Out of the shadows

Paul Brewer
May 6, 2018 · 3 min read

There’s been an interesting discussion on low code over the weekend, prompted by Dave Briggs’ article, How (low) code can you go?.

At Adur & Worthing, our use of low code is core to our service design programme and the main tool used by our central digital team in change projects. We don’t go this way every time — we’re not purists — but time and again, we prove to ourselves it’s the better way.

Rather than open up the platform for the business to use, we have an intention to broaden the developer base across the organisation in a managed way. I’d say we are probably 18 months away from starting that, given that the digital team are still building up their skills and our approach. We’ve gone from one internal MATS developer in the early days to now having 6, including, I’m pleased to say, one woman. The roll-out will be a carefully managed process, building on the model we have in our Going Local project where one of the community referrers (a front line caseworker) has been trained and makes improvements to the app, supported by the digital team.

It is worth thinking about why low code platforms market themselves in the way they do. I don’t blame them in many ways, because they are responding to a real need. In a nutshell, the message from them is — use our platform, rather than your IT department, because they won’t prioritise your problem, and even if they do, they will be slow and force you into bad compromises.

As we all know, there is a large constituency of frustrated people in organisations that this message speaks to. I was one of them. All that energy, problem-solving and innovation either getting squashed or being channelled into a disconnected and unsupported spreadsheet ..

So, in all this, our question should really be: How might a central digital team help address the real desire for improvement and change in services, rather than squash it, however unintentionally?

This is the problem I had in mind when joining A&W four years ago and developing our strategy, after years of frustration from outside the IT department. We needed to put that disruptive and energetic culture and capability at the heart of the IT department. And that’s where low code should start and then broaden out from if you want pace, agility, cost control, good standards and governance all together.

Of course this strategy is a real challenge given that these low code platforms are commoditising code. Some people don’t like it, for very understandable and perhaps existential reasons ... But I would appeal to them by saying — embrace this future- let’s assume it can be done in low code, push that as far as it can go. We will then create agile and highly effective central digital teams in more organisations, saying YES to the business far more often than NO.

At A&W, we’ve pushed our low code platform supplier a lot for further capabilities, and they have been fantastically responsive. The team seem to be enjoying it, and I’m seeing more and more people get real satisfaction from shipping product quickly and seeing business users smile.

Paul Brewer

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Director for Digital & Resources at Adur & Worthing Councils. Working on systems change, service design, digital and commercial.