Nearly every business, even those like ours that are more than 170 years old, is undergoing a form of digital transformation. Westfield, a super-regional leading property and casualty insurance company distinguished by its strong relationships with customers and agents, is no exception.
Executing a successful digital transformation requires a digital strategy that combines speed, agility, and keen sense of customer needs and pain points to take advantage of market opportunities for growth and to meet user’s ever expanding expectations for a dynamic and intuitive digital experience.
One of the biggest challenges we faced in our digital transformation was the ability to quickly go from idea to execution for new customer, agent, and employee facing digital applications. This could be due to any number of factors – challenges with legacy systems, limited supply of technical talent, or slow, methodical software development processes. As a result, the extended time it took to get a digital product into market created greater risk that the digital application missed the mark, either by not meeting customer expectations (which had moved on) or because business drivers had evolved.
In terms of process, we introduced agile software development processes which drove agility and stronger partnerships between our business and IT delivery teams; however, the speed of development was, until recently, limited by the underlying software development tools and platforms available and the supply of IT professionals who could code and test new software. We’ve solved that last hurdle with the introduction of low-code platforms.
Combining low-code platforms with rapid delivery software processes, we have dramatically reduced the time to build, test and deliver digital applications for our customers, agents and employees.
So, what is low-code software? Broadly speaking, these are development platforms using graphical interfaces to allow developers to drag and drop application components – enabling the platform to connect them together dynamically and stitch together digital applications with limited additional coding required by a developer. Most are based on existing software languages, and many developers can quickly and easily learn how to utilize these platforms. They take full advantage of both services and the cloud, so new digital apps can be easily deployed and managed.
Using low-code platforms, Westfield built and delivered a new, intuitively-designed customer portal in months, not years. We could quickly integrate third party services for user authentication and hook into core services for customer information and transactions. Since launch, the team can respond quickly to user feedback or friction points to make updates on a weekly, if not daily, basis to continually improve the digital experience for our customers.
While the build and delivery of our new customer portal was driven from the use of a low-code platform, one of the greatest benefits to Westfield was the ability to simultaneously release a support application for our customer service team. Using a low-code platform, more than 80 percent of the underlying code and designs could be re-used in the support application, so we could essentially release two new applications using a team typically needed to build just one. Further, as we’ve looked to enhance these digital applications, we continue to see gains in productivity and speed as our teams become more comfortable using a low-code platform.
Our success with low-code is predicated on a few critical elements. First is a willingness across the board to embrace a new way of building software, from the process to the tools. Second is a tight partnership between the product managers, business stakeholders and IT teams – low-code platforms enable rapid build from idea to app, so stakeholders need to be present and engaged. A great user experience team is a must, as low-code platforms value depends on a robust style guide.
When selecting a low-code platform, companies should consider whether they have the internal processes, skills, and culture to take full advantage of their power. They will inevitably see some benefit in speed from idea to app, but the value is muted without a willingness, as an example, to embrace cloud or for business stakeholders to engage throughout the app creation process.
Some low-code vendors espouse an ability for non-technical professionals, such as marketers or product managers, to build digital applications using their platforms. For Westfield, we did not explore this, and I believe the greater value lies in the rich partnership that can be fueled by a low-code platform between IT professionals and product owners or marketers. The exchange of ideas and solutions, which can be turned quickly into working software, ultimately creates a better product for customers.