The Home Office is responsible for border control, immigration enforcement and issuing passports – issues where increased scrutiny is required to meet fast-evolving threats.
Clearly, the Home Office (HO) requires a powerful, capable set of tools to deliver against its responsibilities. However, the intelligence data its analysts rely upon to do their jobs was distributed across a siloed ecosystem of 16 fragmented data sources. And these legacy systems were becoming increasingly outdated.
To remedy matters, Equal Experts contributed to the design, development and delivery of the Single Intelligence Platform (SIP). As its name suggests, the SIP provides a single, consistent platform for Home Office staff to collect, check, share and access myriad intelligence data – right across the department. In supporting their work to tackle crime at the UK border and within the immigration and citizenship system, the SIP has a major role to play in reducing organised immigration crime.
Removing silos, improving efficiency
Prior to the delivery of the SIP, having data stored within so many different locations and systems had a negative impact on the quality of the HO’s intelligence data, and the ability to retrieve and work with that data. The legacy setup also placed artificial barriers between the various teams working within HO, making it difficult to efficiently coordinate.
There was a clear benefit to joining up these siloed intelligence systems across the HO’s various areas of interest (such as immigration, border control and passports). That’s what the SIP does – via a platform that makes it easy for users to record, access and share data across the intelligence community, enhancing the utility of gathered data.
An unswerving focus on users
The SIP project has made extensive use of what are highly innovative delivery methods and technologies within the Home Office (in many cases, their first use within the department). Establishing the close collaboration and trust required to execute this approach was a significant achievement in itself.
Using an agile delivery approach, we rapidly and continuously iterated upon the SIP product, with a co-located, multidisciplined delivery team comprising Designers, Developers, Business Analysts and DevOps.
A key focus throughout was on blending user feedback with business need. Two dedicated User Researchers spent time with operational users each week, feeding back their findings to the delivery team. Every kind of user was consulted extensively (with over 170 hours of contextual research taking place within the private beta period alone), and empirical evidence was the team’s key indicator of user acceptance.
This tight feedback loop allowed our co-located team to react to issues and opportunities within days – rather than the months or years that the Home Office had experienced before.
This quick turnaround time also meant our users were highly engaged as we rolled out new features. This close relationship between developer and audience helped us create the solution the HO really needed, at a speed that made this project a showcase for the benefits of working in an agile, user-centred way. It also helped the team log 100% user satisfaction from its private beta users.
“Often we feel like we are an afterthought. With SIP we feel like we are helping to shape the product.”
– Intelligence Analyst
A technical showcase
Simplicity was at the heart of all technical decisions regarding SIP. We have adhered to clean code principles and delivered a minimalistic technology stack – one that is easy to maintain, test, deploy and scale.
Application components are hot-swappable, allowing us to scale SIP services on demand with no impact to end users.
SIP is also the first major Home Office project to fully use a cloud hosting provider, which was a key enabler of the rapid iterations we’ve described above. SIP is built on the Home Office “Digital Software Platform”, a Platform as a Service supplied by the department’s central DevOps team.
However, while SIP is technically robust, the real triumph is that demonstrable user needs are woven into every element. We engaged with users at every possible opportunity, over and above scheduled sessions and show and tells. For example, we provided feedback portals that helped us decide which features would be delivered when – taking user demand as our guide.
An efficient process
SIP offers great efficiencies. As a specific example, one of the legacy processes we’ve replaced now takes 85% less time to complete. The platform saved private beta users 350 hours of usage time per month.
All this was delivered to the agreed timeline and budget, with the production system built over the course of just eight two-week sprints – a real achievement for a system of such complexity and importance.
Little wonder that for the delivery teams within the Home Office, SIP is a showcase project for agile and user-centred ways of working. And one of our most senior stakeholders declares it “light years ahead of existing systems and processes”.