After more than a decade as a research psychologist, trainer and educator working with addictions & HIV I moved into the digital world by accident. After designing and launching a web application to solve a problem in the health service with the founder of www.sanddollarconsulting.co.uk to our surprise it grew into a national and then an international programme, revolutionising how health care staff were assessed across the UK and beyond.
As project then programme manager, over the years I found myself managing a team of highly skilled developers and testers, managing commercial arrangements and product development for over 30 customers supporting a user base of several hundred thousand doctors, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, midwives and undergraduate students who relied on our website 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I embraced new concepts and practices such as cloud, agile, continuous deployment, single-sign on, account management, product backlogs, first line support, responsive web design and website downtime.
I saw first hand how digital services can impact day to day practice and how the adoption of new technologies can be beset by problems as a result of poor management. Conversely, adopting basic principles of good change management was shown time and time again to make the digital transition relatively painless.
Working on the Scottish Parliament's Digital Parliament Programme allowed me to bring my experience of large-scale change into a much smaller but equally high profile organisation, making the ambitious transition to digital for many of their services and activities. Converting traditional meeting rooms and offices into high-tech spaces for video-conferences or online meetings with standing desks, electronic whiteboards and flexible, open project meeting spaces was a fascinating project to be involved with. Designing mobile apps for politicians to use while on the move gave an insight into the practical constraints of trying to join together political life and app development to reach a common goal. The challenges of legacy data sources, architecture and rapidly changing technologies had to be overcome to allow the Scottish Parliament to publish Open Data, which they now do efficiently and effectively.
These are just some of the experiences that have shaped my passion for digital.
I recently managed a project with the University of Edinburgh to improve their provision of subtitles on their video and audio materials. They have many thousands of hours of recorded content and to comply with legislation, all 'public bodies' should now provide subtitles as standard on their websites. This poses a challenge; how to meet their obligations and provide the best experience for deaf and hard of hearing students or others who access their media, with a limited budget? Accuracy of automated subtitles is hugely variable.
An academic institution with a huge body of international students and staff, as well as a vast array of taught subjects can be a particular challenge for any 'robot' turning speech into subtitles.
We tested a new model to try to address the problem; we employed and trained a group of ten students as subtitling editors to work alongside machine technology to produce accurate subtitles. We subtitled over 53 hours of content in the three month pilot.
The pilot was a success, and a permanent service is now being planned as a result.
I loved working with this motivated and capable group - a mixture of academic, media and disability staff and professional, highly skilled and personable students.
You can find out more about what we did, including a downloadable report using the link below.