Low-code 101 #9 – Spotlight on low-code partners

The ninth webinar in this series sees host, Yad Jaura, speaking to Netcall partners WCL, Web Connectivity Limited, about their use of our low-code platform, Liberty Create.

Welcome to the newest episode of our low-code 101 webinar series. Our Product Marketing Managers, interviews one of Netcall’s low-code partners, James Willison, Managing Director at WCL. James show us some of the applications they have built using our Liberty Create low-code platform, explaining the benefits that it has brought to their organisation and offering.

Watch the webinar below – you can find the other episodes in the Low-code 101 series. A transcript of episode nine is laid out below.


Yad: Hello, welcome to our latest low-code 101 session. I’m really pleased to be joined today by James Willison of WCL. Morning James.

James: Morning Yad! How are you doing?

Yad: Very well, thank you. Thanks for joining us today. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself please?

James: Yeah of course. First of all, thanks very much for having me this morning – it’s a pleasure to be here. My name is James Wilson, Managing Director at WCL, Web Connectivity Limited, and I’ve been in that role now since 2006. Before that, I worked as a management consultant specialising in change in the London insurance market.

Web Connectivity, as a company, we focus on process improvements across the whole lifecycle of insurance risk. So, placement, accounting and settlement in claims. What that means in practice is, anytime there are any documents that are used in insurance, we can replace that by data and therefore anytime there are manual processes we can start to automate those. And then, once you’ve automated processes, and you’re starting to use data, we can then provide real business insights to organisations, in terms of what’s happening across that lifecycle of the risk, i.e. the placement, accounting, settlement and then the claims elements.

Yad: That’s great. Thank you, James. The focus for the session today is sales enabled placing solution. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit James about the solution, how it came about, and how you initially identified the need for it.

James: Historically, London Market, we were talking about brokers coming into market, bringing in risks to get underwritten by underwriters and they were doing that on paper. What I mean by that is they were preparing insurance contracts using typically Microsoft Word, printing those out and bringing them into the market for underwriters to view and put their signature against that risk.

And what’s been happening over the last few years, is that that’s being gradually transitioning over to electronic placements, where underwriters can view data and documents from brokers online, view it electronically, and then agree to those risks online, without necessarily the need for a face-to-face meeting. Albeit, they still kind of occur, to run through the risk and talk through it in detail.

Now, clearly. what we’ve seen with events which have happened over the last couple of years, the underwriting room at Lloyds shut for the very first time. It’s not actually shut since the 17th century, since it was first kind of established. So, that’s meant that, by definition, those face-to-face meetings can’t occur. So, the amount of business that transitioned to being placed electronically has greatly increased.

What we’ve seen in the London Market is then a quite significant increase in the number of those placing platforms that are available. And some of those are then class of business specific, so you can see them setting up in certain business areas. Some might be more focused on re-insurance versus insurance.

With that kind of increase of systems, some of which are still taking a bit more of a document centric view, versus a data centric view, what we saw from an underwriter point of view, was it then they’d have multiple trading platforms to deal with to do their business. Whereas in the underwriting room, actually it would be a queue of brokers which be lining up with different business to come see them, now, they had a myriad of different placing platforms to engage with.

Now we, as a data messaging company, had done various connections to these trading platforms which had been set up, so we could extract the data from those systems and make that data available to internal systems. To remove that rekeying of information, so that can be processed automatically.

Because we’ve done that plumbing, we then thought, well actually, from an underwriter (the actual, physical underwriter who’s now having to deal with these different systems) would it makes sense to give them a single view of all their digital placements in one place, so they can see all the quotes they have outstanding, all of the full life-cycle of the risk in one area. And that was the genesis of enabled placing – this kind of single view for the underwriter, giving them access to the information which on these disparate placing platforms.

And in addition, there’s an operational side to it which says, all of these trading platforms have a slightly different kind of data maturity at some level. They’re all using data standards, but it’s trying to get some consistency on that. So, we’ve taken the data that’s available from the trading platforms and then transformed it into a common format so that it can be reused from those different systems internally.

Yad: So, is that what makes Enabled Placing really special that single view, and that handling of the data? And can you tell us what really makes Enabled Placing special? What it makes possible that you couldn’t have done before?

James: Yeah, so I think there’s a few things. One, we’ve got those connections pre-built, so we’ve got a number of pre-built connections to place the platforms like PPL, White Space, Superseed, that are in the market. And we’ve made a commitment to our customers to increase and pre-build those connections in the background, so they’re always going to have access to more data as those trading platforms increase in number.

I think the single view, because we’ve got those connections in place, giving the underwriter one view of data from different platforms is definitely something which is special and unique in that stage. There’s a couple of the areas which are different. And then of course, that single data format which then comes out at the other end.

Yad: OK, you’ve mentioned data a couple of times already, and I know that the London Market works with an enormous amount of data, so, what’s the impact of that on the need for a solution like Enabled Placing?

James: The lifeblood of insurance is data. I think it’d be fair to say that, historically, an awful lot of that data has actually been held in a document, so it’s not necessarily easy to extract. And that’s the shift that we’re going through at the moment as a market. We’re going through this document-centric to data-centric view of the world.

And, as these platforms develop which have more data available to them, that’s great, but to get the real value out of that, you then need to re-use that data within lots of downstream. So, there’s no point having all this rich data that’s available on the platform, when you then have to re-key it into your policy administration system, or your transactional system.

So, the area that we’re really focusing on is saying “Well, you’ve now got all this data. How do you want to use that?” And that could be as simple as taking out some manual steps in the process, so that you’re not re-keying it.

That’s fine, but actually what is the natural consequences of having that data? So, can you start to automate some of the sanctions checking? Can you start to use more of the market services for tax scheduling and working out the different taxes, for example?

You can start to get into augmenting that data and working with rating tools to get pricing information coming back. So, where you shift from removing some of these manual steps and automating some, which is good, you then move into providing the data and tools available to underwriters to ensure better underwriting decisions.

And, potentially, you’re giving them a better view of what’s out there, because a natural consequence of moving to trading platforms and moving to that data world, I imagine, will be that there will be more volumes of business. There will be, by definition, more quotes in the market because it’s easier to generate those electronically than it is to physically move those around by using bits of paper.

Yad: Yeah, that’s absolutely key, isn’t it? When you’ve got a huge amount of data, you need to make it actionable, and you need to be able to make business decisions from it. So, that’s what you’re enabling, right?

James: Yeah, absolutely. Now, we are in this transition where there’s going to be a lot more data that is readily available. OK, so how do we then get the real business benefit out of that data? Which is ultimately where everybody wants to get to.

Yad: That’s great. OK, so how important was the need for great customer experience in the development and delivery of Enabled Placing? How important was that a factor?

James: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say now technology is a major part of everyone’s life. Everyone got their mobile phone which has got this great customer experience on. In people’s day-to-day life, they are used to experiencing technology which is very intuitive. We don’t tend to read through operating manuals or to understand the latest technology that we use – we just generally pick it up and start using it. And it always seems slightly out of kilter to me, that we’ve got that in our personal life, then we come into our work life and we’re using systems where areas are often quite outdated and have been around for a long time. There are still AS400s and green screens that are being used in some of the day-to-day world. I said, well, that doesn’t really sit well.

So, as much as we had worked on all of the back-end, the principles around the data and the business logic and all of that kind of detail level of understanding, we wanted the actual interface itself to be as easy to use as possible. So that people would want to use it and that was intuitive to use. Because we want them to be using it almost on a daily basis. For a while the kind of working Enabled Placing essentially was sort of a day book. The idea the people would be there on a day to day basis and using it a lot. We want that to be as easy as possible for them to pick up and use.

Yad: Great, that’s excellent. So, James, can you show us Enabled Placing in action?

James: So, here we are. We’re in our Enabled Placing tool and it’s obviously just a test version that we’re showing today. The idea is that an underwriter would be able to log in and see all of their active placements. Now, these could be obviously from multiple brokers and multiple platforms as well. So, this could be from PPL, this could be from White Space, it could be from Superseed, and of course, from different brokers.

And what we do is break those out by the different stages of the process. We’ve got some submissions, we’ve got quotes, order offers going through to any changes on the contract endorsements, and actually the kind of the final sign on advice which comes out of the end of the process.

So, first of all, you have that view of everything which is active for the underwriter. Within that, each of these messages you can then click on it’ll go and provide you with the details of the data that’s available from the system. You’ve then got a link to log into to go to the particular risk in question on the platform should you choose to see that, but any documentation that would then be available on the system, you could then view the documents with the document viewer here, so you can understand the information that’s there.

Obviously, we built in reports and MI (Management Information) so you can start to understand the number of submissions, across which stage of the process they are, from which brokers. And the idea that you could actually just capture some information, not all the placements might be coming through the trading platforms, so if you wanted to capture some information about particular quotes that had come in, like this email about a quote, you could very quickly and readily, add some information in here, and then capture that in the system so it gets added into that reporting piece.

And then, as you might expect, there’s a full search capability within there. So, at a point in time, as the number of messages increase, the ability to pinpoint specific risks which have come in through the system will be in here.

The areas that we’re working on in particular now with the underwriting community are those bits where we’re just looking at how to start prioritising the information that’s come through at the different stages? So, how you prioritise the quotes which have come in, may be different to how you prioritise against order offers which have come in from the brokers.

I hope that gives a very quick overview of the system. Obviously there’s more detail and a further demonstration that we can run through at some point in the future.

Yad: Thank you for that James. It looks really straightforward and you really do have all the information that you need in one place.

James: Yeah, thanks Yad. We’re looking to tackle those two user personas, if I can put it that way. So, there’s the view for the underwriter, which is straightforward single view all in one place, got the information access to the data that they need. But there’s still the operational slant as well. So, underneath that, because we’ve tackled the complexity of connecting to these different systems and also the transforming of the data into a format which then can be consumed internally. So, trying to make it look very simple from the outset, underlying this business complexity that’s sat behind it.

Yad: Yeah, I think that’s really important. And, also important, is where that data is stored, so Enabled Placing as I understand it works in the cloud. So, for customers in the London Market, how does that suit them? And, in particular, things like their security needs?

James: Yeah, it’s a really good question and something that we get asked a lot. We’ve been transitioning an awful lot of our customers from historically on-premise solutions to the cloud, so making use of that. And obviously there’s well documented benefits of why people do utilise things in the cloud, i.e. you’re always up on the latest version, you don’t have that upgrade path to worry about, we provide all the DR and business continuity, which obviously is a hot topic in recent times, in terms of we’re hosting in Microsoft Azure for a number of our products. So, we get that dual site configuration, which helps in those areas.

Something that we looked to undertake as an organisation was our ISO accreditation. I know that it’s also something which is very close to Netcall’s heart as well. It puts so data security at the heart of the business and it impacts everything that you do as an organisation and we’ve had that accreditation for a number of years now, and it’s something that we look for in our partners when we’re talking about data security. Hence, some of the conversations that we’ve had with Netcall. And actually, when people talk about having the latest version of the software that’s available in the cloud, well, that’s also from a usability point of view, and that’s great. You get all the latest enhancements, but there is a security element to that as well. And, obviously security considerations are quite a dynamic area at the moment, these are ever changing. So, being able to get the additional support through Rackspace to help with our Microsoft Azure setup, that gives us that constant monitoring of the service and those kinds of wrappers that you get around. So, as an organisation ourselves, we put security at the heart of it and then with our partners as well and looking at those external validations through accreditations and other things.

Yad: Is it fair to say that having the data in the cloud makes it easy to consolidate that data from all those various different sources that you’re working with?

James: Yeah, a lot has changed in integrations over the last few years. I mean, historically, we’ve done an awful lot of integrations using SOAP web services. That’s now transitioned an awful lot to using sort of restful APIs, that has made some of those integrations much faster than they had been historically, which is good. But, there is some flexibility that then comes with some of those integrations. So, there’s a lot more upkeep in maintaining them, and because they do then change, there’s more data that is added – you can add and remove data more readily.

So, having that flexibility and agility of having it in the cloud to be able to respond to these changes without having to go to each customer and then deal with their own IT and security and two-day updates at each individual site, gives us that speed to market and agility.

Yad: That’s a really important part of Enabled Placing, isn’t it? That ability to plug into those existing placing platforms?

James: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the critical element to it. It’s tackling a business issue which people have said that they’re looking at. It’s like, well, how do they access all that different data from these different systems utilising different. Integration methods and not the different data standards, but the UM, the different data that’s available from those different systems, and perhaps some of the validation that goes around that as well.

Yad: OK, excellent, so WCL decided to build Enabled Placing using low-code techniques and specifically Netcall’s Liberty Create low-code development platform. So, can you tell us, James, how that came about?

James: Yeah, from our side, we’ve been looking at low-code as an option to really enhance and support our own development team. We are a software company. We have an in-house development team. We haven’t replaced our development team. What we have done, is very much enhanced the toolkit that they have access to, that increases speed to market, in terms of getting something that was up and running and available for our customer base. But as we’ve developed it, and had ongoing workshops with underwriters, the potential for the functionality which people have requested to add into that, we knew that that was a likely consequence. We want the ability to respond to that very quickly and be very agile. And that’s where we therefore started looking at low-code for that customer experience and user interface and that we wanted to also respond very quickly to and re-use things which are already done. We don’t re-invent the wheel all the time. For things which should have been done, well tried and tested and proven in other areas, we could re-use those essential bits of code.

And then in terms of specifically with Netcall, we’ve actually got a number of mutual customers already, which helps, so we’re servicing similar customers. From my experience so far, you’ve been very positive, a very good cultural fit in terms of what we’re looking to do in this specific marketplace. We are very much insurance and re-insurance focused, and Netcall clearly have had a focus on that market for a while now. And with those mutual customers, it was a very positive business fit from that side.

Yad: Excellent, OK, as you mentioned, of course you are a software development company, so you do use a range of different software development tools? How does Liberty Create fit with those other tools that your teams rely on?

James: Yeah, it’s a really good question and you know it’s beholden on me to say that, initially there was some… Stress is the wrong word… Some apprehension from the development team in terms of “Well, hang on, what are we looking to do here?” Or “Is this a way to replace the development team?”. And I and I think we’ve got through that now. And the fact that we have teams which are working on Enabled Placing which include developers, the product owners, as well as the business analysts working as a team to rapidly develop the application and the system. It does neatly fit in with our transition to a much more agile kind of methodology that we’re utilising within the business, it fits very nicely.

In terms of software updates, we wouldn’t have to go back too far in time when we’re almost like a six-monthly update for the software. Now, it’s almost a weekly occurrence. With the move to the cloud, we’re looking at much more regular enhancements, which then go out with more frequency, so the customers are getting a much quicker turn around in improvements that they’ve asked for, to then see that in their day-to-day lives. So that’s sat really well and goes hand-in-hand. Then, with automated testing, sits nicely with that, in terms of getting that higher frequency improvements out to market much quicker.

Yad: Excellent, so James, what you’ve shown us is really exciting. What are your plans for Enabled Placing? What’s next for the platform?

James: Yeah, today we work with 30 Lloyds managing agents in various guises around data messaging. We have a number that use Enabled Placing today, and what we found is, we’ve started sitting down with our clients and tackling those initial business problems, around connecting to multiple trading platforms, getting the data, inconsistent formats, re-using that data. It’s then the applications, the applicability greatly increases very quickly, and so we’re having really interesting workshops with the underwriters to say “Oh how I’d like it to go is here” and utilising the workflow components which sit within Liberty Create as well, a very powerful workflow engine, and re-using the data as much as possible.

I think the pricing piece is really interesting, how you then start to utilise that data, but really in the underwriting decision-making process rather than just purely on automating manual processes. So, there’s a really packed and interesting road map, which is in that monthly release now. Which is great, there’s regular updates being made, but there are big, big functional drops each month. Exciting times.

Yad: Yeah, very exciting. You mentioned just then James about feedback from customers. How do you incorporate that into the work that you’re doing?

James: We’ve always had a really good engagement with customers through user groups, which we’ve run historically. We’d run in London, in Bermuda, in the USA, and elsewhere. Now, they’re obviously typically much more online, and as you might imagine. But that engagement has been critical to us as a business over the last 15 or so years, getting that user feedback. And having them actively involved it and feel that the product is a direct result of the functions that they’ve requested. I see that very much as a partnership piece. So, we’re not sat there waiting for those responses, or reacting to client requests. It’s a case of having user groups, having discussions across multiple users about where, should this be going as a product. We’ve obviously got ideas to feed into that, as well as a business, and sometimes they might be a little bit further afield, but it is getting that that balance and making sure that it’s not a reactive process. Encouraging that feedback through user group meetings and having communities of customers who are engaged and invested in the enhancement and product development.

Yad: So, lots of exciting plans for the future of Enabled Placing. How about for your use of Liberty Create too? How do you see low-code helping in the development plans that you have for the future?

James: Well, certainly in Enabled Placing at the moment, the speed at which we’re being asked to bring in new functionality fits very neatly with Liberty Create and what we’re doing there. Clearly, we are a software company. We have a whole host of other applications that don’t just tackle placing. We have those in claims, accounting and settlement as well. And so, we’re certainly focused on the Enabled Placing piece for the moment, and we are looking at how low-code is going to impact, not just us, but also our customers.

Really, in the next few years, it is clearly going to have a significant impact in terms of software development and product development, it’s very much a change in terms of the speed to market and agility, which perhaps not being used to that historically, we’re starting to see how we can utilise that and other facets of the business.

Yad: OK, that’s great James I think we’re just about out of time. Thanks for taking the time to join us today on this session. I hope you found it useful and I’m sure our audience has found it useful. Thanks again for your time today.

James: No problem, a real pleasure. Thank you.

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