As our 2017/18 placement programme comes to an end and students return to university, Hannah Broadhurst looks back on a year packed full of learning.
As part of my Geography undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds, I decided to spend a year in industry, to gain experience of working in the ‘real world’. I chose Informed Solutions, a multi-award winning SME specialising in digital transformation, location intelligence and AI. Now I am coming to the end of what’s been an eventful year, I wanted to reflect on my time here, and what I’ve learnt during my placement.
Part of the appeal of Informed for me was that as an SME it punches way above its weight, winning major contracts with organisations like Ofsted and NHS Improvement and delivering market leading solutions which have the potential to affect millions of lives. When this is balanced with a company culture that genuinely values its people, you have a real recipe for success. I saw the company win several prestigious awards during my placement, culminating in the highest accolade for business success, a coveted Queen’s Award for Innovation, which we won in April this year.
"One of my key takeaways from the last 12-months is the importance of diversity"
Over the last year I have been involved in a remarkable number of projects with high profile public and private sector clients. I have worked with clients to set their strategy for Digital Transformation, conducted user research, and been involved in work with NHS Improvement, using AI and machine learning to transform patient safety. On top of this, I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in a number of internal business improvement initiatives including the refresh of our global company website (www.informed.com) and helping the company stay compliant with new GDPR regulations. This enormous range of experience has been invaluable and not something I think many people are lucky enough to experience so early on in their career.
In my first couple of months with Informed we celebrated the company’s 25th anniversary with impressive celebrations at Manchester’s King Street Townhouse, and the iconic National Gallery in London. This marked an important milestone for the company, and proved that despite a lot of market uncertainty the company has played to its strengths and continues to scale up.
Since then, barely a month has gone by without Informed Solutions’ achievements being recognised with an award. The most notable successes were being the only British and Australian company to win a global IT excellence award at the World IT Congress in India and winning the Queen’s Award. We were also recognised as a Northern Powerhouse Export Champion and included in a list of the top 10 most innovative businesses in Greater Manchester.
One of my key takeaways from the last 12-months is the importance of diversity, whether this is having a workplace culture that is inclusive, phrasing job advertisements in a way that encourages women to apply, or ensuring AI learns from a diverse range of people to make sure it works for everyone. I got the opportunity recently to attend the National Digital Conference as part of Digital Leaders Week. It was here that I was able to listen to our Global CEO Elizabeth Vega being interviewed by BBC journalist Kate Russell. They discussed the three stages of digital transformation from disruptive, transformative to finally equalising and how the future of technology will focus around equality, both in access to and development of new technology.
When I began my search for a placement, I knew that I wanted to work in an environment where I was given real responsibility and felt valued. Informed Solutions has given me the opportunity to work alongside some of the most senior staff in the organisation including the UK and Global CEOs. This kind of exposure to experienced professionals has been incredibly rewarding, and unlike anything I think I would have experienced in a larger organisation.
But my learning journey has taken an unexpected detour from where I initially thought I’d end up. I wanted to make the most of my placement by building on the technical Geographical Information Systems (GIS) skills I had developed in my first two years of university.
I’ve been able to do this through working on a GIS related project for a key private sector client within the first few months of my placement. However, what I have come to realise looking back on my year is that softer skills are just as important. To be able to take technical knowledge and translate it into something that is understandable for the people who will be using the end service is absolutely essential.
To conclude, I would say a big lesson for me is that it’s not the size of a company that matters when thinking about trying to secure a work placement. It’s the size of the company’s ambition and the level of involvement they want you to have. I’ve been fortunate to get an inside view of an ambitious growing company delivering solutions on complex, national projects and I’d certainly encourage others to seize the same opportunity.