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.
Last week we launched Work | Space, a free mobile app built by Equal Experts to help people return to work more safely post lockdown.
Physical distancing will remain the most effective measure we have against a second wave and is a key part of advice on safely returning to places of work.
Work | Space helps businesses implement social distancing measures by reminding employees via their iPhone or Apple Watch when they come into close contact with each other for longer than the recommended guidelines. The app gently encourages behavioural change and helps employees adapt to new workplace requirements.
The app uses similar smartphone technology to that being used by the UK and other Governments for ‘Contact Tracing’ apps, but addresses the understandable privacy concerns – something essential to gaining acceptance.
Work | Space uses Bluetooth technology built with privacy by design to gently remind users if they’re closer than recommended (e.g. ~2m or nearer). No private or location information is stored or transmitted, period – which is as it should be.
The app provides enterprises with a practical, simple and privacy-first way to encourage employees to adapt to physical distancing measures, protecting themselves and others.
The positive feedback we’ve had since launching last week suggests this is for enterprises perhaps one of the biggest challenges to solve – putting in place systems for employees that they can follow to comply with the new guidance and feel reassured that it’s safe to return to work.
We think that for enterprises the solution might just already exist in the pockets of most employees.
We’ve made a quick video to explain how it all works. We’re so excited to be able to share this AND to make it free – the app has turned out even better than we hoped and I believe it will help businesses that adopt it get people back to work sooner, more safely, and with a better employee experience without resorting to the more sinister, not so nice surveillance technologies some are suggesting!
We are currently opening a discussion about how Workspaces will change and develop in the future. You can join that discussion here
Caredoc is an out-of-hours healthcare service for Irish citizens with urgent medical problems who need to contact a doctor outside of surgery hours.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of concerned citizens have contacted the Health Service Executive (HSE) to ask for advice on their symptoms. Caredoc’s clinicians were tasked with triaging these calls and phoning back citizens with suspected COVID-19 symptoms to further evaluate their condition and consider the next steps.
This was a brand-new service that needed to be designed and launched under extreme and extremely urgent circumstances. There were no support systems in place. Caredoc required assurance that every incoming call was followed up on and that the outcome of each call was logged and reported in a comprehensive and consistent way.
Without a supporting IT system, Caredoc needed help – and that was when they approached UX Forms.
The task was to implement an internal system that enabled call handlers to log incoming calls and allocate them to the right clinicians to follow up, whilst ensuring that all calls and outcomes were tracked and monitored in such a way that would allow for rapid and comprehensive analysis. The UX Forms solution eliminated manual administrative and reconciliation work, minimising errors whilst also enabling patient enquiries to be resolved more quickly.
In just a single day, a UX Forms consultant built a production-ready system complete with shareable call logs, access control, automated notification emails, and two dedicated forms – one for the initial call handlers, and the other for clinician follow-ups. The next day, the service passed into production, and since then, UX Forms have been working closely with Caredoc to evolve the solution as the needs of the service are evolving fast.
Michelle Kearns, CIO of Caredoc, said, “UX Forms has changed the way we work. The form saved us two hours of tedious work every day. It also sped up the process for the telephone triage nurses. They were able to document their notes more speedily and effectively, including structured data items and automated email processes. This led to a greater throughput of patients, which meant patients were dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.”
Martin Gladdish, MD of UX Forms, said, “We are humbled to be able to help a vital service during a time of need and to make a positive difference during these difficult times.”
UX Forms is a joint venture between Equal Experts and developer Martin Gladdish (himself a former EE Associate). It is a simple yet comprehensive software package that provides organisations of all sizes with a suite of powerful tools to create webforms of any type.
UX Forms is available to UK public sector customers via the government’s digital marketplace. Private sector customers or international public sector clients should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more at the official UX Forms website.