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Low-code for Local Government

We spoke to Dave Briggs from Sensible Tech and asked him frequent questions we get from our local government customers about low-code. Take a look at his answers below and you can even watch some short clips from the interview.


Answers to all the questions you may have


We spoke to Dave Briggs from Sensible Tech and asked him the questions that we frequently get asked by our local government customers about low-code. Take a look at his answers below – you can even watch some short clips from the interview. We’ve broken this down into sections so you can find the answer that you are looking for quicker.

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Low-code, what it is, why it’s different to coding and how it helps local government…


Dave, at a recent local government strategy forum, you were asked by some of the delegates “just what is low-code?”

Click on the plus to view Dave's answer or watch the clip to the right…

To put it really simply, low-code is a way of rapidly building out end-to-end digital services which meet the needs of what we might call our end users. These might be residents, communities or businesses. Low-code also meets the needs of our internal users too. It helps the staff that are actually delivering a service to be more productive.

This is different to what’s happened before. The technology that’s been used previously for digital transformation in local government has often focused on the front end, such as the forms and the workflow.

That’s helped the user experience, but it’s not really helped the actual efficiency of that service. The significant gains that digital creates for us have been underutilised. This is because, once the form has been submitted, then oftentimes back-office staff would have to rekey information into another system. What low-code provides is the ability to do the entire end-to-end process from the front- to back-office.

This provides a really seamless experience for everybody involved.

 
What does low-code for Local Government actually do, and how does it differ from standard coding?

Click on the plus to view Dave's answer or watch the clip to the right…

Low-code differs from a more traditional coding approach in that, with low-code, you have a set of preconfigured building blocks. You use these to drag and drop elements into place and build out processes. This means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Process transformation is a far more straightforward task than it might have been previously when you’d have to code everything by hand, line by line. It enables you to build genuine end-to-end services, transforming processes step by step and going beyond the traditional view of a digital service.

There are three advantages to consider:

Market demand for skilled staff: Firstly, it greatly increases the pool of people that can be involved in building out digital services. Market demand for people with development skills in various programming languages is awfully high. Councils gain the powerful ability to grow their own staff to build out digital services. (Netcall has free e-learning for upskilling teams.)

Time saving reuse and sharing: Secondly, the low-code paradigm, enables the reuse of these building blocks. This is both within the department and also between councils. For example: if a council has produced a really good way of doing a particular waste service, there’s absolutely nothing to stop another council picking up that process, tweaking it for their own needs, and then rolling it out. (Why not take a look at Netcall’s AppShare?)

Speed of digital delivery: Finally, low-code greatly increases the speed at which councils can deliver digital services. Working in an agile way, teams can design a seamless single journey, improving the customer experience and also significantly improving both the efficiencies and back-office user experience, too. (Why not take a look at Netcall’s customer case studies which detail their speed to delivery and ROI?)

 
How can low-code provide an opportunity for councils to collaborate?

Click on the plus to view Dave's answer or watch the clip to the right…

The very core of a low-code solution is the fact that it’s made up of reusable building blocks. These come as part of the vendor offer and include generic and sector specific blocks as part of the standard toolkit. They also come from peers in the sector.

The great news is that the services, products, processes and apps built by councils can be shared and used by other councils. For example: if one council has built a particularly great green bin service, that entire digital service could be picked up by another council. They can configure to meet their local requirements. And then deploy it in really short order.

You get the best of both worlds. You are able to take existing products built by others, and still always have that ability to easily reconfigure it to meet your own bespoke requirements, because it’s built on technology that you understand.

Or in other words, take something off-the-shelf and make it do the exact thing that you want it to do. A really seamless, easy process. (Why not take a look at Netcall’s AppShare for examples you can use?)

 
What do you think about Jim Davis Customer Service Manager, South Hams West Devon’s example? They downloaded an app on a Friday and went live on a Wednesday.

Click on the plus to view Dave's answer or watch the clip to the right…

Yeah, it’s just an absolutely fantastic example of what’s possible with low-code and sharing. A lot of local government agree that we all do very similar things. Perhaps in slightly different ways, but pretty much the same services day by day. The idea that we are constantly reinventing wheels is a real frustration for absolutely everybody, I suspect.

Examples like this that actually demonstrate a live use case. The fact that one council can take something developed by another council and have it deployed, go-live and working, within a week is just an absolutely fantastic story. And it just shows that this stuff is real. It’s not just a concept that might exist in an ideal world.

Read the full story from South Hams
 

Setting up for success in digital transformation


What are the conditions required for a successful implementation of low-code?

The important thing to bear in mind, is that digital is about a lot more than technology. I believe that low-code is a fantastic answer for a lot of organisations around the technology piece, but actually there’s a whole load of other stuff that you need to be thinking about if you want to make your use of low-code a success. This is because it is a part of the toolkit, but it can’t be the whole thing.

One of my favourite definitions of digital is by Tom Loosemore, founder of GDS. “Definition of Digital: Applying the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.” 28 Jun 2017

Tech is important, but it’s not the only thing that we need to bear in mind. Councils also need to be thinking about the other criteria, too.

  • Strategy: They need to have good strategy in place. They need to know about what it is they actually want to achieve. What’s the actual vision that they’re aiming for at the end of this digital journey. And how do they think they’re going to get there?
  • Leadership: You need organisational buy-in, with leadership that understands what everyone is trying to achieve. And, that leadership needs to back the new digital ways of working. This might be about user-centred design or agile delivery, or about the investment. Not just in money for tech, but also in terms of people. Giving the project their time and attention too, by providing visible support. Things do go wrong. And teams need to know that their leaders are there to support them.
  • Tech team: Then you need to make sure that you’ve got your team in place and that they have the right skills. Yes, you need builders. But you also need people that understand end-to-end service design and can map a process. For change to work, you will need to do user research and have someone to manage the ‘product’ or process though agile delivery. Skills and roles don’t really have anything to do with the tech itself. However, without the right approach, teams get stuck or aren’t able to deliver.
  • Governance: It’s key that there is a plan and understanding of the governance. That comes from prioritising which services were going to be digitising and the approaches that you will take. Are you digitising services using the existing process and putting it online? Or are you being really transformative?
  • Outcomes and savings: Everyone need to be absolutely clear about where savings will be achieved. While the digital team are doing the work, they are working on a department’s budget. They’re hard, yet necessary conversations. Department heads need to be committed to making savings happen when the time comes.

If you can work to having the majority of these conditions in place, you’re in a good spot to really realise the opportunities and make good use of low-code.

 
You’ve been asked if low-code is a silver bullet for digital transformation, and your answer is no. Why do say this?

This is in no way a criticism of low-code. It’s the fact that technology is just one part of a fairly complicated set of things that need to happen to enable digital transformation.

Low-code for Local Government does a great job to give teams the confidence that they’ve got the tech that they need deliver when and where needed. But there are loads of other steps that are really, really important.

While low-code can seriously speed up the development of the technology aspects of digital services, it won’t magic the new ways of working that are required to make a success of digital. These methods have nothing to do with the tech itself, but are critical:

  • User-centred design: We need to do user research, to really understand what our user’s needs are. And to ensure that whatever we build in low-code is going to meet those needs.
  • Agile delivery: Breaking big projects down into smaller ones. Trying to get working software into people’s hands as quickly as we possibly can. And then learning from the way in which they use it. Developing iteratively is essential.
  • Really understanding processes: We need to understand the “as is” and “future possible”. A lot of what makes that future possible will be how the tech can enable, so there is some intertwining of the issues naturally.

The hard yards of mapping processes, doing user research, planning iterations while maintaining a features backlog do still need to be put in.

 
What skills and roles do you think a council needs to make a success of low-code?

Traditional coding relies on those trained and experienced in certain programming languages. One of the real advantages of low-code is that it increases the pool of people that you might have available to build out digital services.

With low-code, there isn’t quite the same level of technical overhead. It’s actually much easier to put together digital services. There will be more people within your organisation that are able to do this. And the digital work can be at several levels.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that absolutely everybody could build a low-code application, where you have people that are comfortable with technology and with processes, they’re going to be really good for using low-code to build working products.

You’ll quickly identify team members that are good with process maps, designing forms and content. They’ll do a really great job on the front-end work.
That then frees up your more technical people to work on integrations and data models.

This creates this ability for you to have more people working on different elements of projects. This helps you to do more and to do it more rapidly.

Don’t forget that, depending on the size of your organisation, you’ll also need people who can do user research, delivery managers and product managers. This will ensure the new digital service meets those needs, and you’re prioritising the right things. Managers will also need to monitor, so the whole team is hitting their targets. There are a wide range of roles in a team to deliver a successful low-code project.

One of the additional benefits of the low-code approach, is the fact that all of these different people can actually get their hands on the technology.

A really great example is your business analyst who maps the process is able to actually map that process inside the low-code solution. Mapping in the same system saves time, improves accuracy and makes changes easy and flexible.

This helps to bind the team together. It brings the different disciplines together, and they feel that their efforts are working in the right direction towards a common goal. There’s synergy in contributing to a shared outcome.

 

Using low-code outside of customer facing apps


Digital transformation often focuses on customer experience. But can low-code improve the efficiency of the back office?

One of the key things that differentiates low-code from prior tech is that it emphasises end-to-end digital service design. This means you are able to build beautiful customer experiences on the front-end that meet user needs. And you can combine that with the back-office processes. So, you can pass the required information through to the back office within the same low-code application.

No more re-keying: This enables you to create a whole new world of efficiencies. There is no longer a need to re-key information, as it is delivered directly into business systems. That gives you a single view of information. Staff no longer have to manage different versions of information in different places.

Proactive comms: Proactive texts or emails update customers, so they don’t need to ring the customer service centre. Or they can even log in and check what’s happening themselves.
Building full end-to-end services which are integrated into legacy, from the first point through to the very end, is now possible. And that is very powerful.

Efficient back office: Back office processing becomes more efficient. And it’s hugely valuable in measuring performance and the success of any service. The processes track data and run analytics on how they’re working. You can see where the blockage points might be and know where things slow down.

This enables ongoing, data-informed improvements that genuinely meet the user’s needs.

 
Is low-code suited to back office systems that don't touch customers?

Yes, absolutely. Digital applications can be used in many different contexts. There are some fantastic examples of councils building back office systems that are not public facing.

For instance, at Adur and Worthing Councils they’re designing and running solutions that help map the most efficient routes for officers to make their way around the borough. This integrates with visit planning, work scheduling and resourcing. They’re also managing their fixed assets with maintenance and inspections plans.

At Croydon Council, they’re managing their digital portfolio of work using a project management tool that exactly meets their requirements. This tracks work, reports on progress and is helping to manage benefits.

We recently heard from South Hams and West Devon, where they are looking to remove wasted time in back office processes, such as legal and HR.

Anywhere you have manual processes, you can digitise, with increased levels of efficiency.

 
Dave, do you think that low-code can contribute to social value for a council or an area?

Yes, absolutely it can. Low-code can have a transformative impact on an organisation’s digital transformation capability. And it’s capacity to build digital services. It has the potential to increase skills internally and offer skills and improved working to communities.

Different backgrounds new careers: For example, there may be team members from a range of different backgrounds, who can work together on processes. They can get to grips with the technology and start building simple applications.

Then once their confidence increases they can get involved in the building of more complex applications. This opens new career paths for people. It creates opportunities for individuals to forge new careers in technology and digital, where perhaps they might never have thought that was a path that was open to them.
There is also the opportunity for the council to get involved in their local area.

Community and voluntary: Particularly with the community and voluntary sector. They can open the tech up to them to help them digitally transform themselves. Many third sector organisations are cash strapped and tech skills are at a bit of a premium. Enabling them to build the simple digital services they need can be hugely impactful. This can be things like online appointment bookings, requests for support or matching volunteers to requests.

Collaboration is important: The last two years have shown the importance of collaboration. Councils would be able to provide access to the tech and the vendors can support the skills training needs. Used together, it’s a big opportunity for social value.

There’s a huge opportunity there to make things better for all the residents of a local area. No matter which sort of organisation that they’re interacting with.