Q&A: Rapidly delivering energy support schemes

A conversation with Karl Hoods, chief digital and information officer at the Department for Energy, Security and Net Zero
Close Up Of Woman Holding Smart Energy Meter In Kitchen Measuring Energy Efficiency

The government has introduced several support schemes to help citizens and businesses manage rising energy costs, which the Department for Energy, Security and Net Zero (formerly known as Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) has designed and implemented. Karl Hoods talks us through the objectives and challenges – and how Salesforce provided vital support.

Q: What were the main objectives you needed to achieve with the energy support schemes? 

A: The primary aim was to provide a set of energy support packages across domestic and non-domestic audiences. We needed to come up with something which would be robust from a policy perspective and have maximum impact, which the technology support team would then deliver. And we had to act swiftly because it was imperative to get the money to people as quickly as possible. To achieve this, we needed a set of services and solutions that would enable us to deliver at pace, and a set of partners that could work across the digital team, policy team and third parties.

Q: What audiences did you need to reach? And how did you ensure maximum engagement with the support available?

A: It was a mixture of public-facing [audiences] – citizens and businesses – [and involved] application services, [as well as] integration with local authorities, third-party call centres and payment providers. So the ecosystem across the various schemes was quite broad. 

Our primary focus is always to take a user-centred design approach to anything that we build. Whether it’s something we’re delivering internally or externally, it has to be as easy and as simple to use as possible. 

We needed to make sure that we’d done adequate user research within the timeframes available, so the UTE (usability test environment) team talked to care homes, boat [communities], farming communities, local authorities, call centres [and other stakeholders] as part of our discovery activity. We then tested out ideas with those audiences, aligned with the policy objectives.

Q: Why did you decide to work with Salesforce on this project?

A: We felt that they were able to move at the pace that we needed for this particular scheme. [But] first and foremost, it’s about whether we have a partner that as is interested in the end outcomes as we are, and is willing to engage and commit resources to achieve them. We found that from the first conversation with them [Salesforce], that was very much the case. 

They also offered broad knowledge from work they’ve done across other public sector organisations, as well as in other sectors. [That’s something we value], as learning from other sectors is a really important tenet in our strategy. 

As a cloud-first, platform-based service provider internally, we also wanted to make sure that we were playing to our strengths by using a cloud-based platform-as-a-service. 

Q: Did Salesforce’s low-code and automation capabilities help you to move at speed?

A: Salesforce covers all the typical usage scenarios that you would want to exploit with a low-code platform: speed of development; integration with third-party systems; being able to iterate with our user base; and particularly because we are moving at pace, being able to deploy things quickly. 

With limited timeframes, we also wanted to make sure that we were automating the end-to-end process: whether that’s ingesting data, providing postcode look-ups, reference data, etc. We were keen to make sure that we weren’t introducing unnecessary delays by having manual processes. 

Issues that have come up have been resolved quickly, together – and that’s something we always look for in our strategic partners

Q: How easy has it been to resolve the issues and challenges that inevitably arise when delivering a major project in a short time frame?

A: Issues that have come up have been resolved quickly, together – and that’s something we always look for in our strategic partners. Can we have an open set of conversations? Is there constructive challenging on both sides? We feel that we’ve had that [experience], and both Salesforce and their partners have come to the table with solutions, suggestions and opportunities. 

Q: How might the outcomes of this project influence future ones

A: A platform-based approach is a core pillar of our strategy. We’re not hand-building solutions to meet one specific policy objective; we’re always trying to take a step back and ask how we can productise what we’re doing, so that we can either reuse the entire platform or entire components. It makes future deployments quicker, and it means that we’re able to respond faster to internal pressures and demands, as well as service external needs.

Find out more at salesforce.com/uk/publicsector