New people, new clients and new collaborations

Picture of Hilary Stephenson

Managing Director

6 minute read

A few updates on the work we've been doing, who's joined the team and how it's helping us and our clients.

We shared some updates on what we’ve been up to recently, to spread a little positivity. I’m conscious that it may be seen as broadcasting, at a time where others have lost their jobs or are facing uncertainty but on balance, we wanted to share our news for a few, hopefully encouraging reasons. Firstly, it’s a chance to show our team the outcomes from their continued hard work, during the strangest time we have experienced as a business. Secondly, we always try to work in the open, as it allows our clients (old, current, new and potential) to see what we do and how it helps. Finally, we are lucky to have some open roles as a result of this growth, so it gives us an opportunity to share what work at Sigma looks like, for those who may want to chat with us about their own career aspirations.

Despite the on-going disruption, we have been very fortunate to have kept working through the Summer and it’s great we can see some real growth opportunities and a chance to invest in new team members, new relationships and new initiatives. I’ve covered a few of these below.

Tiled image of six new members of the team. Headshots all smiling at the screen as the photo is taken from a Teams meeting

New faces

We have seen increased demand for usability and accessibility support, as customers recognise that a positive, inclusive user experience can differentiate their product or service. Although it’s partly triggered by the EU Web Accessibility Directive for the Public Sector, we are witnessing a sea change in attitudes towards accessibility beyond local and central government clients.

This has allowed us to bring in new talent and we have added to both our design and technical teams in recent months. Jenny Featherston, Ani Gilmore and Claudia Escorcia have joined the user research and design teams and we have brought in Lisa Matthews to help expand our growing content design practice. Already, they are shadowing user research sessions, editing reports and helping run workshops both internally and with clients.

We also have new members in our Development team, with Mel Ashby joining the front-end development team and Harry Stanyer joining as a software developer through a sponsored degree apprenticeship with Manchester Metropolitan University.

The enthusiasm they have all brought has been amazing, particularly considering they’ve been dropped into teams who can’t meet in person, where it’s harder to bond with colleagues when you can’t just bump into them in the kitchen, go for a beer or grab a brew for a chat about “stuff”.

The knock-on impact is we can now say that 51% of our employees identify as women, although we only have our second non-male developer, some of the hiring has come through shameless nepotism, and we have a way to go to improve the overall ethnic diversity of the team. These small steps really count though, in an organisation that places value on understanding context and rich lived experience. We now have a real opportunity to do more.

New releases

In terms of our work, we feel lucky to have helped on a number of projects for organisations directly involved in the COVID-19 effort. This has included launching new websites for both the UK Biobank and NIHR BioResource, whose research is contributing to vital clinical advancements. We have also been helping AstraZeneca with a new global translation platform, which is also playing a key role in the patient safety aspects of vaccine research. Our work with the Department for Education has been particularly rewarding for the team, who have assisted in the rapid transformation of the services that underpin education delivery across UK schools.

New clients

This all puts us in a stronger position to deliver this year and boost our business outlook for 2021 and in the last few months, we have started to work with some amazing new clients. We recently completed a usability assessment for Estendio’s Present Pal, a brilliant product that helps people build confidence and give presentations based on their specific access needs. We are also helping the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) assess the accessibility of their web portfolio. We recently started to work with Sodexo and Amcare, to review the user experience of their corporate and market platforms. Finally, we continue to expand our work in the Education sector, through a new project with The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)  to take their well-established, paper-based assessments online. We believe work should be rewarding, and we have strategically chosen to work with customers in sectors where we can have a positive social impact.

New achievements in accessibility

We were delighted to hear the news a couple of months back that two of our team had been awarded MVP status by Umbraco. This was largely due to the work Rachel Breeze and Danny Lancaster had contributed to the accessibility working group. This also resulted in Sigma being named as a Contributing Gold Partner to Umbraco. To take this a step further, Sigma will be representing Umbraco in the exciting cross-platform #We4Authors project from Funka, to look at the accessibility of web content management platforms used in the public sector: https://accessibilitycluster.com/. We also became a Siteimprove partner this year, to help clients automate the web performance and accessibility of their live products. Finally, we announced this week that we are now listed as a G-Cloud 12 supplier, giving us a great platform from which to deliver our software and web development services.

New collaborations

As well as our own growth, it’s been great to see other parts of the wider Sigma group expand, as this allows us to collaborate with colleagues across our respective business areas. We welcomed the Sigma acquisition of K3 retail earlier in the year and are exploring how our respective development teams and technology strategies overlap, largely around .Net and Sigma’s Microsoft partnership. In addition, we are really excited to be working with our Sigma Insight group, who specialise in advanced analytics, IoT and data science. It feels great to be part of something bigger and innovative in these strange times.

We’ve also started to work with two new strategic platforms to help focus on our goals and leadership. Firstly we are using HowWe, to track our key growth objectives and more recently, we kicked off a three month pilot with the good folk over at Stride, as we want to invest in our leadership skills and team who are managing this growth and change in structure. All very exciting and we are truly grateful to have such opportunities.

Old friends

The digital sector lost an absolute star this week in John Popham. The outpouring of love and respect from those who knew him well, had met or just chatted online with John has been beautiful and quite energising to read, and it sheds light on the strong digital inclusion community he inspired. I bumped into John frequently over the years, from academic health science network events and regional broadband meetings, to local library meet-ups, as it would appear many others did. We joined “forces” in more than one failed funding bid and I was always keen to recommend him as the best person to spark up digital inclusion initiatives, which he did in such a meaningful and pragmatic way.

I spent a couple of days shadowing his digital storytelling sessions for a local Housing Trust’s older residents. I remember him laughing out loud when I inadvertently outed myself to an older lady, who moved tables when I said I had a wife and we were teaching our little girl to read using an iPhone. John simply just moved on to the next group to share his ideas and help them look up Deep Purple songs and North Wales caravan parks on YouTube. I think that’s what I learned from watching him. There will always be people who don’t want to listen, who don’t agree and stuff you can’t fix but it’s worth plugging away and sharing good news stories, as there is still so much out there to do when it comes to digital inclusion.

If the theme of this post is about working in the open and sharing positive outcomes, then it seems fitting to end with John’s weekly scheduled tweet, something I think we can keep with us in our work: