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Low Code makes high level change viable - Personal Group CIO

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth November 26, 2019
Low code platform makes Personal Group Hapi as it enters new markets and partnerships

Image of Ashley Doody Personal Group CIO

Personal Group has developed a mobility strategy that is already being reflected in strong business results.

Founded in 1984 the Milton Keynes headquartered Personal Group is listed on the AIM stock market and is a major provider of employee benefits ranging from insurance products, childcare vouchers, discounts, video GP access, the cycle to work programme and financial services.

These services have a social and bottom line benefit.

Personal Group has 550 business customers, include NHS trusts, delivery firm DHL and public transport operators. As a result, the mobile platform that CIO Ashley Doody and his team developed provides services to 320,000 active users, the business said in its statement to the market in March 2019.

Doody joined Personal Group in 2013 and began the process of digitising its operations, beginning with the sales processes, moving them to a tablet device and App.  

They had no digital capability, they did everything on paper.

Direct to user

Having digitised the internal processes, Doody began work on the mobile platform that would transform the services Personal Group delivers to its clients and their employees. The result, Hapi, a platform that includes an App that organisations can select to white label or, having joined the programme, direct their team members to download and join from the App store. 

Hapi aims to provide benefits to an organisation’s employees. For Personal Group, this mobility strategy is driving the business into new markets, giving it an amazing resource of data and insight as a result of a direct to consumer model. In addition, Personal Group was selected as a partner to small and medium sized enterprise (SME) accounting software business Sage. As a result, a version of the Hapi platform is delivered to Sage customers.

As an SME you can buy a product called Sage Employee Benefits. And it’s branded as Sage and sold by them. But in the bottom right-hand corner of the user interface (UI) it says: ‘powered by Personal Group.’ So when you’ve got a 13,000-person global company like Sage using technology developed by a 220-person business, that’s quite a strong endorsement.

For employers Hapi provides mobile access to benefits programmes to the remote workforce and for SME employers there is the benefit of being able to offer the same level of benefits that major enterprises offer, which helps with staff retention.

Hapi is also a platform for employers to communicate with the workforce. Keeping benefits, communication and collaboration on a single, mobile first platform, which in turn reduces the need for organisations to operate multiple platforms.

A big part of what we do is connect the unconnected employee.

HR departments send communications, including staff surveys, training materials or access to ePayslips, total rewards statements, and other engagement programs, Doody says.

Low code lowdown

Hapi is the first example of Personal Group developing its own online service. The organisation used to rely on white labelled platforms and felt it had little control over the experience for the user.

If we hadn’t built our own platform and taken control of our destiny, I think there’s a fairly high chance that our customers would have walked away from us. Our business wouldn’t be as successful as it is today.

Building and deploying a mobile platform for over 400,00 users was a major change in focus for the Buckinghamshire IT team of just eight.  

My question was, how do I take this team to the point of being able to support a million users? Early in my career I had used Oracle Case to develop solutions and I thought, there must be something out there to help with code generation.

One option was to hire a bunch of people and start coding it from the ground up, but hiring new people is hard work. How many do we need? And as much as they might be technically competent, they need to understand what our business does and how it works. That’s when we started looking at low code development tools.

Doody estimates that a custom developed platform like Hapi would normally take 12 to 18 months to develop and one of their market rivals took over three years to develop a similar platform. Personal Group also required integration with its payment processing tools.  

Low Code adoption took place during 2015 as the CIO had to get the Hapi platform to the market in a limited time and with no flexibility on headcount and budget for the programme. Doody and Personal Group partnered with Outsystems, the enterprise software provider that was founded in Portugal and received $360m in investment funds from Goldman Sachs and KKR in 2018.

Although clearly happy with Low Code, the CIO doesn’t believe it is a panacea, but adds that the move to a DevOps model using Low Code is simpler than he has seen before.  

We participated in some great boot camps where OutSystems helped us with the architecture and planning of how to deliver the App. We’ve also had a lot of training and there’s a good support network.

Low Code is very intuitive and the visual aspect of it bears a lot of fruit when you are trying to do something quickly and under pressure. If you need to, within the Outsystems platform, you can drop down and write some .Net code for an integration for example. The productivity gains are huge.

A criticism levelled at the Low Code providers is that it deskills enterprise IT teams, but Doody disagrees:

Members of our team were happy to retrain, learn and some of the old dinosaurs are the best adopters.

I think a lot of people buy Low Code to help them with building back-office systems and integration, but we’ve started at the front office and done all of our customer-facing stuff first. We have a lot of projects planned this year to make Hapi even broader, but next year we might be looking at using OutSystems in some back-office re-engineering work.

Doody joined Personal Group in April 2013, he had previously had a 17 year career with financial information giants Thomson Reuters where he had been CTO for its Sweet & Maxwell business.  

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