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Expert round table: Driving hands-on digital impact

The technologies and practices shaping software engineering, design and strategy in 2024

On February 13th, a multidisciplinary panel of Nearform experts came together in a webinar to share their insights across product design, data, AI, software delivery and more. Each speaker discussed two core topics, with their talks featuring practical examples, real-life stories and actionable advice. This roundup post gives a summary of the talks and key quotes from them.

‘Designing exceptional products’ — Sam Sherman, VP, Design & Product at Nearform

Sam began by discussing ‘Immersive experience through AR & VR’. She explained this will demand organisations start designing from an immersive first approach, so they craft experiences that are as intuitive as they are technologically advanced. The value of this approach is enormous, with 71% of customers saying that they'll shop more often if AR technology is made more available.

Sam then covered ‘Revolutionising communication with voice & NLP’. While this brings greater personalisation to the experiences organisations offer, she stated that accessibility is where this technology will be a real game-changer. This is because it will enable more people to interact with digital technologies in a meaningful way. Expanding the adoption of voice and NLP will require organisations to place even greater emphasis on privacy and data security, as they’ll be collecting and analysing huge amounts of voice data.

“NLP is going to be a game-changer for accessibility. It’s going to make technology more accessible for users with disabilities, older adults and anyone who may find that traditional interfaces are challenging or even just mundane. By enabling users to interact with technology through voice commands, we're starting to open up a new realm of possibilities for inclusivity. Users who may have previously been excluded from the digital revolution can now engage with technology in meaningful ways.”
Sam Sherman VP, Design & Product at Nearform

‘Decentralising data for better user experiences’ — Katie Roberts, Account Principal at Nearform

Katie’s opening talk was ‘Thinking about data 'ownership' differently’, namely by considering the SOLID protocol of data decentralisation. Positing that “data will drive the next evolution of the web”, she outlined the u​​ser and business benefits of sharing data — the former can gain things like preferential product rates by doing so, while the latter can enhance the personalisation they deliver to their customers. 

Katie’s second talk expanded on her first, with its topic being ‘Implications this has on data security and compliance’. This is particularly important, as she highlighted that forward-thinking public organisations, like the Flanders Government in Belgium, are using decentralisation to create data-driven products for their citizens.

“SOLID is a protocol that’s been around for a while, but it turns the data paradigm on its head. It decentralises the data storage and puts it into individual users' pods, rather than in the hands of the technical company. So instead of having my health data spread across numerous different apps, my health data would be associated in my pod, belonging to me, and then those apps would be able to get access to it.”
Katie Roberts Account Principal at Nearform

‘Leveraging data and AI’ — Dan Klose, Head of Data & Analytics at Nearform

Continuing with the theme of data, Dan’s first talk was ‘Data quality and metadata management’. He discussed how organisations can change how they own and interact with data by using a data mesh. It’s an architectural framework that democratises processing, increases flexibility, brings cost efficiencies, enhances discovery, and strengthens security and compliance.

Dan then moved into the hottest topic in tech — AI in the form of large language models (LLMs). He predicted that the explosion of interest in AI will mean that ‘Good old ML (including Deep Learning) will have a resurgence’. Firstly, this is because using AI requires organisations to do work that was previously being done to leverage machine learning (ML). Secondly, this is because there are cases where it’s cheaper for organisations to use ML than to leverage LLMs.

“Off the back of this AI boom, this data quality piece, we're going to see people start going back into traditional machine learning because they're having to do this work anyway. This means that we will start seeing some more interesting solutions to problems that people had maybe dismissed or forgotten about, because it was too hard.”
Dan Klose Head of Data & Analytics at Nearform

‘Improving delivery efficiency and cost’ — Luca Lanziani, Head of DevOps & Platform Engineering at Nearform

Luca started his talk by discussing ‘AI in SRE/DevOps/Platform Engineering’. He addressed how companies have begun using AI to summarise problems, and explored how this principle can be expanded. Luca referenced incident management as being a clear example of this, as AI can be leveraged to provide a summary of an incident. This would make developers’ lives easier by enabling them to ask questions about their system like “What can I do to make it more resilient?” Or “Which part of the system is more likely to fail?”

The final topic of the webinar saw Luca bringing cost optimisation directly into the conversation, as he spoke about how ‘FinOps will move past the cloud’. Explaining that FinOps is an operational framework to maximise the business value of the cloud, he made the case for organisations to expand this approach into everything they do. This will see companies further consolidating their tools and platforms, so they can bring greater consistency, improve efficiency and control their costs.

“It’s not about reducing the cost. It is, in fact, controlling the cost. You have to be aware of what you're spending for. And maybe here we go back to data. In order to do that, you have to track the things that you're spending on. And maybe keep people accountable for what they're spending on. And there's no punishment. It's not about punishing, right. It's about being aware of where the money is going.”
Luca Lanziani Head of DevOps & Platform Engineering at Nearform

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