Our Thinking Thu 25th June, 2020
How Equal Experts helped HMRC to get COVID-19 relief money to people through Continuous Delivery
HMRC’s AWS-based Digital Tax Platform has been a key enabler to the continuous delivery of services for helping individuals and businesses impacted by COVID-19.
The large population of claimants accessing these services has meant that performance and resilience (in the face of high concurrent usage) have been key concerns during service development. Meeting such requirements can be challenging though. To help, a newly formed Equal Experts team improved resilience and performance by integrating a new third party service in just four weeks.
To ensure that the financial relief provided by HMRC’s three COVID-19 services (JRS, SEISS, SSP) reaches the right people as quickly as possible, bank account details are validated. The unprecedented volume of traffic, peaking at 100 journeys per second, overwhelmed the third-party services used to validate bank details. HMRC wanted extra capacity and resiliency. Alongside this challenge were organisational ones: the team tasked with providing this was new and all teams are now working fully remotely.
In mid-April, HMRC connected the team with a group of suppliers (Pay.UK, Vocalink, NatWest and SurePay) to quickly integrate a new bank account checking service (provided by SurePay) with HMRC’s Tax Platform. Two weeks after the first meeting, the HMRC delivery team was cutting code and had completed an end-to-end test to SurePay’s API. Two weeks after that, the integration was live in Production, comfortably serving nearly 20 requests per second. The timing of this was incredibly fortunate: one hour after going live, SurePay’s API ended up taking 100% of the traffic, due to a capacity issue with other downstream services.
Integrating with a third-party service in just four weeks is a massive achievement, especially in the public sector. The key differentiators that made this happen were:
- The Tax Platform itself – Over the last seven years, Equal Experts has played a lead role in the design and evolution of the platform, working closely with a range of suppliers and HMRC colleagues to iteratively improve its support for the rapid, low-cost delivery of performant, resilient services. It’s optimised for enabling teams to form, deliver and operate fast.
- Cross-team, cross supplier collaboration – It takes more than a single team to deliver an integration. Within HMRC, infrastructure, security and commercial teams contributed to this outcome. Externally, multiple people and teams across Pay.UK, Vocalink, NatWest, SurePay and the collaborating banks were also heavily engaged. We shortened feedback loops and maximised communication bandwidth by using cross-supplier platforms such as Slack – and having regular video conference meetings.
- Small technical teams with blended roles – The technical part of the implementation was delivered by the Equal Experts team of four at HMRC, interacting closely with a SurePay team of three. Although the EE team has a mixture of developers, a tester and a business analyst, each consultant has the experience and a broad enough skill set to work effectively across disciplines and focus on the highest-priority activity. Developers test things, the business analyst diagnoses production issues and makes GitHub commits, and the tester writes code and deploys to production.
Many benefits have come from the improved capacity and resilience:
- HMRC digital service users are less impacted by third party outages or performance issues. This is especially important for COVID-19 service users, whose digital transactions are critical to their livelihood and need to be as simple and low-stress as possible.
- The team that operates the bank account checking service receive fewer production alerts, and have fewer incidents to deal with, so they can focus more on enhancing this and other services they own.
- The same goes for teams that operate services that depend on the bank account checking service. This multiplies these benefits out to over 10 teams and many more services.
If you’d like to learn more about how continuous delivery can help improve business outcomes, check out our series of ExpertTalks on the topic.