Robo GP – a practical reality?

April 25, 2017 11:15 am
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During my University days up in the North East of England, I remember a particularly challenging seminar where we were tasked with writing a Knowledge Based System, the detail of which is now lost to me. But what I do recall is that the challenges were ample; I’m not a naturally gifted writer of code, and my brain capacity was possibly more focused on where you could buy the cheapest beer. The following sentence will show my age; when I was at university studying Business & Information Technology, the internet had been conceived but was not yet in use by the general population. Whilst I remember another seminar on a fanciful idea about “electronic mail”, I don’t recall any further discussion on the World Wide Web and how it would change the known universe.

I do recall the enthusiasm of the Lecturer for the topic at hand.  The idea being that a computer could be programmed to understand a decision tree and the rules around a topic in enough detail to work out the right answer based on a series of Yes/No answers.  But I’m pretty sure my imagination ended at tasks like helping people buy the right product for their DIY ventures; tasks that were disconnected from feelings and emotions.

Such software is now prevalent in many aspects of our lives in various forms. Online searches for loans or insurance help us quickly identify the best options for our needs, but ultimately the human factor is still the deciding factor.

Now it seems that we are ready to let robots diagnose medical issues in place of humans. Babylon Health are at the forefront of this development. Alongside their existing scheme in Essex allowing NHS patients to book webcam consultations with private doctors, they are now piloting a smartphone app in five London boroughs as an alternative to the NHS 111 urgent but non-emergency helpline.

The 111 service is staffed largely by non-medically trained personnel working through a series of questions with semi scripted answers. The service has previously been heavily criticised for the speed of responses and for potentially increasing the number of patients visiting A&E.

Babylon Health’s ‘chat-bot’ is definitely not a human, but it’s bedside manner is surprisingly sympathetic from what I’ve seen. The artificial intelligence (AI) app, which is still in development, gathers information from the user in a series of questions with pre-defined responses to choose from. The responses are matched back to a vast database that is said to contain over “300 million items of knowledge”; the largest of its kind. The app then makes a recommendation as to the best course of action, for example you should make an appointment with your GP, go to A&E, a pharmacy, or settle in on the sofa.

So whilst the Essex trial allows users to access private medical care and raises many concerns about access to timely, affordable health care for all, the pilot of the AI App sits alongside the NHS and aims to improve access to basic health care information and take pressure off existing services.

Reports suggest that 85% of face-to-face consultations with GP’s are unnecessary. Tests focusing on triage cases where the app is focused found that it was accurate in 90.2% of cases. Doctors diagnosed 77.5% accurately, and Nurses hit 73.5%. The app was also much quicker, averaging around 67 seconds (approx. 12 questions), compared to Doctors who averaged more than 3 mins to reach the same conclusion.
Robots are already heavily utilised in operating theatres, allowing doctors to perform more intricate procedures less invasively than before. Video conference type technology allows doctors to review patients remotely but this hardware-based bedside manner seems unlikely to hit the mainstream NHS any time soon.

In an era where AI/robotics are theoretically “threatening” thousands of jobs in other industries, wouldn’t healthcare be a natural beneficiary? With the potential to free up NHS resources under continued pressure will allow highly trained and skilled humans to focus on healing, rather than listening to slightly off-colour patients seeking a little reassurance.

An app might not appeal to everyone, but the advances in voice directed AI are enormous. Have you spoken to Siri recently? Sometimes it actually knows what you’ve said. Surely once this type of AI app proves itself, it could be switched to a more traditional voice-based service that would have a greater appeal.

But for those of us that love an app and currently rely on the internet as the first port of call for any of life’s queries, why wouldn’t you want to avoid the full blown panic of a google based self-diagnosis when you can access credible advice from your phone at any time?

Written by Charlie Woodward, Coriolis Ltd


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Is work life integration the key to effectiveness?

April 18, 2017 9:46 am
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Let’s start with the most common analogies. Throw out the image of your work and life balancing on a set of scales, and picture instead, a pendulum. As a pendulum swings, it spends a split second at the equilibrium point, and most of its time at the extremes. The old scales analogy implied that your time should be allocated equally between work and life. The pendulum better reflects not only reality, but a blueprint for how effective people try to integrate their work and life.

Life doesn’t stop when you’re at work’;

work doesn’t stop when you’re ‘at life’.

Carving out enough time for a meaningful home and social life alongside high priority work assignments often leaves people feeling like a failure in both camps. To tackle this, we try to impose boundaries on our time. Where we can/can’t take our phones/laptops, when we should/shouldn’t allow ourselves to bring our work home, and when we are/aren’t allowed to check emails. If you find that you consciously leave your work at the office you are conceding to the idea that all work is pain and all life is joy. Maintaining these distinctions between work roles and home roles might actually be exacerbating the issue.

If this sounds like you, you may well be struggling with the effects of cognitive role transition. Psychologists define this as “discrete episodes in which an individual is engaged in one role and experiences off-topic thoughts regarding a different role”. We’ve all experienced it. It’s suddenly remembering an email you need to send whilst you’re out with your friends at the weekend. Or remembering a family member’s birthday while scheduling a meeting at work. If your goal is to separate your work and home life, these transitions will consume significant cognitive energy as you push them from your mind. Previous advice would have been to minimise their affect through disciplined boundaries. However, researchers at St Louis University have found that blurring these lines may better equip us to handle these transitions. Focusing on integrating your work and life could even drive better results in both. If we return to the pendulum analogy, you don’t need to put work at one extreme and life at the other.

Work life integration is the strategy for work life effectiveness.

Sometimes when we’re at work we get to do the fun things that provide us with purpose and make us feel valued. If you force yourself to treat work and life as one entity you can focus on each task more effectively, applying yourself where the pendulum swings. Work life integration is the measure of how freely and frequently your pendulum swings from one to the other. By orienting yourself in this way you can consciously seek out ‘two-way wins’, achieving success in both domains without sacrificing one or the other.

What have I learned?

I’m not writing this article having seamlessly integrated my work and life. I still have some way to go to achieve this. But I do write this having seen the benefits of finding the opportunities to integrate. As a consultant, I dip into my bank of life experiences daily when leading client teams. At work, I challenge myself to break the ‘working hours’ boundaries I have built in my mind. As a result, I’m flexible on early starts and longer hours when the need arises, and know which working environments suit the tasks I undertake and utilise my time there accordingly (the living room sofa being the chosen workplace for the task at hand). While I struggle with the energy depleting effects of transitioning between roles, doing so now serves a purpose, reminding me that the roles in my life are competing not integrating.


Written by Jack Cheesbrough, Coriolis Ltd

An evolving labour process – Article by Dr. Clive Black

April 13, 2017 1:45 pm
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Geopolitics is the order of the day; any student of political science must think all their Christmases have come at once. On the other hand, I sense most entrepreneurs have probably had their fill of politics for the time being. It’s worth noting that volatility can also bring opportunity, as people seek to run their businesses to best effect in these changing times.

Times are changing so rapidly that few can predict or plan how the United Kingdom (UK) is going to leave the European Union (EU) with much certainty. This in turn begs the question of what the composition of the UK is going to be and how the UK will be trading with the Rest of the World. Will the ultimate deal maker turned politician Donald Trump be true to his word and oversee a relatively prompt and mutually beneficial trade deal with the UK?

The geographic scope for challenge appears extensive, with Gibraltar emerging as a potentially additional spanner in the UK’s path to a sensible exit, nay trade deal with the EU. The other material procedural minefield may be in Ireland, where all participants understand the need for more tempered dialogue than that of Michael Howard on ‘The Rock’, albeit the Northern Ireland Assembly is not helping matters through its own shambolic state.

Whilst all this is so, business seeks to press on. In this jigsaw puzzle of politics, perhaps the major post-Referendum concern for British business was the security of labour supply, particularly so in competitive and low margin industries like HORECA, agriculture, health and social care. Whilst there is a parallel wider debate about British living standards with inflation creeping higher against relatively stable private sector wages and salary movements, the fact remains that the UK has record employment levels with unemployment running at relatively low participation rates.

Securing the right labour in such a market is challenging at the best of times. Doing so when there is a skills shortage and an international workforce facing uncertainties over their status as residents and workers in the UK is all the more concerning.

Commonsense suggests that guaranteeing the rights and responsibilities of those from the EU working and living in the UK should be a relatively straightforward component of the UK-EU divorce negotiations. Over 2m Britons live in the continental EU, and a mutual respect should be at the fore here as folks and their employers face uncertainty.

Whilst this is so, one senses that the aggregate labour process is evolving, ever more from the business side than the local supply side. What do I mean by that? Well, it would be encouraging indeed if the steps through education and welfare policy, amongst others, were producing a domestic labour force universally motivated and skilled. In the evolving world there is the need for the UK government to genuinely listen to business on the supply side labour force priorities; and business from the CBI, but perhaps more importantly the organisations representing SMEs, need to be much more vocal and clear of their labour force needs too. I only say this because I see and hear little evidence of a clear message.

As usual, however, businesses tend to just get on with things, rather than waiting at the stop for the bus that rarely arrives. So, I also see evidence of businesses reassessing their own labour processes which may be leading to a nudge up in permanent rather than temporary staff. This could also mean a reassessment of their own training and instruction programmes, including graduate recruitment, with the Apprentice Levy also conditioning thinking. Quite whether this thinking means more UK nationals participating in the labour force remains to be seen.

Equally, under George Osborne, it can be argued that the UK labour market was upwardly repriced. In addition to the Apprentice Levy, the National Minimum Wage was introduced whilst National Insurance remained a material tax on labour (all domestically applied initiatives it should be said). That upward adjustment in labour costs which serves to attract international labour can also be expected to lead businesses to consider more automation to my mind. Indeed, functions and projects that were previously undertaken by people, rationally so, are now under consideration for automation across industries. How collectively such programmes pan out could be significant for labour demand and the employment trends mentioned above.

Whilst not wishing to overstate anything, if the supply of labour is short, the price too high, the labour quality too low, then automation in all its forms in people-centric industries can be expected to be reprioritised.


Written by Dr Clive Black, Advisor to Coriolis

Engineering Leadership

March 30, 2017 9:43 am
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I met a rare breed in industry recently; an Engineering Leader in the truest sense of the word. Hopefully that has caught your attention (and hopefully not made you bristle with indignation). As an asset management consultant, I meet engineering and facilities staff on a regular basis with a whole host of lead and manager related job titles.

I fully accept that management is an intrinsic part of an engineering manager’s role. The logic, processes and practicality engineers deal in makes them most suitable for the challenges of management.

So, what is this business of engineering leadership?  Some of the greatest and most innovative individuals to impact the world of technology, the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and James Dyson, are those we count as fellow engineers. Why is it then that so many engineers lack either the will or the opportunity to make it in senior management roles?

Leadership is about influencing and empowering others to get the best from them. It requires a whole host of interpersonal skills which are essential in an engineering role. What might be lacking in our engineering training is leadership. Training and education tend to focus on the practical aspects of engineering, yet in the workplace the engineer is expected to show all the leadership attributes that their operations colleagues are expected to. Team work, communications, mentoring and development, conflict resolution, negotiating, being a visionary and thinking strategically; the list is a long one. These soft skills often aren’t taught because the focus for engineers is on specific academic training. This can mean engineers are overlooked for senior management positions in favour of those in possession of softer and more business skills training.

So the challenge for us in the engineering community is to promote our capabilities.  We provide an essential role in industry, but need not be regarded as purely supportive. Let us drive the profile of engineers, making use of our skills and honing them for senior management positions. Include engineers with leadership skills in your senior team development programmes; they will add value.

Jim Richardson is a former British Army officer who since retiring from the forces has worked in the Energy Sector and more recently as a Consultant with Coriolis UK Ltd.  He is an Engineering Leader.

International Women’s Day: Why gender is so significant in business

March 17, 2017 2:25 pm
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International Women’s Day took place on 8th March. The day marks an annual celebration of social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Gender is so important, and considering how female talent can be attracted and retained in your business is absolutely vital.

Women are the most powerful consumers in the world. Their impact on the economy is growing every year, with overall income set to reach $18 trillion by 2018 according to EY.

Coca-Cola’s chief executive Muhtar Kent has pledged to achieve gender equality throughout the corporation by 2020. Educating managers on how gender equality boosts the bottom line is key. “This was not just a case of us being nice to women,” explains Kathy Waller, chair of the Women’s Leadership Council at Coca-Cola. “This was all about the business case: understanding that 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women prompted the need to look like the marketplace we serve.”

Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing through a combination of their buying power and also their influence. They are a multitude of markets all rolled into one; women serve as primary caregivers to children and also to the elderly in virtually every society in the world. They buy on behalf of those in their households, as well as for extended family (such as older parents and in-laws) and also their friends.

Gender is the most powerful determinant of how we see the world and everything in it. It is more significant than age, income, ethnicity, or geography.  Gender is often a blind spot for businesses, partially because the subject is not typically addressed in most undergraduate or graduate-level business courses, or in the workplace itself. In the UK, we have a prevalent issue within our industries, particularly in STEM subjects:

  • The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe (less than 10%), while Latvia, Bulgaria, and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.
  • Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female, and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians are women.
  • In 2013/14, women accounted for only 3.8% of Engineering apprenticeship starts, and 1.7% of Construction Skills starts.

Consider that 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business, along with 32% of companies across sectors currently have difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff with 20% finding it difficult to recruit entrants.

So how can we attract and retain talented women in the workplace to fill this emerging skills gap and represent the consumers we are targeting? Silicon Valley companies are making headlines these days for their efforts to fix underrepresentation of women in tech. Many of these businesses are focused on CSR initiatives to increase the pipeline of women studying STEM in high school and college.

To retain female employees, tech giant Apple made headlines for offering to cover the costs of freezing their female employee’s eggs. While controversial (not to mention unattainable for many businesses), there are a few things within every employer’s grasp that can aid in the retention of female talent.

Remove Sexism from The Workplace

Leadership and management must excise sexism in all forms from the workplace. This means educating employees about unconscious bias and benevolent sexism, and also the consequences.

Shape Company Culture with Female Employees Input

Start-up land has become infamous for offering a fraternity-like atmosphere: beer fridges, video games, and personalised hoodies. On the other hand, traditional workplaces have been typically male-dominated and can create an intimidating and unwelcoming environment. Introducing activities and benefits beyond those that are reminiscent of college days is therefore key.

Diversify your Senior Management Team

Harvard Business Review research suggests that economic payoffs are achieved by increasing gender diversity within senior executive teams. Business policies and CSR initiatives such as better education for girls and excellent maternity leave and childcare policies are effective ways of organically diversifying your senior ranks through promoting those in middle management positions.

The evidence is compelling. More women are needed in industry to fill the skills gap and represent the consumers we actually serve. But ultimately, the best way to attract female talent is likely to also be the best way to attract male talent; an excellent array of incentives and benefits to cater to the individual’s needs. Whilst not all businesses can offer a benefits package to compete with the likes of Google and Apple, culture is key in determining how attractive a firm is to a prospective female employee.


Written by Imelda McGrath, Coriolis Ltd

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