As the final part of the “A faster way to improve CX” MatsSoft event at the Gherkin in London in March, we hosted a roundtable session led by CIO.com Senior Director of Content, Doug Drinkwater.

The group discuss and share their thoughts on adopting agile practices to drive customer focused business change, and the benefits of using a Low-code approach to achieve that.

You can read what was covered in the session below.

Doug Drinkwater (CIO.co.uk): I want to start with the question included on your invite, which was: How can today’s IT leaders strike the balance between maintaining back office legacy tech and driving customer focused business change? I love the idea of centres of excellence. Anand what’s your opinion of that, how do you maintain that balance as an IT leader?

Anand Patel (Network Rail): Yes, it is challenging, and we certainly have lots of that legacy environment!

I think solutions like MATS allow you to do a lot more, with a smaller portion of money, and deliver a lot more value from that. You can genuinely start small, really drive that through and deliver great value. That’s what starts the journey.

It’s unusual that a CIO decides 10% of an overhead budget is going to shift across to another area. So, it’s about genuinely solving some of those problems, delivering value, and then being able to use that as evidence to deliver more.

Obviously, there are other trends in the industry that allow you to try and reduce the amount of maintenance activities you are doing: cloud services, and ever-green approach etc. We pursue those too. It’s then about extracting that complexity, using other technologies to be able to break apart these systems. Make them smaller, more manageable components, that make change easier.

Most of the money spent on those legacy IT investments is not on the technology. It’s on the people, processes and risk management to actually deliver the change.

I think it is a gradual process, but MATS can help you begin that journey, and then evidence it to grow it quickly.

Doug Drinkwater (CIO.co.uk): Have any of the other CIOs and IT Managers in the room found this? How do you find that balance? Is that something you are still struggling with?

Anand Sharma (HS2): Yes, I think there is a gap between what IT does and what the business does. I think it’s a gap that needs to be bridged somewhere, it is recognised as something that needs to be dealt with. I think MATS seems to be one of the tools that could be useful.

I have a question for Anand. After all of the leg work you have done and the benefits of Low-code automation that you have mentioned, I’m interested in what research you did into finding the best solution? To save us repeating the same research, it would be interesting if you can share some insight.

Anand Patel (Network rail): We all need to justify our choices. We do all the usual market research, we use the analysts, we do capability testing. We understand the different commercial models as well. Plenty of work went in. We put in the commercial model with MatsSoft. That doesn’t mean we are married to them forever as a sole provider. If there are other areas where we can see value with another provider, we’re reasonably open to that as long as we manage the commercials correctly. It’s the old IT story of trying to stay with one provider to make it simple. It’s just not reality anymore. Actually, the fact you’re delivering these as a platform, as a service out of the cloud, makes it much easier to manage those multiple environments. So, I think there are a number of different ways to manage it.

Doug Drinkwater (CIO.co.uk): Regarding that complexity, we are seeing a shift in the cloud sphere, aren’t we? The multiple cloud, or working across numerous cloud providers, can bring complexity. Is that something you guys are addressing?

Anand Patel (Network Rail): I guess we view it slightly differently between SaaS and PaaS providers and the major cloud providers. In terms of the major cloud providers, we are trying to start with just one. Get some kind of maturity level with that before trying to become multi-cloud, and bringing in competition in the long-term. With the Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), it’s much more about the integration: if you can exchange data securely and effectively, if you can provide single sign-on, if you can provide some level of governance, where you’re not leaking data, then I’m genuinely less concerned about which business application you’re using and where it sits.

As long as you’re complying to those regulations and you’re able to integrate in the right way, that’s absolutely fine.

Some of them don’t integrate and they don’t need to. However, I always have my eye on the future, and think that they will need to comply one day. So, you just need to manage that.

Doug Drinkwater (CIO.co.uk): Any other questions for either Network Rail or Richard Farrell?

Unknown speaker: In the case of the clients that we work with, one of the things we find is that the business users aren’t very good at articulating what they need. So actually, this solution, bringing IT and business together where they can work on shared problems, just sounds really sensible to me. You see it all the time: The business thinks they’ve asked IT to solve a problem, IT are waiting for the business to present the right information to kick things off, everyone’s sat in that limbo making things a challenge.

Richard Farrell (Netcall): I think the change in workforce, over time will help. New entrants are far more tech-savvy, and one of the analogies that we use is, if you can build a website in WordPress, you can build a MATS application. That’s the sort of level of individuals. More and more people have those sorts of skills, so it gets easier and easier.

Russell Fitzgerald (Hampshire Trust Bank): I was going to give another example. We’re in financial services and have been a MatsSoft customer for just about a year. We now have five applications within MatsSoft.

My best example is where a supplier has spent nine months trying to re-architect a front-end web-facing savings platform. We challenged one of our developers, saying “What could you do in two weeks in MatsSoft?” In that time, we had a web-based savings platform for SME savings accounts up and running. I then spent five weeks kicking it to death, testing it and penetration testing it. That’s seven weeks of real time effort.

With that, we recovered a business from a loss-making position. We were desperate to get to market to find another funding model. That was the proving point, a turning point for us. Where you can put people to it. It also taught me that I can take a different approach to the way in which I set up and structure my engagement team.

I suddenly realised that I had a very talented developer working directly with the head of a business unit, with no project manager, no BA, there was no documentation and no process that sits around it. Without being het-up about agile, he just got on with it. And actually, we came out with a really good result.

Now whilst we are still agile-ambitious, we are still also focused on DevOps and so many other things. We had our major core platform for selling mortgages in the bank up and running in six months.

Also, about 70% of testing that platform, and regression testing that platform, is all now automated, with tooling that didn’t cost me a lot of money.

So, from my perspective, it’s a low-cost quick way to get her there.

Thumping through things quickly is growing the organisation’s confidence in its ability to believe in itself to do more bespoke things and to take on a greater level of change and investment. For us, it’s been good.

Actually, part of the challenge is finding talented people. I could say my biggest struggle is finding people who know how to use it. What I’m learning is that they can pick it up pretty quickly. So, we look to take on talented graduates and put them through the training. Then we’re up and running inside of three months.

Doug Drinkwater (CIO.co.uk): That’s a great customer case study right there! As we are almost out of time, I would just like to say thank you to our speakers today, Anand Patel and Philippa Callcut from Network Rail and Richard Farrell from Netcall.

 

If you would like to find out more about the event and the topics covered, you can find the videos here, or read the transcript of Network Rail’s presentation.