A Christmas letter from CYB
Since starting, Caution Your Blast Ltd. (CYB) has been a digital practice that’s curious to learn and grow, and this year we’ve had an amazing opportunity to build on what we do and how we do it. From being stuck in the headlights of how fast technology changes to discovering the hidden talents of colleagues, in this blog I try to uncover a little of what 2023 at CYB has been like.
Innovating with AI
First up we’ve been starting to innovate with the whirlwind that is Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically Large Language Models (LLMs) - technology that was recently lab bound but that escaped a year ago to equally threaten and entice us all with its rapidly expanding capabilities over the year. We initially aimed it at our own data, products and services, before taking this learning into an opportunity to help deliver improvements to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Offices (FCDO) Consular services. Since then we’ve been able to take the civil servants involved on an important journey into what is possible with this new technology and the areas where it can deliver tangible and pragmatic service improvements. Our growing expertise in this area led to meeting with key people involved with the Bletchley AI agreement and providing written evidence on AI LLMs to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee inquiry: Large language models. You can read that here.
Transformation as a role
We’re now talking openly about the value of transformation as a role. We started the year by creating a formal Transformation profession after continuously practising since founding the company in 2010. We found that having people in this role was a key factor to our momentum and overall success in delivery. Practising skills across service, product and delivery, for us it’s become the glue that binds other professions together for great teamwork, and it also establishes permission and a platform from which to negotiate and deliver the right digital products and services. Over the year, we’ve been able to use this lens to make delivery and team optimisations, and scope decisions, much easier. We’ve also seen significant recognition for our work largely because this role acts as an ongoing icebreaker for the team such that stakeholders recognise and understand the heavy lifting being done.
Coming together as a community
Anyone who has worked with technology to achieve positive change will know just how much it relies on teamwork, but perhaps even more on coming together as a community. From launching in 2019 we built community into the heart of our Give A Little cashless donation service for charities, and it continues to shape the business model. Bigger than simply our professional team, a community approach actively enlists the public - the citizens - as the users, in order to achieve positive results.
This year we’ve continued to focus our user research on user capabilities in addition to user needs, the things they can and want to do by themselves, things they can do for each other and do not actually need us involved in. For example we’re shifting some of the security checks and verifications of new Give A Little accounts to external organisations because their administrators want to take on that responsibility, and the research shows they’re better placed than us to get this right. By recognising our place in the community we’ve found a way to respect how to best fit in, also how we can stimulate a stronger community where everyone benefits from each others' knowledge and experience.
CYB Impact measure: 119,584
The community approach also strongly underpins our consulting services, and by anchoring CYB into communities a natural question arises: How much are we contributing? This question is at the core of our mission to use digital as a force for good, so at the beginning of the year we set ourselves the task of agreeing a key metric for our mission as we want to track our mission progress. Whereas some companies set sales and growth targets, our mission target is to increase the positive impact each person at CYB has. So adding 2 or 10 more staff could drive this impact down if we don’t manage to deliver more benefit to people and the planet.
Our final agreed approach was simply to assess the number of people using improved and new services that we can evidence in some way made life better - easier to get things done, less stress, lower costs, more helpful and more delightful to use, etc. After tracking and refining this approach over the year we’re ending the year with a cumulative impact since we started in 2010 with a CYB Impact measure of 119,584. This figure tells us that each of our people positively impacts 119,584 people globally with their work. This is with 27 of us working here and a total of 3,228,773 people positively impacted so far.
Open ended contribution
But many aspects of what we do are not able to be linked to the CYB impact metric. This year we’ve continued to devote expertise, time and money to maintaining the open source project xGovDigitalFormBuilder that we began in 2019, to benefit the delivery of higher quality and lower cost central and local government services. xGovForms continues to provide technology that the tech community uses to deliver quality government services very quickly, reducing cost and time sometimes for very urgent user needs that would not be met without it.
But we cannot access data about the service benefits that other users of our open source code deliver. Similarly some of the team working with AI over the year put together a great meet-up to share their learning openly with others looking amongst other aspects at the design challenges and risks that need to be managed. It was free to attend but we will never know what the people who attended achieved with their new knowledge. We also benefit from similar open ended contributions that others make in our industry - this behaviour characterises what we believe the future should and must look like: one based on collaboration not competition, supporting each other not exploiting each other.
This is the name of our internal CYB Slack channel where we celebrate each other and post things worthy of smiling about. I had a quick look back over the year and want to thank and also show my deep respect for the amazing team of individuals who choose to work here at CYB as permanent staff and associate contractors. They’ve shipped over 20 new services most light-years ahead of the old ones in terms of ease of use, communication & clarity, efficiency, and thoroughness. And they’ve made many service updates sometimes to support crisis scenarios often while dealing with the rapidly changing priorities caused by global events. They have worked hard to evidence and make difficult decisions - like making a case to remove functionality from an existing service with extraordinary results of A) increasing user satisfaction by 10% and B) making processing times savings of 9 minutes per case.
And they continue to impress with their leadership and knowledge. This was demonstrated to the international attendees at The Hague, who were taken through the new eApostille service, a world first for a legal service of this type (governments such as Thailand sent their thanks and support for the work). Just glimpsing how much they do and achieve in helping others with their work is humbling.
I’d also like to say a thank you on behalf of the team here to Paul Bute, Head of Consular Digital Services at the FCDO who after 3 years in post as per civil service rules will be moving on the new year and will be sorely missed for his knowledge, dedication and leadership.
If you do find anything in the post here that you would like to know more about please reach out and say hello.
Seasons greetings on behalf of all of us,