We are delighted to release a new episode of our Low-code 101 webinar series.
It was a great pleasure to visit one of our customers for this webinar to hear how they are using Liberty Create, our low-code solution, to engage their own stakeholders and improve processes for both staff and users.
This episode features Sharon Dhesi-Cowper, Head of Strategy and Development at Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council, talking about their low-code platform and what it can be used for.
You can watch the webinar here:
A transcript of the webinar is below:
Laura: Welcome to “Low-code 101”. I’m Laura Ritchie, a Marketing Communications Manager working on Liberty Create low-code. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Sharon Dhesi-Cowper, Head of Strategy and Development at Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council. As one of our Create customers, Sharon is going to tell us about the impacts that low-code has had on the council and how that translates to communicating and engaging with their citizens. Sharon, it’s great to meet you, can you tell us about your role and key responsibilities at RBKC?
Sharon: I lead a team that is responsible for change and project development in the Customer Delivery department. This has involved acting as the business lead for digital, but the team also works on more operational projects like procuring and implementing a feedback process and system. I’m lucky I’ve got such a great team that’s able to juggle both.
Laura: Yes, I’m sure it’s a very busy team. Had you been at the council before, to develop this role?
Sharon: Before this position, I did a maternity cover for the Head of Customer Operations at Kensington. Which was great because it means I know what it’s like being on the other side of a change person appearing with a great idea, whilst you’re trying to juggle delivering a service! Before that I worked for the British Red Cross as an Inclusion Manager, rolling out a common outcomes and goals approach across services in the UK and working to define what user engagement looked like for their services.
Laura: That must be so useful to have been on both sides of the digital change journey. So, can I ask, what led you to pursue a digital career?
Sharon: My career started a long time ago as a local gov grad in Kensington where you rotated to a new service every six months. I think it’s that early, that I realised that what I enjoyed most about work was working with people to improve things. To have a part in delivering something that will make a difference to our users. Digital hasn’t been a specific aim, it’s just another thing that if we do well and work with our users and services to get it right, we make a difference! I’m not sure I’d have said I wanted to do this as a child though. I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a sports or music journalist when I was in primary school. Still love watching and following sports, and listening tomusic…I’m just keener on it being somewhere I can sit down now.
Laura: I’d like to move on to Customer Experience, but I guess before I ask you about that, I ought to ask how the Council defines “customers”?
Sharon: That’s a really interesting question, the easy answer is our residents, businesses and visitors. But the more complicated one is that in government, local and central, I think the term customer is a bit problematic. It suggests a purely transactional relationship, and a greater degree of discretion than really exists. You can’t decide to ‘go somewhere else’ if you’re not happy with your local council’s services; and a council has to deliver services to serve a collective civic good that if you’re on the receiving end of, you may not like.
Laura: Yes of course, there are so many users and stakeholders of a council. And CX itself (perhaps we should be thinking about user experience in this case) can mean different things to different organisations. What does user experience, or engagement, mean to RBKC?
Sharon: User experience or engagement for us means that we’re not doing to people based on our sense as ‘professionals’ of what is best. More emphasis is on understanding the needs of our users, of involving them in designing and testing solutions. We’re on a journey to get there, and there are parts of this we’ve gotten pretty good at. We have residents testing and signing off solutions before we go live with something that is for them. We’ve tired a few different things to get to the bottom of defining user needs and working with users to design services, we’re learning and getting better at it, but don’t think we’ve cracked it yet. We had a really successful design workshop with advice agencies, benefits claimants and officers to design our benefits webpages and a benefits changes form. We’ll be building on this moving forward.
Laura: I like it that you’ve involved users so much in the development of new apps and services. How would you describe low-code, in your own words?
Sharon: My caveat with this is that I’m not in our IT team, so you’re going to get a very basic answer! low-code to me is a means to develop quickly without the need for high cost developer resources. This then leads us to be more agile as it’s more comfortable to ‘fail fast’ because there’s not been a huge investment in time or money which would lead you to have something that is good enough. It also means we’re able to be more responsive to changing user needs and feedback, we can be comfortable being iterative because it’s easier to do.
Laura: How did the RBKC journey with low-code start? What were the first challenges that you looked to address with low-code?
Sharon: We had two really clear initial challenges. We wanted to replace the exiting report it forms so they directly integrated with back office systems and triggered actions for officers. Other area we wanted to look at was replacing and updating our existing council account, so that it fit in with design of our website, was mobile responsive and more transactional.
Laura: And how did low-code help you to make improvements in those two areas, that you couldn’t do before?
Sharon: It enabled us to deliver online tools that are integrated with our back office systems, so that the user has a really simple way to deal with the complexities of our services. The services can act on issues, faster and with more accurate information, which means that we can get things resolved, faster. We probably could have delivered the same outputs without low-code, but it would have taken us much longer. We’ve also been able to ensure that we’re really responsive to user and service feedback to refine and improve our digital outputs. With the account, we now have a great foundation to build on.
Laura: Great! What impact has it had externally, on the users that you mentioned before?
Sharon: When we were testing with users they told us that the forms and the account mean that they will more actively report what they see when they’re out and about, when they wouldn’t have normally because they wouldn’t call. That makes a huge difference for all of our residents, because it helps us make sure that our borough is a great place to live, work and learn. It also means that we’re getting to resolve issues faster because our officers who are out and about are getting alters for new work whilst they’re out in the field; and we’re closing that feedback loop to tell people what progress we’ve made, so that they know our services are proactively working on it.
Laura: If you could go back and have a chat with yourself at the start of this journey, what advice would you give yourself?
Sharon: To not continually tinker with things just because you can. With low-code, it’s so easy to move things around, change wording etc, so you can fall into a trap of tinkering every time you get a demo of the system. Which is great because the people involved really feel like they own it as we can really quickly act on their input and they can see the change at the next demo in two weeks. But it led to us not totally nailing down our must have requirements and prioritising. That meant it took much longer to get an output out there for our users. We did start with our most complicated form… but in the same time it took us to develop that, we delivered another nine later in the year, through refining our processes.
Laura: And what about any advice you could offer to anyone exploring low-code right now as a potential solution?
Sharon: Try not to not get too overwhelmed by the possibilities. Pick an issue or challenge and work on it, but be clear what output or outcome you want to achieve, and the timeframe you want to have something in. It’s also a great opportunity to involve your users to help design the outputs they’re going to use, and test with them. Low-code helps you to easily make those changes that make a big difference to your users.
Laura: Well that brings us to the end. I’d like to thank you for sharing your thoughts with me today – it’s been really interesting to hear about the real-life differences that low-code can make. You’ll find loads more information on our LinkedIn and Twitter pages and we also have a couple of Podcast series, Life in Low-code and CX Appeal, which you may want to download for all sorts of interesting interviews. Thanks again Sharon…
Sharon: Good to speak with you!