business creativity and renewal are based on systematic teamwork aimed at making life easier for people: a comfortable workplace, good service and a thriving business. Every step towards a seamless service experience is a step towards good, profitable growth and a thriving business. That’s why even small steps should be taken right now.
In this blog post, I am going to write about the adventure I had that led to setting up an OCR telegram bot for converting Image to text. I made it for Persian speakers and for now, it supports Persian and English languages.
It is called Nevisaar (in Persian “Writable”)
Processed text of an image given to the bot
The idea of an OCR project
I have joined Gofore about a year ago as a researcher to do my PhD. So far, I have been working on my research which is assessing state-of-the-art assistive technologies for the blind and improving the current solutions by finding the research gaps in this area.
For that I needed to deepen my knowledge in computer vision and deep learning. About a month ago, when I was learning about LSTM (Long short-term memory) recurrent neural networks I came across one of the Google projects (Tesseract-ocr) which uses LSTM for OCR (Optical character recognition).
I found the project really interesting since it is open-source and it can be used as a module in the assistive solution that I am working on. So, I decided to dig the repository a little bit and test it with different languages. While testing it, I noticed that this engine has a very good performance on Latin based languages, since the models are trained with 400,000 text lines spanning about 4500 fonts. However, when it comes to some languages that use Arabic script such as Persian (Farsi/Dari), Kurdish, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, or Urdu it doesn’t have very good accuracy.
An example of Persian script (I know, Persian script looks complicated :D)
Challenges & Solutions
I checked the model size and the trained data for the English language was 22.4 MB while the one for the Persian language was 500 KB. I think by just looking at the model size you can estimate the prediction accuracy. 😀
Later I found another repo by Google that had some better-trained models. There, I could find another model for the Persian language that was 3.4 MB and had much better accuracy. However, it did not support many fonts and could not recognize some characters like Arabic comma (،).
Since my mother tongue is Persian and I was bored at home because of Madrid’s Corona situation, I decided to work on it as a personal project.
At first, I thought about training my own model but I knew that this needs a powerful machine and even running it on Google Colab won’t help because according to the Tesseract 4.0 documentation, the training from scratch takes a few days to a couple of weeks. But after checking the training documentation, I found out that it is also possible to “Fine Tune” a model. This means taking an already trained model and improve it by adding new fonts and characters to it. THAT WAS GOOD NEWS!
So I decided to find some of the characters and fonts that are used a lot in the Persian language and the model is bad at detecting them. Then I decided to fine-tune the model using ± training for new characters and Fine Tune for Impact for the new fonts. I faced a lot of errors when I first tried to run the training. Due to the inconsistencies in the default training text and the charset of the already trained data, those errors were happening which took me a whole weekend to fix them and prepare a decent dataset for the training (I think this is because those who trained the Persian model did not know the language).
Evaluation results of default model that I got from Github repo (you can see the encoding errors in the evaluation)
Interestingly with about 10 (around 9000 words) pages of training text and 3600 iterations I could train the model to detect some characters like (، »« . ّ ) and get better at detecting “B Nazanin” font which is very popular among Persian speakers. The word error rate decreased from 25% to 5% by only giving some more training text, fixing encoding problems, and adding some missing characters.
Evaluation results after fine tuning
The creation of Telegram bot
The error rate is still high in comparison with the English language. I would train a model from scratch if I have the resources one day but even now It has satisfying performance. When I achieved better accuracy, I thought it would be cool if I share it with other Persian speakers and test it with different kinds of texts and get some feedback. Since people mainly use Telegram in Iran and other Persian-speaking countries like Afghanistan, I thought making a Telegram bot would be a good choice.
I searched a little bit on Github and fortunately, someone had already coded a bot that worked with Tesseract. However, the commands and interface of the bot were not user-friendly. I edited the code and made a more interactive interface using Telegram’s Inline Keyboard.
Bot asks user to choose the language of the text used in photo
Now I needed a server to run the project and test it with some users. I already had a Raspberry Pi for testing object recognition algorithms. I thought maybe I can give it a try and see if the Raspberry can handle being an OCR server. Interestingly it did! I set up the bot and shared it on my social media accounts. (I also put a daily limit of 1000 requests so that little raspberry won’t get hurt :D)
I usually keep it open to get some fresh air
People reshared it and I received more than 800 requests on the first day. Now after two weeks I have around 100 images processed per day. It is growing slowly but surely. I have been receiving some feedback from users and noticed that some do not use the bot properly. For example, some users send handwriting images and expect it to work! Or some others send skewed, distorted, and noisy images.
Tesseract automatically undertakes some preprocessing on the image by making it binary or removing noise which sometimes works. But still the preprocessing could be improved by adding deskewing algorithms or removing margins of the image. There are many techniques for doing that and I will improve the bot little by little.
I have received messages from people working in different sectors using the bot. For example, teachers and students found it pretty useful because in our post-COVID life, online learning is getting trendier, and sometimes converting a whole page of a book to the typed format is a cumbersome task and OCR comes in handy.
All in all, I really enjoyed doing this project. If you are interested in giving it a try, you can check it out here. You just need to send a photo for the bot, choose the language of the text, and wait for the result.
Related blog posts:
We are always on the lookout for skilled developers to join our crew. Check out our open positions and contact us!
Buying shares in the company I work for seemed like a safe way to start as an investor because I knew what I was buying. It felt entirely different from buying shares in a company I knew nothing about.
I had not dared to start investing before this, because I felt that I didn’t know enough about it. I feared that I would invest badly and lose everything. Investment risks and their management were new to me, and I knew very little about investment products. I thought that investing was not my thing, because I’m not a particularly systematic person, or interested in the financial news in general.
The share savings scheme for Gofore employees makes it easy to start investing. You didn’t have to understand everything about investing before buying shares. Since buying Gofore shares, I have started following the development of their value with great interest. This has also taught me more about investing. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t own shares in the company.
I want to make Gofore a better workplace
Share ownership has increased my commitment. I want the shares to increase in value and can affect the profitability of my investment through my own work. I want to make my work even better so that I will enjoy working there more and other employees will stay on as long as possible. Receiving supplementary shares after a certain number of years of service is a good added incentive.
Share ownership also makes it easier to understand matters from the company’s viewpoint and to work harder to achieve common goals. Being able to contribute to value development both as an employee and owner has a major impact on motivation.
Learning to be an investor through experimenting
Owning shares in the company I work for has encouraged me to try my hand at investment elsewhere. I wanted to learn more: for example, I now know how to avoid the greatest risks and what kinds of returns I can reasonably expect. I follow my colleagues’ discussions on investing and ask more experienced colleagues for advice.
I started investing only small sums, to practice at my own pace without taking big risks. I also tried to diversify my investments into different asset categories, such as funds and shares. In addition, I diversify my investments geographically to hedge against regional risks. Investing in shares requires time and dedication. I still have plenty to learn about these, but in the meantime, I plan to buy other shares as well.
The threshold for starting out would surely have been higher if I had not bought shares in the company I work for. Now, I’m learning through experimentation.
WHO is piloting a world-wide secure data exchange. Prime Minister of Estonia and World Health Organization (WHO) signed an agreement on 5th of October 2020 to start working on a digital immunization certificate and interoperability projects. The project includes implementation of X-Road and Gofore is one of the private companies that are willing to provide their help.
This project might initiate innovation beyond what has been possible! This might give a start to world-wide secure data exchange and unleash world-wide synergy to build stronger societies and solve new-era challenges.
Under the surface, it may look like something relevant only for techies, but this could not be further from the truth. These developments will change both our ways of working, and more importantly, how we think about and define trust. Trust is the core of every interaction and cooperation. It is important and needs attention. World-wide secure data exchange will teach us to trust the information that comes from a valid source through a secure channel.
Let’s imagine what this might mean for the citizens and the societies around the world!
If we could build trust between almost all organizations in the world, then it will have the potential of allowing us to overcome some of the biggest challenges of our time. It might help our societies push back against the polarisation and fake news, and to join our forces to achieve sustainable development goals when optimising for the world as a whole.
The most common fear is that the world-wide secure data exchange would enable a super database and an organisation with ultimate power? The reality is exactly the opposite. The solution will build grounds for a new way of collaboration, where the data will stay distributed and organisations will remain independent. We are building the foundation for a solution, where a third party could give the confirmation in a standardised way if the data is originated from a trusted source.
Where to start?
In an agile world, the first steps should be focused on tangible results in a short period of time, so we rapidly build, learn, and improve. We show-case a few potential services to be created. These help to explain the logic behind the solution we are creating together. We hope these also help you ideate and get started.
Vaccination passport check
In current times, we hope that we soon will see a reliable vaccine for COVID-19. We see governments struggling every day to make traveling restrictions as specific as possible and to avoid total lockdown. What if there would be a chance to easily prove if one is vaccinated or not. If the vaccine is reliable, then the ones who are vaccinated are not considered a health hazard. How to know if one is vaccinated or not? What if citizens would have a tool to prove that they have been vaccinated? What if you had a chance to confirm if the authority who made the vaccination is approved by WHO. Such checks could improve the life of both people who are vaccinated and the ones that are not. We would need to do less testing, which will make waiting periods for receiving access to testing faster. That could give us totally new opportunities for how to arrange and manage our lives in a post-COVID world.
Digitally verified proof for personal data
In everyday life, we often need to present data about ourselves. For example, giving evidence of my educational level in a job application, or while shopping, or proving to be a student or a senior citizen to receive discounts.
In such cases, the logic is the same. I present the data about myself. The question is, will a third party trust the integrity of the presented data. It is rather easy to make a A4 paper look like a certificate; especially when we have never heard of the institution that supposedly issued it.
Creating a system where all certificates could be validated becomes much easier if we can simplify the equation. In this new scenario, we can. We are building the foundation for a solution whereby a third party could issue the confirmation in a standardised and trustworthy way if the data has originated from a trusted source. Such validation would basically claim that “organization X exists and has issued document Y”, “organization X is authorized to issue this specific type of document”.
The desired mindset change in this scenario would be, that if you can trust the source, then you can trust the data. And did you notice that the third party will not receive direct access to my personal data. I will be empowered to present this information in a way that assures that I have not changed the facts.
Right to represent
Imagine if you could check the representation rights of organisations online, free of charge. Why would you need to do it? It is common in the public sector and public procurements that the representation rights are properly checked. It is not so common in everyday B2B business, especially when the transaction amounts are rather small and the number of transactions is rather high. Does it mean that the private sector does not need to know their customers and cooperation partners on the same level of trust? Or is it because the risks of doing business with unknown parties are considered lower than the gains from the transaction?
From the implementation point of view, the best part of this service is that business registries around the world have that data already. Based on current best practices, names and birth dates do not require the consent of the data subject.
If you had the opportunity for potentially automated representation rights checking, free of charge, it would streamline doing business anywhere. If these types of checks become widely used, then it might become one of the strongest anti-terrorism or anti-money laundering tools.
These are just some of the first steps that would take us closer to a vision of building stronger and more trustworthy societies, together.
What is your dream, that we could make happen, together?!
I had been working for Gofore for several years when the company was listed. I invested in Gofore out of pure interest when the employee share issue was launched – as an employee, I knew the company was developing well and I believed in its growth.
I have also expanded my share portfolio by joining the staff share savings scheme. I am particularly interested in the supplementary shares issued to participants three years from the start of the scheme. During that period, it is easy to commit to Gofore.
On the other hand, employee engagement depends on a number of other factors: interesting duties and customers, pleasant colleagues, and treating employees well.
Interest in developing as an investor
I am a long-term investor, investing only small sums. I already had experience in share and fund investments, and own shares in a company I used to work for. I only invest as much as I am prepared to lose.
I think that owning shares in my employer company gives me a more objective view of it. This is possible because I’m already familiar with investing. As an employee, I view Gofore from a very personal angle: as part of the company’s daily operations, I know the business really well.
As an investor, I can also view the company neutrally, which can be beneficial in daily situations at work. In this sense, shares in my employer are just some investments among others.
I’ve also found it interesting to follow the share value’s development. I follow the workplace discussion on investment on Slack, and check the financial news in the paper.
Next, I aim to expand my expertise in housing investment. I plan to read books on the subject to become more knowledgeable. Buying my first investment apartment is part of my five-year plan.
Ethics and technology are ubiquitous, i.e. present everywhere. Ethical decision-making is a core aspect of IT consulting, but what does that mean in practice? I would argue that we constantly engage in ethical dialogue in everyday situations, little by little, or sometimes urgently. Such decisions often concern questions that no one can yet answer, but which need to be addressed immediately because the digital world never stops.
Artificial intelligence and social media are ideal subjects for ethical debate because they force us to confront the shortcomings of digitalisation. Many of the examples given are glaring, perhaps far-fetched. However, they also pave the way for broader and more down-to-earth reflection on how the digital world should function, on whose terms and for whose needs is it designed, and in which forums are the related issues addressed.
Whereas traditional power structures are only just adapting to the ethical challenges of the transition, we IT professionals must continuously solve such issues. The decisions we take affect the daily lives of millions of people via thousands of systems: such power should not be underestimated. Finns have exceptionally strong trust in the public sector and authorities. This trust is the result of long and systematic work, and as designers of public services, we must ensure that this well-earned trust is maintained, preferably even deepened.
Who will create the system used to process your data?
We are still living in the wild west of digitalisation, where data can be more or less freely sifted for gold. We are also beginning to develop a clear idea of how we do not want algorithms to work, and how we can do better ourselves. EU regulations and directives, national laws and organisations’ own strategies and policies are pointing the way to a set of shared ground rules. This does not eliminate the need for self-regulation by organisations, because ethical decisions are actually taken as and when needed:
- Secondary use of health record data creates endless opportunities for product development. Do we really have to be scientific researchers to gain access to data?
- The GDPR Privacy Shield procedure failed, and personal data can no longer be transferred to the USA. This makes many of the systems we use illegal in practice. What can we do?
The problem is crystallised when we encounter this sort of challenges in everyday life: while technology advances at dizzying speed, we need time for ethical discussion. In addition, ethical discussion almost always requires multi-professional expertise and policies at top level, perhaps even globally. On the other hand, few Scrum ceremonies or project meetings are attended by people authorised to take these decisions within organisations.
Like systems, ethical solutions are based on iterations. Agile practices are no excuse for avoiding an ethical debate. In fact, they enable fast changes of direction, and lessons can be learned from any wrong decisions along the way. As challenges are identified, organisational, national and international structures are beginning to emerge for solving them. Precedents, initially thought to be individual cases, help in the progress of the overall process.
Ethics in the IT sector often concerns user rights, and service users are being consulted more often. For example, service design has brought end-users closer to service providers and developers, while the Web Accessibility Directive has improved the level of public services. Listening to the customer does not mean an extra price tag, but is a natural part of IT development.
The privilege of doing the right thing
However, current decision-making processes are subject to the risk of the wrong people having to make quick and sometimes wrong decisions to ensure that work gets done, perhaps without the knowledge, authority or budget needed to choose correctly. This is not a responsible process, or a pleasant one for the individuals concerned. Ethical responsibility should always be borne by organisations tasked with helping individuals to do the right thing. On the other hand, the discussion should not be confined to management teams and lawyers — it is important that all those who want to help build better digital services can do so to the best of their ability.
A toolbox could guide IT professionals in ethical decision-making
While numerous organisations have recently had to agree on common teleworking rules, the ethical basis for digital services should also be written up, to provide experts with practical tools for weighing up the right choices. Data strategies, data protection impact assessments, ethical guidelines, and agreements and requirements – as well as the rich discussion around individual cases — can support us in our work. At some point, the new practices and laws will become ‘hygiene’ issues, and in five years’ time we may no longer have to agonise about what web accessibility means, and how to guarantee it, in every project. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which caused grey hair and sleepless nights at first, has already become part of everyday life.
Work has got off to a good start, but more tools and procedures are needed. Our aim at Gofore is ambitious: we want to be a forerunner of responsibility in our own industry and have. In order to genuinely work towards creating a better world, a lot of concrete action is needed. For example, in line with Gofore’s Good Growth concept, we are formulating metrics and methods to support sustainable growth, and the company’s first Code of Ethics was jointly created early in the year. Our ethical guidelines beautifully conclude what it is all about: how to be humane and to radiate goodness around us. Maybe what is done routinely can be sublime at the same time.
I had only been working for Gofore for a few months when I decided to join the staff share savings scheme and buy company shares at a discount. Investing was nothing new to me because I had started as soon as I turned 18.
I had viewed Gofore as an interesting prospect well before I became an employee. It was a nice coincidence that I took part in Gofore’s IPO in 2017. Even then, I viewed Gofore as a good investment, and I still own the shares I bought at the time.
More active investor
Previously, I would have described myself as a rather passive investor but, thanks to owning shares in Gofore, I’ve become more interested in the company’s press releases. It’s easy to keep up with Gofore’s press releases, as the bot adds any new press releases to our internal discussion forum automatically. It’s great that we have a sense of community and open, active discussion channels on various subjects.
I follow the development of Gofore and my other investments at least once a week, sometimes even daily. I read social media discussions, analysts’ reports, and online discussion forums. I also follow the Moneybags channel in Slack, used for Gofore’s internal communication, which features a range of investment and financial discussions among employees.
A better understanding of the employer’s business
It makes sense for me to own a part of my workplace and work towards developing it. My work motivation has always been high, and I’ve taken part in Gofore’s sales and marketing alongside my regular duties. For example, I’ve been interviewed for several newspapers about the development of our bots, and have written blogs for Gofore’s websites. I’ve also assisted the sales team in making offers.
I want to help win more interesting projects – and euros – for the company. I would probably do the same even if I had not invested in Gofore, but now I have the added incentive of increasing the long-term value of my investment. I feel that a combination of ownership and employment has taught me more about the consultancy business and profitable growth.
The journey towards holistic management of phenomena, ecosystems and wellbeing has already begun. We have the tools, so now all we need is the courage to use them.
I already knew in the late 1990s when studying software production that artificial intelligence was going to change the world. Now, based on a Ph.D. in neural networks, 10 years of leadership experience, and recent developments, I can use AI to point the way towards beneficial growth for society.
While developing Gofore’s data-driven and AI business activities, I have a mission to discover how AI can help create a better world.
I believe that change begins with leadership. Yesterday’s strategies, metrics, and tools can only keep us where we are now. The problems with management lie in organisational and service-production structures, and the current management mindset. Traditional knowledge management tools, such as BI or data resources, will not necessarily lead to a change of approach: the data collected with them tends to reinforce old structures.
If it didn’t, we would be living in a somewhat different society.
Artificial intelligence is shaking up leadership
We’ve come a long way since neural networks were the playthings of scientists only. It may still be early days, but AI has already transformed management. The actual transformation began in 2015, as I was joining Gofore.
This was the beginning of a unique journey combining management, data and AI. We have noted that the availability of sufficient facts has a transformative effect on management. We can provide such facts by using AI and machine learning to create insights — based on existing data — which reveal anomalies in our current activities.
For example, I find it somewhat absurd that the work of medical doctors is still measured based on patient volumes. This ignores the actual value created by the doctor, i.e. the improvement in the patient’s wellbeing and health.
Despite drowning in data, we remain unable to manage the growth of wellbeing or its impacts!
Towards managing wellbeing and impacts
Fortunately, tools are available for this. It’s all about having the courage and willingness to use them while recalibrating management to shape the wellbeing of customers.
This is promoted by using data and AI to generate an overall picture of the customer’s situation.
For example, take work done on behalf of child welfare services in Espoo. Data analysis identified 280 variables that can be used to predict which young people are likely to become clients of child welfare services. Several dozen independent factors must probably be in place for the risks facing an individual to be realised. No one working with families can understand the combined effect of such an array of factors, and provide the right services at the right time. But hundreds of such factors are small fry for an algorithm.
This is state-of-the-art, as well as being a big deal! Service management can be unified by combining data, anonymously, from a range of fields. The same applies to the industry. A single institution’s data resources are rarely sufficient for understanding the customer’s big picture, but open data can already be used for this.
What comes next?
Looking even further ahead (which the researcher in me particularly loves to do), we see the age of data-driven platform ecosystems. In this era, management will become the management of ecosystems and wellbeing. The consumer will no longer have to be a ‘system integrator’, sifting through services by dozens of providers.
This too is being developed, for example via a service for solving the labor market mismatch problem. A CV is uploaded into a single system, where it is connected to a platform ecosystem and machine learning links it to all current vacancies. The path can be measured all the way up to employment. This is genuine match-making in working life (in Finnish): Tekoälyn hyödyntäminen ESCO-osaamisten haussa, Hyvä tekoäly – algoritmi, joka on suunniteltu auttamaan!
The Aurora AI project involves a similar issue. It envisions a system that provides people with services that fit their life situation, regardless of the party that is providing them. For example, a person moving to a new town will be offered topical services, from bus tickets to electricity contracts.
I am hugely inspired by the prospect of Finland being a forerunner in this. We have the necessary technical expertise, and the authorities have access to high-quality data. In addition, trust exists between citizens and the authorities. We have all the ingredients we need, we just need the courage to prepare it into something good.
I think Gofore is one of the few organisations in which my ideas resonate. It’s full of people like me, seeking opportunities to produce something which takes meaningfulness and impact to the next level — wellbeing!