After adopting Microsoft 365, financial services company Liberty Group wanted to empower employees to collaborate and create using the new digital tools at their fingertips.
A history of innovation
Founded in 1957, Liberty Group has grown from a South African life insurer to a pan-African financial services company offering asset management, investment, insurance and health products to more than three million people across the continent.
“Liberty has always been a highly innovative company,” says Liberty Group CIO Benjamin Marais. “However, we lost a little bit of that spirit in the last few years. We were still relying on legacy systems and paper-based processes. We wanted to get our innovative DNA back.”
With Microsoft 365 already in place, the company sought to empower employees to fully leverage the technology at their disposal – for themselves, for their teams, and for the business.
“After our staff started using basic Microsoft 365 applications such as Teams, we decided to go further by organising a hackathon that focused specifically on Power Apps,” explains Masechaba Wessie, Lead Specialist: Business Transformation at Liberty Group. “We wanted to show that they didn’t need a technology background to build an innovative app that solved a particular business problem. Solutions could come from anywhere in the business.”
Liberty Group spurs employee-led innovation, with help from Microsoft and BUI
WHAT WE DID
““We wanted to show that they didn’t need a technology background to build an innovative app that solved a particular business problem.””Masechaba WessieLead Specialist: Business Transformation, Liberty Group
The 24-hour hackathon was held remotely due to COVID-19 and involved 108 Liberty Group staff members from across the company, with support from Microsoft and BUI.
A hands-on hackathon
Power Platform – Microsoft’s robust set of applications for automating processes, building solutions, analysing data, and creating virtual agents – was showcased for participants in advance, by BUI.
“We conducted two full-day training sessions for the Liberty staff, prior to the hackathon,” explains BUI Support Engineer Luke Lange.
“We introduced them to Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI, and covered the basics of development and integration so that they could see an idea progress to the proof-of-concept stage. There was a huge amount of interest, because this technology really can be used by anyone.”
““There was a huge amount of interest, because this technology really can be used by anyone.””Luke LangeSupport Engineer, BUI
“Power Platform is a low-code/no-code platform, and so, for the most part, beginners don’t need formal development experience or coding skills to get started,” adds BUI Cloud Solutions Architect Neil du Plessis.
“It was incredibly rewarding to see the hackathon participants – who had never created applications, workflows or data analytics reports before – using the techniques they had learned during the orientation period.”
On event day, Lange, Du Plessis and BUI Power Platform Consultant Ruan du Plooy were available, via Microsoft Teams, to guide and encourage more than 13 competing teams of Liberty staff, who had been tasked with creating solutions for existing business challenges.
“Their questions were insightful, and often took us in unexpected directions,” recalls Du Plessis. “It’s part of the magic that happens when diverse teams work together in a focused environment.”
““It’s part of the magic that happens when diverse teams work together in a focused environment.””Neil du PlessisCloud Solutions Architect, BUI
The three winning solutions included a digitised risk assessment tool, a streamlined bursary application, and a portal for the declaration of conflicts of interest.
A continuing journey
“The hackathon gave individuals with varying skills and abilities, from multiple departments across Liberty Group, a hands-on experience with a powerful set of tools,” notes Lange. “And there was a real sense of enthusiasm about how they could use the technology going forward, as citizen developers.”
The winning ideas are already streamlining key processes at the financial services company, and staff who took part in the hackathon are applying their new technology skills in their own business areas. “I can see that our partnership with Microsoft will only continue to grow,” enthuses Liberty Group’s Marais. “I’m really looking forward to the future.”
“We were excited to collaborate with Microsoft on this project,” says Thys Janse van Rensburg, General Manager: Western Cape at BUI. “Power Platform opens the door for all kinds of meaningful innovation. When people feel empowered to create, test, refine and even improve upon their ideas, then great things are possible,” he concludes.