Unlocking the 'power' in Power Platform

Government is in a unique position. It seems that for the first time, a potential solution to one of their problems may have become too easy. Low Code, like Power Platform, allows unique challenges to be solved with high customizability, faster and with lower skill and financial barriers to entry than ever before.

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Whilst Power Apps have been used for low-value solutions, the 'power' in Power Platform has not yet scratched the surface. With its impactful combination, enterprise-grade solutions are the intuitive next step, but not before understanding the risks, warns Pikett. 

Edward Pikett is the Head of Central Government for Hitachi Solutions Europe. Having spent 15 years in government and been part of the turns and twists of standards and guidance, he now sets his sights on a new mission. In collaboration with Microsoft, Pikett aims to look deeper at how civil servants are using ‘Power Apps’ across the government ecosystem and support organisations in creating a pro-innovation environment for low coders that aligns with the organisational DDaT strategy but that also prevents and addresses the vulnerabilities that can come from this rapid and fledgling new capability. 

The new default is no default

Government has been going on a journey. Prior to the Service Standard and Technology Code of Practice, civil servants were bound by the oligopolies of big tech but the Code ignited a Reformation period that brought custom development into vogue. But “as the government has continuously iterated its own digital strategy, custom development has been dethroned and the new default is no default”. With the government reluctant to fund highly skilled contractor software developers, low code has begun to flourish as an appealing middle ground of flexibility and comparatively lower technical and financial barriers to entry.

The question is now strategic. Should the same standards for using low code to solve small problems be the same as enterprise-grade issues?

A centre of excellence (CoE) as a process of understanding

‘There’s no such thing as a universal centre for excellence,’ Pikett highlighted. The requirements of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office with its international offices and highly sensitive data, will be widely different from other Government organisations in terms of security sensitivity and demand for exhaustive oversight. CoEs ought to recognise departmental diversity in requirements assessments and this will be a crucial consideration if striking the balance between innovation and governance is desirable, Pikett argues.

Two stakeholders merge from this

The Cabinet Office is the first. “The Technology Code of Practice is an excellent benchmark and part of me believes it is still applicable here. However, there has to be greater specificity in best practice and more active engagement with low code blueprints, communities of practice, capability frameworks, standards and controls.”

On communities of practice, Pikett reflects that this as an area that low coders could seriously benefit from and must be revived. “Our collaboration with the Environment Agency to transform the way they regulate will involve hundreds of people all doing enterprise-grade Power Platform functionality. This should demonstrate to the Cabinet Office that low coders in this space should be connected with the cross-department low code community to bring forth other use cases, share best practice and match the grassroots effort with navigation from the top”.

On the supplier side, Pikett argues that suppliers like Hitachi Solutions also should play a role in connecting the fledgling low code community. Having convened a number of government roundtable sessions on this topic with Microsoft, Pikett reflected that one of the great learnings he took was Power Platform's capacity for empowerment. “One of the great statements that emerged from our discussions was from a citizen developer who reflected on how empowered it made her feel. It gave her a sense of purpose and a route to climb the civil service ladder with a new skill set to improve her performance and confidence”. Empowering people to innovate and solve their own problems is an effective route to a digitally enabled civil service, but it only works in an active way.

Retaining innovators with empathetic governance

Reflecting on his time in government, Pikett expressed that holding on to the talent of pioneering innovators in government is crucial and so aligning those individuals with the overarching corporate strategy must be done with empathy and consideration of reciprocity. “When I was younger, I was eager to build new things and get things done. As I went up the government ranks and became responsible for budgets and people, I realised that every time you build something new, you create the need for more money. You’ve got to prove it works, meet user needs, deliver value for citizens, and support it,” he explained. 

Striking the balance between allowing low code to unravel across an organisation is a common error, but clamping down on innovation with rigid governance can deter talented and proactive civil servants. “Future CoEs across government have to draw empathy with low coders that will support their innovative approaches to problem solving without the carrying the weight that centralised IT functions may impose to protect their organisation”. In other words, the ‘power’ in Power platform should begin and end with a deep knowledge about the organisation itself, minimising bureaucracy and security risks and maximising power.

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