Blog: Why We Use Web API’s

Our Expertise

By Aleh Holub

By Aleh Holub

Solution Architect

Why We Use Web API’s

An API (Application Programming Interface), or an interface for programming applications, allows developers to use ready-made blocks to build an application. In the case of web applications, the API can give data in a format other than standard HTML, making it convenient to use when writing your own applications.  

Based on the above, we can distinguish two existing components tied to the web API: server and clientIn this case, we consider the server to be an abstract machine on the network that can receive an HTTP request, process it and return the correct response. The physical essence and internal architecture of the server are absolutely not important, whether it be a regular laptop or a big cluster of industrial servers. it doesn’t matter what technology is responsible for processing the request, Apache or Windows IIS, which codePHP, Python or C#, processes it and forms the answer, which data storage is used: PostgreSQL, MS SQL or MongoDB. The main thing is that the server responds to the main rule – to hear, understand and respond. 

The client can be anything that can generate and send a HTTP request and there are several situations in which we need to create a Web API for our own lovingly written and refactored application. 

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  1. Mobile appMany mobile applications for various services work when using the API of these services. You describe the API, make a simple mobile application and the client with the smartphone will receive information into their device through the API. Simple & Convenient. 
  2. Open Source:  If your application has a certain audience that uses it, why not utilise this to your advantage? Create an API and with the help of your users, they can create new clients for your application and new services based on it, which will reveal its new facets. 
  3. Maximum separation of frontend and backend:  When using front-end frameworks such as ReactJS or AngularJS, a Web API allows you to provide customer data regardless of the technology used for the development, including programming languages. And, the client can be rewritten in a completely new technology without the need to replace the API code.  

Using Web API allows you to expand the capabilities of the program, easily accompany various versions of the services provided and in terms of placement in the cloud, it can easily be expanded to provide better performance. 

 Although JSON-Pure API are becoming more and more popular, the most common standard for Web API is REST. 

REST (Representational state transfer) was originally created as a simple and unambiguous interface for managing data, which involved only a few basic operations with server: data extraction (GET), saving (POST), changing (PUT / PATCH) and deleting (DELETE). In addition, REST has a number of architectural principles that are strongly recommended to be observed when developing: 

*Server independence from client 

*The independence of the storage format of the data transfer format 

*Uniqueness of resource addresses 

*Visibility of the responses for all of the metadata necessary for using the API e.g. error messages, the total number of records in the collection for the correct display of page navigation etc. 

API

Creating a complete API for applications is only half the business. For correct use of the API, you must provide the necessary documentation to service users. There are several libraries that allow developers to automatically generate the documentation and place it in the same hosting as the API itself e.g. Swagger. Another solution would be creating an API framework that clients can use for communication with an API service. For large API services like e.g. GitHub, Twitter have frameworks written in different programming languages to allow as many clients as possible to use their API easily.  

Using a Web API allows you to expand the capabilities of the program, easily accompany various versions of the services provided and in terms of placement in the cloud, it can easily be expanded to provide better performance. 

About OpenSky 

OpenSky Data Systems for Digital Government That Works. 

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.   

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, realtime monitoring and analysis, legacy system modernisation, minimal viable product designs and implementations and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach, provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services.  

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processesconnecting citizens – building a smarter nation. 

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About The Author

Currently Aleh works as Team Lead/Architect on a wide range of projects for Health, Transport and other public services.
Work includes managing many aspects of software development, code writing, application design and leading projects.

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Blog: Are you really doing DevOps?

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By Radoslaw Podgorski

By Radoslaw Podgorski

Team Lead

Are you really doing DevOps?

DevOps nowadays is such a trendy topic – you’ve probably noticed so many references to it on articles, tech conferences talks, videocasts, training courses etc.  General awareness in this area is on the rise and this is not surprising at all since modern systems are becoming more and more complex with vast amounts of data to be processed and with simultaneous user access. But what’s most important is that modern systems have to be open and flexible to introducing new changes and meet the demands of an always on, 24/7 working environment.  Without this commitment, there are losses – of revenue, reputation…or in some cases lives!! 

So, what is DevOps and how does it help? Well there is no concrete definition for DevOps – in fact in you search Wikipedia you’ll find;  

DevOps is a set of software development practices that combines software development (Dev) and information technology operations (Ops) to shorten the systems development life cycle while delivering features, fixes, and updates frequently in close alignment with business objectives.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DevOps 

And while this definition offers a very broad overview to what DevOps is, there’s so much more it and so many more questions than the basic ones like: 

Qs: Are you doing DevOps?  A: Oh, yes we are! We have Jenkins in place for our Dev/QA environments. All we have to do is to hit a button and watch the magic happen! 

and 

Qs: Does it also transfer to Production Environment?  A: No, our customer security policy does not allow us to do so. 

Having a continuous Integration tool, a new shiny system version shipped to a production environment is only the start of what’s involved.  DevOps is more of an organisational change, the company being the engine that needs to have all the parts and components running correctly – which needs to be maintained and inspected regularly to future proof for potential issues.  

So, how can DevOps can help with this? How can we move towards something that will fit our needs and tackle problems in a better manner?  I’ve provided a compact guide below: 

 

Daily Basis: 

 

Standardisation: 

 

* Define ops and development standards in your Organisation (if you haven’t already!) and follow them – apply KISS (Keep It Simple Stupidprincipal and try not to re-invent the wheel. Be aware that complex solutions have longer learning curves and are harder to maintain. 

* Follow best practices – if you have a problem you need to tackle, there is a high chance that someone has been faced with the problem already. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and gain from another people’s experience – whether in or outside of your Organisation. 

* Don’t lock yourself to specific stack/technology. There are no perfect solutions, but some are better in dealing with specific problems than others. Always try to seek alternatives. 

* Create a Technology radar for your Organisation that will help you track new technologies – in IT everything is changing fast so you need to plan ahead and be prepared for introducing changes.   

 

Automation: 

 

* Try to automate any repeatable manual work – deployments, testing, daily checks – you name it. This will not only save a lot of time but also prevent any human error caused mistakes. 

* In order for automation to work correctly, enforce standardised environments – all fixes and patches should be applied across DEV/QA/UAT/PROD. 

* Is there an issue each time you request new environment? Adopt and implement Infrastructure as a Code using dedicated tools/platforms. 

* Once you have automation in place – focus on reducing its error and failure rate – this will get you up to speed in no time. 

 

Team: 

 

* People are the true value of every IT Organisation. Be aware of that & trust them.  Don’t micromanage your team as this leads to problems. Remember that good teams can be fully autonomous and can manage on their own. 

* Try to balance team workloads and be aware that multitasking can do more harm than good. Apply WIP (Work in Progress) limits if necessary 

* Support people and teams during failures – everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them and provide a means for these to not happen again. 

* Create an on-boarding plan for new Employees – not everyone has the same knowledge level, but actions should be made to mitigate this.  

Having a continuous Integration tool, a new shiny system version shipped to a production environment is only the start of what’s involved.  DevOps is more of an organisational change…

Development/Deployment approach: 

 

* Move towards Agile methodologies – Waterfall is an enemy of DevOps and causes issues when applying some of its best practices. 

* Increase Deployment frequency – if you only have Continuous Integration in placetry expanding it into Continuous Deployment and ultimately into Continuous Delivery 

* Follow some deployment patterns that can be adopted to your Product: 

Canary releases 

Rolling deployments 

Blue-Green deployments 

 

Change Management: 

 

* Define a standardised and transparent process to be followed by your Organisation – by default it should have as little overhead as possible and a quick turnaround. 

* Define and follow a Release management process for provisioning your systems. 

 

Monitoring and Alerts: 

 

* Watch your system as they work in order to gain insights and prevent or predict possible failures/issues on either system or infrastructure level. 

* Implement alert mechanism in order to mitigate issues before they occur. 

 

What to do if your Production system is down or facing a serious issue? 

 

Prioritisation:  

 

* The key rule to most production issues is to mitigate first in order to provide continuous operations. ‘Proper’ fix can be applied a little bit later. 

* All services need to be recovered based on impact. Look into what’s most critical first to get you up and running. 

* It’s very important to record all evidence related to the issue (times, logs etc.) as this will be used for Root Caused Analysis later on. 

 

Communication: 

 

* When facing issues, communication is key and needs to be timely sent and always transparent – do not try to hide anything. 

* Don’t cause panic – communicate the issue only to the affected parties. 

* Separate external and internal communication – customers usually won’t understand tech talk so the information provided to them needs to be clear and understandable.  And consider ChatOps as a good solution to have one centralised place for internal communication. 

* Have an ‘Incident Manager’ in place who will coordinate everything in correct manner. 

* It’s good to have some insight of your system in real time otherwise your support might get overwhelmed with questions like ‘When will it start working?’ so a dedicated health check/incident page would be useful here. 

 

Now that we’ve identified the cause and restored initial functionality – what’s next? 

 

Root Cause Analysis: 

 

* Perform accurate Root Cause Analysis (RCA) – go through recorded timelines, think of lessons learned and possible future improvement plan to ensure the issue does not happen again.

* Create a Post Mortem document that is clear and accessible to everyone. 

* Review your Post Mortems to see if you are not falling into the same rabbit holes. 

* It is very important that RCA and Postmortem be done with blameless approach – everyone can make mistakes and if you approach analysis with a witch hunt style, it’s likely to result with your team not sharing the important details they know which are crucial to the analysis. 

 

Improvement plan 

 

* Create an improvement plan – this should be initiated from the Root Cause Analysis document. 

* Track your improvement proposals so these get implemented properly – regardless if this is a process modification, monitoring improvement, code fix or Architectural change. 

 

Great, what’s next? 

 

So much to cover right?  Do you have to do all of this from the start?  No! Improve on what you have. Start small, fail often and learn from it, adopt, adjust, improve! Improve! Improve! 

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About The Author

Team Leader at Opensky Data Systems. Currently responsible for developing and maintaining Ireland’s enterprise level systems for Taxi Industry. Enthusiast of Cloud, Agile and DevOps. In deep love with .NET stack, with some warm feelings for Android

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Blog: Supporting Efficiency in Government with Emerging Technologies

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By Manuel Tomas Estarlich

By Manuel Tomas Estarlich

Cloud & Productivity Solutions Architect

Supporting Efficiency in Government with Emerging Technologies

The Current State of Digital Government 

The public sector is taking advantage of technologies that have delivered improvements in other industries in order to achieve a higher performance and an exceptional culture.  However, the sector faces its own series of unique challenges from regulations, which can add complications to Government making simple improvements.  The complexity alone of securing citizens’ information from within the vast volume of government agencies and organisational silos between departments is a challenge in itself, which can only be achieved with sophisticated technology and business innovation. 

Governments are making great progress in their transition to the digital world. According to the Public Service ICT Strategy published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2015, “the new strategy would deliver better outcomes and efficiency through innovation and excellence in ICT“ such as; 

* The Public Service will be more agile and deliver more user centric and innovative services for citizens and businesses. 

* Innovative use of ICT in the Public Service will deliver better value for taxpayers by creating efficiencies through integration, consolidation and sharing of common infrastructure, systems and resources. 

* Adoption and facilitation of digital technologies will increase productivity, improve the relationship between citizens, businesses and government and will deliver social and economic benefits for Ireland. 

* Integrated services and increased data sharing will drive significant efficiencies; will facilitate insight driven decision making; will increase openness and transparency between Government and the public; and will provide a much higher user experience and quality of service for citizens, businesses and public servants. 

* Improved ICT governance will ensure alignment, reduce risk and support unification as envisaged under the Public Service Reform Plan and Civil Service Renewal Plan. 

* The future needs for ICT skills will be met through professionalisation of ICT streams, targeted recruitment and improved mobility and succession planning across all Public Bodies.” 

 

However, four years after the strategy was introduced, some of the greatest challenges still lie ahead for Government.  While much progress has been made to enable citizens to access many government digital channels, the true potential of digital government stands unexploited today versus the plans outlined in the strategy in 2015, such as; 

* Many end-to-end digital services are still not available. 

* Many of the existing digital services are still not optimised for mobile devices. 

*  Most departments are still struggling to comply with GDPR legislation. 

* Customer Service still relies totally or partially on call centres which are not facilitated by an always-on service.  We need to meet the demands of current day customer/citizen expectations for a 24-7-365 service. 

* The functionality and user experiences of government online services are usually poor compared to commercial organisations who have set the expectation to customers, of a user friendly, efficient & functional platform. 

 

The Need to Modernise 

In today’s digital era, keeping up with shifting consumer expectations and providing them with the low-friction and straightforward experiences they crave is a massive challenge that most public and private organisations face. Often, the problem lies in the fact that due to platform constraints, many companies are slow or even incapable, of deploying the digital technologies that consumers already expect and have adopted in their day-to-day lives.  

Many citizen transactions are still supported by old systems and platforms that lack the flexibility, scalability, extendibility and interoperability to deliver the digital channels needed for 24/7 citizen access as well as ensuring that customer interactions are not only more efficient, but also have a strong focus on delivering exceptional experiences. 

Therefore, in order to meet the increasing demands and expectations of more experienced digital users, Public Service departments need to go beyond digitising processes and services and leverage the power of digital technologies and data to improve efficiency and transform their business models 

OpenSky specialise in enabling Government to get the benefits of a true digital transformation – providing efficiencies by lowering operational costs and improving quality of service, resulting in more satisfied citizens. 

 

Platform Modernisation 

Microsoft Dynamics 365 can digitally transform the public sector by eliminating reliance on legacy systems, databases and paper-based services.  It provides the platform and tools that equip organisations in deploying seamless, end-to-end, multi-device, multi-channel digital case management systems – that allows users to transact their business while online, without having to resort to printing forms or calling a service centre.  

 

The key advantages of Microsoft Dynamics 365 are its; scalability, extendibility, flexibility, maintainability and interoperability as well as its seamless integration with other applications and services on the Microsoft Cloud (including SharePoint, Yammer, OneDrive, Skype for Business, Microsoft Flow amongst others).  

 

Some of the key benefits that Microsoft Dynamics 365 can bring to the public sector are; 

  1. Improved process efficiency – digitising and streamlining in person and/or paper-based processes, making services more available and convenient for citizens and cutting down the administrative overhead for government agencies. 
  2. Increased productivity – automating back-office operations, reducing bottlenecks, ensuring processes are always followed and reducing end-user training needs. PowerApps and Microsoft Flow can also be used to extend process automation with no-code solutions. 
  3. Improved reporting and analytics – agencies can interrogate data with highly flexible, customisable reporting and turn data into insights. Dynamics 365 Artificial Intelligence for Customer Service can help agencies to optimize their operations and create better customer service experiences. 
  4. Improved flexibility and maintainability – Dynamics 365 provides tools to empower organisations to configure/customisthe way they do business without the need of a developer and eliminates potential impact of customisations on platform upgrades. 
  5. Improved interoperability  Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps can be used to build no-code integrations with other internal and external systems and the Common Data Service can be leveraged for integrating Dynamics 365 with other business apps seamlessly. 

 

My colleague Marius Stoica wrote a great article which provides insight on how OpenSky minimises the business impact of the upgrading process when providing scalable, sustainable and future-proofed upgrades as well as replacements of obsolete case management systems – for many Government & Large Private Enterprises. 

Public Service departments need to go beyond digitising processes and services and leverage the power of digital technologies and data to improve efficiency and transform their business models.

Automating information classification and regulatory compliance 

Traditionally, implementing a successful enterprise search has always been a challenge. Search relies on classification and more so on consistent classification and relying on a manual classification process managed by end users, has never worked and it never will.  

In today’s digital world, consuming information has crossed application and service boundaries to the extent that it has an impact on security, enterprise content management, migration, text analytics, collaboration, compliance and information governance. Most agencies are still unprepared to address data protection, security breaches and data leaks as well as complying with the requirements of GDPR. And most, focus primarily on perimeter security even though a high percentage of data breaches are caused by internal stakeholders. 

In order to increase productivity and decision making while reducing costs and so importantly, ensuring compliance is maintained across the Public Sector, have all content (structured, semi-structured and unstructured) auto-classified and available in a single search index is paramount. 

By investing in a platform that; 

* Automatically generates metadata and makes it available to search engines, enterprise content management systems and line of business applications 

* Leverages Intelligent Metadata Enabled Solutions for Data Privacy, Protection of Confidential Information and eDiscovery 

The public sector would be empowered to; 

* Eliminate end user tagging, reducing errors, rework, and time 

* Create a virtual centralisation through the ability to link disparate on-premises and off-premises content repositories, improving decision making via the retrieval of all relevant information in a single interface 

* Enable concept-based searching for information 

* Ensure all privacy data vulnerabilities are identified across diverse repositories such as scanned documents and e-mails  

* Notify data exposures in real time  

* Automatically protect content that contains a potential data breach 

* Enable quick implementation to address regulatory changes while avoiding fines and audits 

* Minimise end user training 

 

Preparing for 2020 and Beyond 

Using automation to bring efficiency into the digital age  

While Process automation platforms have been around since the beginning of this century, there has been a more recent increase in general adoption across industries with the emergence of Robotic Process Automation. But what exactly is Robotic Process Automation and how can it be used to increase efficiency? 

 “Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the technology that allows anyone today to configure computer software, or a “robot” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. RPA robots utilise the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. They interpret, trigger responses and communicate with other systems in order to perform on a vast variety of repetitive tasks. Only substantially better: an RPA software robot never sleeps, makes zero mistakes and costs a lot less than an employee.”  UiPath 

A great example of how RPA can be used to increase efficiency can be found in customer contact centres. 

Customer contact centres rely on a number of different systems and applications to process a high volume of repetitive tasks, which makes them an ideal match for RPA.  

Customer representatives need to understand a customer’s intent and carry out a series of actions that involve switching between systems and apps to find the required information and in turn, inform/direct the customer. This process has some disadvantages, including the long waiting times for the customer while the customer representative is busy dealing with data followed by the representative asking the customer for the same information more than once. The result, an increase in the duration of the interaction that wastes resources while creating customer dissatisfaction. 

By identifying frequent customer queries and analysing the tasks that the representative needs to perform in response, an RPA solution can be built to facilitate those actions by totally or partially automating those tasks.  For instance, for an interaction in which entering customer data in one or several systems is required, a robot can be built so when it is launched by a customer representative, IT performs most/all the actions in seconds. 

The above scenario could be taken a step further by the combination of a virtual agent (more on this in the next paragraph) and a robot, in which the virtual agent interacts with the customer to gather the necessary data and triggers the robot (sharing the collected data) to perform the actions, requiring only the intervention of a human when a negative sentiment in the conversation is detected or when dealing with a person is explicitly requested by the customer (escalation from virtual agent to customer service representative) or, when part of the process relies on the abilities than only humans possess. 

 

Using AI to drive citizen engagement  

A no-code, AI driven virtual agent can handle most citizen interactions to improve productivity, reduce workloads and create positive experiences by guiding citizens to the right solution every time. 

What are the Benefits of AI driven virtual agents? 

Connectivity – connect to different APIs, business applications and escalate seamlessly to human agents. Virtual agents can create great citizen experiences that evolves and learns with context. 

Deflection – free up human agents to work on high-value interactions by deflecting routine queries to a lower cost channel like chat. 

Dialog – provide quicker response timewith guided users interaction. 

Intelligence – handle complex service interactions quickly and effectively through rich conversations driven by AI which provides them the ability to understand voice, language, intent, sentiment, image. 

Interoperability – trigger back-end process automation workflows and automation robots 

“Chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion annually by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017” Juniper 

“Chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020” Gartner 

 

 

About OpenSky 

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.  

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, legacy system modernisation and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services. 

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processes, connecting citizens – building a safer nation. 

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About The Author

I am a dedicated I.T. professional with +16 years of experience within a varied range of organisations. I successfully combine excellent analysis abilities and exceptional technical skills with the proven ability of completing work activities to the highest standard whilst working within tight deadlines.

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Blog: A Day in The Life of a Data Scientist

About Us

By Joanna Waszak

By Joanna Waszak

Business Intelligence & Analytics Consultant

A Day in The Life of a Data Scientist

I remember that when most of my friends were trying to do everything in their power to avoid maths, I always believed it was one of the most creative and interesting subjects for me to develop. My love of numbers lead me first to accountancy, and ultimately into data science and machine learning.  I like to think that my strong understanding of financial numbers and business gave me a competitive advantage when switching careers. The best thing about being a data scientist is that I work on a variety of projects, using different tools and facing new challenges every day with a certainty that I will be crunching into numbers at some point of the day. Data science is used as a buzzword for analytics these days, but generally, it is associated with machine learning, artificial intelligence and data visualisations. 

My working day usually starts at 9:30am, checking my meeting schedule for the day while drinking coffee!  Most days we have team daily planning meeting call at around 10am. One of the things I learned very quickly in my role with OpenSky, is that communication is one of the major success factors in any project. As a data scientist, I not only interact with my ‘data’ team members (who are incredible people by the way 😊), but I also collaborate on projects and tasks across multiple departments. Analytics is more than just coding and data modelling – it combines the human element of knowledge and science.  

That’s why I usually spend 20% of my time analysing the project objectives and requirements from a business perspective, creating documentation, conducting a series of interviews with stakeholders, and finally transforming this knowledge into a plan. Armed with business knowledge, a plan and caffeine, I am ready for the next phase: data understanding. To begin with, I start gathering the data. It usually comes from multiple sources and in various shapes. Early data discovery helps me to find key insights and links, but most importantly it tells me whether the data I am looking at is representative of the business problem I am trying to solve.   

“Analytics is more than just coding, and data modelling. It combines the human element of knowledge and science.”

Shortly after this, one thing that I am constantly faced with is that the data I am reviewing, is not in the best shape and usually far from perfect. Finding and cleansing dirty, noisy or missing data, takes around 60-80% of my time each day. After following multiple steps preparing data, can finally start building and evaluating the models. I repeat the steps until I am happy with the results and the model can be deployed. This will keep me busy for the rest of the day.  

On a daily basis, I use T-SQL to fetch and analyse the data, RStudio for data cleansing and profiling, PySpark to create a data models and SQL Server Integration Services for data extraction, transformation and loading. I develop SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports and create cubes from scratch using Analysis Services. I use Azure Cognitive Services to build intelligent algorithms into apps and bots and Power BI for data visualisation which brings the data to life. 

At OpenSky Data Systems I am always challenged with interesting projects and encouraged to generate and develop ideas. By finding meaning and value to data and enabling users to interact with it, I can support a wide range of evidence-based decisions which need to be taken. Depending on the needs of our clients my goal is always to make data more understandable, useful and accessible. I think that nowadays we are all suffering from information overload and the same applies to businesses. By visualising data, I can find and concentrate on information that needs attention. I can tell the story and bring everyone’s attention to the important patterns and connections between numbers that could be scattered across multiple reports.  

If you consider a career in Data Science, I believe Andrew Ng is among one of the most influential people in the field and his Machine Learning course on Coursera is a fantastic introduction to the topic https://www.coursera.org/learn/machine-learning. If you are interested in data visualisation, I would recommend “Visualize This: The Flowing Data Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics” by Nathan Yau which offers insight into a practical guide on real-world examples. 

 

About OpenSky 

OpenSky Data Systems for Digital Government That Works. 

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.   

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, realtime monitoring and analysis, legacy system modernisation, minimal viable product designs and implementations and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach, provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services.  

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processesconnecting citizens – building a smarter nation. 

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Business Intelligence & Analytics Consultant, with a passion for finding meaning and value to data. With the ability to analyze large sets of structured and unstructured data– I can also support a wide range of business decisions using data mining and predictive modeling. 

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A Day in The Life of a Data Scientist

I remember that when most of my friends were trying to do everything in their power to avoid maths, I always believed it was one of the most creative and interesting subjects for me to develop. My love of numbers lead me first to accountancy, and ultimately into data science and machine learning.

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Blog: OpenSky, Technology & the Citizen

Digital Regulation for Government

By Michael Cronin

By Michael Cronin

Managing Director

OpenSky, Technology & the Citizen

We in OpenSky have spent 15 years working hard to improve technology in Government. It is one of those things that makes it easier to get up at 6am on that Monday morning when it’s dark and wet (& that’s during the better part of the year here in our green & beautiful Ireland). While Tech is not the full story when it comes to change for a better and safer world, it has its place and we are proud to be driving force for some of that change in Ireland.  

Digital Citizen Tools 

Not so long ago, a friend said to me in passing, that since most, if not all Government services are now online, surely thjob is done since citizens can interact easily with the services they need. While yes, it’s great that many services are available online for citizens, there is quite a journey to travel before everything is available that’s needed.  Take a recent project of ours to enable a new digital way of interacting with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLR) as part of their wider Civic Hub initiative. Yes, DLR already had online methods of interacting with their citizens, however this project not only delivers digital channels to the citizen, but it also completes the digital journey throughout the numerous divisions with the Local Authority, in effect joining the Citizen directly to the responsible department, not just to the initial contact desk.  

Then you add the digital tools needed for the Local Authority to efficiently deal with the issue raised by the Citizen, now the digital solution not only supports the Citizen request straight to the relevant department, but it also underpins the resolution of the request and subsequent update to the original requestor. The end result is that DLR are now able to provide a faster service to the Citizen using less resources, whilst providing 24×7 contact channels.  A major step up from filling in an online form which sits on someone’s computer screen awaiting action.  For more on this topic, you might like to read another of our Blogs about Minimising Business Impact when Upgrading your Case Management System”.

Collaboration in the Provision of Homeless Services 

It is true to say that often Technology is just an enabler for our better safer world. For example, in OpenSky, we provide the technology platform behind Ireland’s response to homelessness. While the technology platform we built, does not give out blankets on cold nights, does not serve food to those in need – as this is managed by the fabulous people working in Voluntary and Government agencies, the system we built allows up to 100 separate agencies, to jointly collaborate in the provision of services to those experiencing homelessness.  It underpins the availability of emergency accommodation to those in need and crucially, it allows analysis on how to continually improve our policies in response to homelessness.  

To me it is clearly our responsibility as Technology Innovators to ensure our AI systems reflect business and societal rules of conduct. 

Artificial Intelligence 

One of the other motivations to face the world on that dark and wet Monday morning, is that when working with Technology, everything is always changing (although sometimes it is a reason not to get up too!).  Taking a customer-centric approach to continuously bring value to those who matter most (our customers)we must constantly evaluate and innovate with the best technology options. Some of these are bringing change to how the Citizen experience is in the digital world.

The much talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now, or is definitely becoming, the face of many businesses – which has brought a new level of responsibility for companies like us in OpenSky.

If our AI is deciding, for examplewho gets the allocation of a house on the social housing list and that intelligence is evolving, it’s now not necessarily the employee of the Government Agency who is taking the decision on the allocation of housing, but initially a programmer in OpenSky and additionally the ability for the system to self-learn.  

To me it is clearly our responsibility as Technology Innovators to ensure our AI systems reflect business and societal rules of conduct.  The intelligence programmed by our teams must be transparent in its decisions and open to interrogation and routinely audited. Our AI will work beside the staff in our Government customers, often as a trusted advisor and collaborator, assisting in routine tasks and decision making at all levels. This again brings service efficiencies to a higher level and allows for an exploitation of information to support decision making not previously possible, all positive for you or I as citizens.  

Our Goal: A Safer World 

The goal for our Technology, is to support that drive for a better and safer world, which enables all people to actively participate in governance and receive the services they need. The advent of AI driven solutionsbrings responsibilities for OpenSky – to set standards for what it means to realise a responsible digital eco-system that is transparent in the way it makes decisions, and which creates trust with our customers and citizens. 

Am I excited? Yes. 

Nervous? Maybe just a little…. 

 

About OpenSky 

OpenSky Data Systems for Digital Government That Works.

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.  

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, legacy system modernisation and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services. 

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processes, connecting citizens – building a safer nation. 

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Michael is co-founder and Managing Director of OpenSky. He leads the organisation as it brings a new dawn of digitalisation to Government across its market sectors.

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We in OpenSky have spent 15 years working hard to improve technology in Government. It is one of those things that makes it easier to get up at 6am on that Monday morning when it’s dark and wet (& that’s during the better part of the year here in our green & beautiful Ireland).

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Blog: Minimising Business Impact when Upgrading your Case Management System

Our Expertise

By Marius Stoica

By Marius Stoica

Account Sales Manager

Minimising business impact when upgrading your case management system

Will today’s technology work for tomorrow? 

Considering the rapid rate of innovation in the software field, using outdated technology in business comes with lot of pain and frustration – not to mention costs much higher than expectedSoftware upgrades are unavoidable in enterprise systems. Business reasons sometimes mandate upgrading current case management systems; responding to customer expectations and conforming with government regulations can require new functionality. Although there are couple of reasons not to change the software (possibly the biggest being inertia), many organisations can no longer afford to incur the high cost of downtime, system unavailability and security vulnerability and therefore, must perform such upgrades 

A major challenge for any organisation is how to perform the upgrade without system disruption and with minimum impact over the business. 

OpenSky have provided numerous scalable, sustainable and future-proofed upgrades and replacements of obsolete case management systems to both Government and Large Private Enterprises for 15 years.  Here are the key insights on driving operational efficiency & minimising the business impact when upgrading your system; 

 

1. Prepare an Upgrade Plan  

Do your homework. We know it sounds so obvious, but we cannot stress the importance of planning.  well-prepared upgrade plan, consisting of what exactly needs to be done, what steps are to be followed by the organisation and by the vendor and the expected completion date – will help you save lot of energy and money during the actual process.  Planning will ensure maximised ROI and minimal system disruption. 

 

2. Check Compatibility 

Most businesses are built around a set of processesThe software that enables this exchange may come from multiple vendors addressing different parts of the business. 

Software compatibility is a critical component of the upgrade process. Therefore, before upgrading, check the new version to ensure that it can operate with peer and dependent softwares within the organisation. 

 

3. Choose the Right Tools 

Choose the tools carefully which you plan to invest in – as these will form the foundation of the strategy of your organisation. Appropriate tools will help you achieve your organisation’s full potential and play a crucial role in the ability to achieve operational efficiency and increase ROI. 

 

4. Define Clear Expectations & Future Proofing 

When considering migrating to a modern case management system, it can be a challenge to anticipate and prioritisevery single software requirement. Even after all the current business requirements have been identified, you can’t ignore the certainty that the requirements will evolve as the business evolves.  Future proof planning is an essential part of planning for a new software system  only software designed to be extensible, customisable and tailor made, can support upcoming needs. 

Although there are a couple of reasons not to change the software (possibly the biggest being inertia), many organisations can no longer afford to incur the high cost of downtime, system unavailability and security vulnerability and therefore, must perform such upgrades.”

5. Perform a Pre and Post Upgrade Test 

Prior to upgrading your existing system, ensuring the environment is ready for the upgrade is important and once the upgrade process is complete, the new system should be tested to ensure the upgrade did not have any unintended consequences. Forming a QA strategy is pivotal to ensuring the correct testing processes are executed.

 

6. Ensure End-User Adoption 

The adoption of modernised platforms and technologieis another important component to determine project success. Even if the new technology is performing incomparably better to the old one, lack of considerations for user needs can lead to failure. A strong partnership should be created between the end user and the implementation team to reducrisk and increase the adoption processes.  Well-designed software can ease adoption risk through learning tools, templates, pre-built modules and flexible design. 

 

7. Make a Strong Business Case 

Despite the major benefits you will experience from upgrading your software system, the investment requireto implement the upgrade is significant and here lies the importance of presenting a comprehensive business case.  The business case should demonstratperformance improvements and positive impact across multiple areas of the organisation. Implementing workflow automations and modernising systems, enhances processes and reduces cost and effort while increasing business performance. 

 

8. Choose the Right Partner 

When considering investing in modernisation of your case management system, choosing the right partner with deep technical expertise, industry understanding, tools and methodologies – is essential for the success of the development project.  Furthermore, choosing a partner with business expertise is equally (if not more) importantto equip you with the multitude of scenarios and eventualities that lie ahead of such undertaking such an extensive project. 

According to several studies conducted by Microsoft49% of businesses state that new technology has been a key factor in allowing them to grow and modernise their legacy software systems, reducing their business operational costs by 13%.  Case management system upgrade, although challenging, has the potential to deliver great value to any organisation. 

An effective upgrade does not end with single migration project – continuous evolution should be the goal of any organisation in maintaining their system for process automation. It is essential to keep software systems up to date to enhance organisational performance and drive productivity. Up to date software ensures that critical and sensitive business information remains secure, decreasing risks of security breaches and reputation damage. 

 

 

About OpenSky

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.  

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, legacy system modernisation and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services. 

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processes, connecting citizens – building a safer nation. 

 

If you’re considering a system upgrade or replacement and have questions which need answering, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you to discuss how we might direct and help you find a match for your requirements. 

 

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I am working in Opensky as a Sales Account Manager. I am responsible for senior stakeholder management within assigned accounts and developing exceptional relationships between Opensky and its clients in line with company strategy to provide sustainable business solutions.

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Blog: Information Security - Data Breaches in the Public Sector

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By Rosarie Lucey

By Rosarie Lucey

Information & Compliance Consultant

Information Security - Data Breaches in the Public Sector

GDPR in the Public Sector 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines a ‘personal data breach’ as ‘a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed’ 

 

While earlier version of the Data Protection Bill had proposed to exempt public bodies from fines, the Data Protection Act 2018 (which transposed the regulation into Irish Law) determined that Public Authorities and public bodies may face fines up to €1 million for personal data breaches. This is in contrast to the €20 million or 4 per cent of annual global turnover potential fines for non-public bodies.  

However, what is more significant for the public sector, is the reputational damage that can occur in the event of a significant data breach. The public sector is curator of large volumes of data including sensitive health, education, social security and housing records.  

 

The GDPR also introduced the requirement for organisations to report personal data breaches to the Supervisory Authority (the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland) within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach. Where a breach is likely to result in a high risk to the affected individuals, organisations must also inform those individuals without undue delay 

 

In the DPC Annual Report May 25 – December 31st  (1), there were 3,687 reported Date Breach notifications. Of these, 1,258 were in the public sector with Unauthorised Disclosure accounting for 1064 (84.5%). 

The report cites the following as typical examples: 

*inappropriate handling or disclosure of personal data,e.g. improper disposal, third-party access to personal data – either manually or online, unauthorised access by an employee; 

*loss of personal data held on smart devices, laptops,computers, USB keys and paper files; and 

*malicious or criminal cyber incidents such as bruteforce attacks, hacking, malware, phishing and ransomware. 

 

Information Security Challenges for the Public Sector 

Challenges which the Public Sector face in Information Security: 

*Outdated Legacy IT Platforms 

*Increasing volumes of complex data 

*Cyber Attacks 

*Levels of expectation from the Public-Sector in-service delivery 

Whilmany government organisations have prioritised digital transformation, there remains the problem of outdated pre-existing technologies and outdated legacy IT platforms. This is a significant factor in slowing the adaption of cloud-based computing. Cloud based IT systems can reduce the security risks to data with strong security safeguards and with end to end data encryption. 

The large volume and sensitive nature of the data in the Public Sector domain mean that is high risk in terms of its loss, theft or misuse. This is relevant both in terms of accidental mismanagement and also deliberate and malicious cyber-attacks.  

Cyber-attacks can be broadly categorised in three main ways.  

*Distributed Denial of Service: whereby an attempt is made to overwhelm an online service with traffic (connection requests) from multiple sources to render it inoperable 

*Ransomware: a malicious from of malware/virus that infiltrates network systems (often in the form of unfiltered emails attachments and downloads) which can result in the paralysis of the network 

* Malicious Data breaches: whereby hackers target networks to purposely steal sensitive data 

The public has a certain level of expectation in how transactions are conducted including their interactions with government bodies. This includes seamless service such as online transactions and portal access to their information, negating the need for paper forms, automating data entry and generally providing the customer with a more satisfying experience. 

 

Addressing the Problem 

In a BSI Group survey (2), it was indicated that for most of the public sector, adopting the cloud means adopting Microsoft Office 365. 

This migration is driven by several factors with the top three being business continuity and disaster recovery, mobile and remote working, and security. Capitalizing on this movement of data to the cloud we see a large percentage of public sector users having remote access to email, file data and CRM systems  

Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers a comprehensive set of in-built information security measures, such as: 

*Encryption for data both in rest (database) and transit 

*Data retention Policies to ensure that data is not retained for any longer than necessary and minimising the risks of data breaches 

*Role based security whereby access of only granted to the assigned security role as opposed to the individual  

For cloud deployed version of Dynamics 365, data is ‘co-located’ which means that it will not disappear should something happen to the data centre ensuring availability and integrity. 

With in-built security, such as distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack prevention and regular penetration testing, there is continuous validation of the performance of security controls and processes.  

Embracing digital transformation in the Public Sector is a step in the right direction in reducing Information Security risksAdditional benefits to the Public Sector are improved operational efficiency and a better customer experience. 

 

“Embracing digital transformation in the Public Sector is a step in the right direction in reducing Information Security risks”

How can OpenSky help? 

AIreland’s Only GovTech digital transformation specialist, OpenSky work with many Public Organisations – delivering future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.  This includes delivering solutions to customers who are striving to adhere to the requirements of GDPR and who are focused in reducing risks around information security. 

Specifically, in the area of Data Retention and Deletion (‘storage limitation’), organisations are seeking to build automated data deletion into systems once their defined retention timelines expire (if the data no longer exists, it cannot be breached!)We work with our customers in translating their retention schedules into system functionality. 

OpenSky also assist customers in conducting DPIAs (Data Protection Impact Assessment) in identifying risks to personal data and providing mitigations for these risksDPIAs can be completed for both new systems (in design) and those already existing and operational.  For existing systems, these mitigations can include such actions as: 

*Preventing the collection of unnecessary personal data by altering systems and deleting such previously collected data from databases 

*Enabling organisations to be able to meet the requirements surrounding consent management 

*Anonymisation and pseudonymisation of data 

The GDPR has put the spotlight firmly back on Data Protection, across all sectors. With the wealth of sensitive personal data in its remit, the Public Sector needs to rise to, and meetall the challenges surrounding keeping this data safe. 

Source of Information/Reference links:  

  1. Annual Report 25 May – 31 December 2018 – Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) 

https://www.dataprotection.ie/sites/default/files/uploads/2019-02/DPC%20Annual%20Report%2025%20May%20-%2031%20December%202018.pdf 

2. Information and Cyber Challenges in the Public Sector – Survey 2018 (BSI Group) 

https://www.bsigroup.com/globalassets/localfiles/en-ie/csir/resources/whitepaper/uk-engb-survey-wp-challenges-public-sector-cloud.pdf 

 

About OpenSky 

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.  

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, legacy system modernisation and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services. 

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processes, connecting citizens – building a safer nation. 

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I am an Information and Compliance consultant for OpenSky Data Systems and oversee any matters relating to Data Protection and Regulation. With the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), delivering GDPR compliant software is crucial. I work with our customers in identifying and solutioning their data protection requirements.

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Blog: A Guide To Forming A QA Strategy

Our Expertise

By Majella Cosgrave

By Majella Cosgrave

Operations Manager

A Guide to Forming a QA Strategy 

What’s it for? 

The purpose of QA strategy document is to clearly define the quality objectives, test approach, techniques & scope of a software project. In this article, we outline a guide for Quality Assurance teams on strategy, execution & management of the test process. A QA strategy also provides assurance to the customer that the Quality Assurance team are striving for a successful implementation with maximum test coverage. 

A QA Strategy document introduces: 

* A Test Strategy: This outlines the rules which testing will be based on, including the givens of the project (e.g.: objectives, assumptions, limitations, exclusions); description of the process to set up a valid test (e.g.: entry/exit criteria, creation of test cases, specific tasks to perform, scheduling, data strategy). 

* Execution Strategy: This describes how the test will be performed and defines the process to identify and report defects. 

* Test Management: This process handles the logistics of the test and all the events that come up during execution (e.g.: communications, escalation procedures, risk and mitigation, team roster, defect tracking) 

 

What are Quality Objectives? 

Quality objectives provide reassurance that OpenSky Data Systems will consistently provide future-proofed services that meet and exceed the requirements and expectations of our customers. Quality objectives also state that we will actively pursue quality improvements through programs that enable each employee to do their job right the first time and every time.   

Quality in an information system can relate to many attributes and factors. 

Common quality goals are usability, reliability, correctness, efficiency and testability, and qualities relating to future needs, such as flexibility, capacity, maintainability and reusability.  

 

What does a QA Strategy include? 

The document should include, but not limited to, the following criteria: 

* Project overview – this will include a high-level business requirement of what the application is intended to achieve. 

* Scope – this will outline the key components required for complete test coverage. 

* Limitations & Exclusions – this will highlight any areas that could pose as a risk to the testing of the project. 

* Test Tools – an overview of the tools which will be used for testing & collaboration. 

* Test Techniques – the various test types that will be utilised during the testing of the project. e.g. Functional, Exploratory, Regression, Performance, Load & Stress, Security, Automation & GDPR testing. 

* QA Test Acceptance Criteria – what the QA team require in order to successfully test the application. 

* Test Deliverables – the output from the QA team to the stakeholders. 

* Test Management & Defect Tracking – metrics for determining test execution progress & how defects are tracked throughout the project lifecycle. 

* Communication Plan & Team – this section manages the expectations related to the roles directly involved in the management, planning or execution of the test for this project. 

* User Acceptance Testing – this phase of testing provides end users with an opportunity to conduct a series of tests that ultimately builds confidence in the system prior to Go-Live. 

* Success Factors – defines the entrance & exit criteria for what is acceptable when moving through each stage of the project lifecycle. 

“OpenSky Data Systems will consistently provide future-proofed services that meet and exceed the requirements and expectations of our customers”

The Benefits of a QA Strategy 

A QA strategy document is very important to have in place for a project and benefits all associated parties.  It ensures smooth transitions from development to quality assurance (QA) right through to the delivered end product. 

When an application doesn’t perform as expected, users become annoyed, distracted and impatient with software. That’s why quality assurance (QA) is completely integral to any software project. QA is all about making sure that software works the way it is supposed to work every time. 

Quality is one of the key factors that keeps users attached to applications. If the quality is good they will keep on using the product and allows us aa company, to keep on upgrading and perfecting it. If the quality is bad, they look elsewhere for a different application. 

Quality is especially important when it comes to testing high risk projects within sectors involving medical or financial needs. Having a QA Strategy in place is vital to ensuring a strict process is maintained to avoid loss or misuse of data which could cause issues with financial, health or legal consequencesIn the unlikely scenario where this may occur, a QA Strategy document could help outline the steps to take to rectify the problem. 

 

About OpenSky 

OpenSky Data Systems for Digital Government That Works. 

As Ireland’s Only Govtech digital transformation specialist, we deliver future-proofed citizen access and operational efficiency.   

Our Govtech business expertise has transformed over 50 public sector bodies in Ireland & the UK.  Within transport, waste, housing & health, our systems impact 2.5m people every day & manage 100m digital transactions every month in Government. 

Taking a Customer-Centric approach, we equip government teams with scalable and sustainable citizen platforms, shared digital business process information systems, realtime monitoring and analysis, legacy system modernisation, minimal viable product designs and implementations and data management services. 

Our expertise & approach, provides our clients with a path towards increased cost-efficiency, reduced risk of investment and superior citizen services.  

Working with the best technologies & MS Gold Certified Partners, we have 15 years of digitising processesconnecting citizens – building a smarter nation. 

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Majella is responsible for managing both Operations & Quality in OpenSky. Her role requires her to ensure quality management across the organization, manage company costs & efficiencies, monitor & report on company delivery and have a high engagement with staff to ensure collective performance in achieving OpenSky’s business objectives.

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