Here in DWP Digital we’re absolutely delighted to have scooped the Best Public Sector Project award at last week’s National Technology Awards.
Being recognised at these prestigious industry awards demonstrates how far we’ve come in our digital transformation; a transformation that is changing how citizens interact with government, for the better.
The award is for Searchlight – a brand new application that’s been designed to replace DWP’s current system for accessing customer information. I’ve been the Scrum Master on Searchlight since early 2016, so I’m particularly proud that the project has achieved recognition externally.
Let me tell you a little bit about why we won!
It started with a user need
DWP holds information for over 22 million people to facilitate the accurate timely payment of over £168bn of benefit payments, allowances and credits each year. More than 60,000 DWP employees and 20,000 colleagues in other government departments use this information on a daily basis.
This customer information was provided by an ageing interface that presented data in a functional way, via multiple screens that were cumbersome to navigate.
We consulted extensively with the system users during our discovery phase, and they expressed a number of ‘pain points’ with the existing interface, including time wasted due to system timeouts. Additionally information architecture meant that tasks took too long, with the user having to toggle between screens to gather information for their task. That’s tough on the eyes too!
Taking what we learned during discovery and using agile principles, we developed a prototype that aimed to better meet these user needs, eliminate existing issues and achieve productivity gains for users.
The result is Searchlight a brand new application. Underpinning this is modern hardware and software. Searchlight ensures high availability, high performance and further enhances security using the latest technologies.
An in-house success
Searchlight is a shining example of how we’ve made the best of third party knowledge to increase our in-house capability and build an application entirely within DWP Digital, by a talented multi-disciplinary team of specialists. We worked closely with IBM colleagues to coach, mentor and transfer knowledge to corresponding DWP disciplines before phasing out the third party.
The project embraces user design and product ownership, and is maintained by a DWP-led team.
We invested significant time in carrying out research with numerous user groups with diverse needs and detailed testing of prototypes to shape the presentation and navigation of customer data on the application.
At each stage of building the application, we engaged with users, sought feedback directly via the application and then brought this input back to improve the application. We also advertise our new features as they roll out via a ‘What’s New’ channel, also integrated.
The techy stuff
Searchlight was designed using Java Node JS as a single page application. Strategically it will be hosted in DWP Hybrid Cloud using Amazon Web Services. This provides more flexibility, faster delivery and increased control.
It was designed and assured to industry-level security and accessibility standards. And it’s scalable across a range of devices – PCs, tablets and smartphones to deliver a consistent user experience and future proofing to support DWP’s technological evolution.
We’ve also worked with other teams in DWP Digital to provide infrastructure components that facilitate Searchlight’s operation, for example using an API Gateway to authenticate and authorise users who wish to access specific data.
We’re constantly iterating the application design to address user feedback and to take account of stakeholder inputs, such as accessibility and GDS standards. The outcome is a product that not only seeks to achieve the latest industry security standards as per the original business case, but also delivers significant business benefits to the department as a whole, due to the vast input from users informing what is really needed for their business processing. And we’re also GDPR compliant.
We’re rolling out
We currently have 20,000 users who are using Searchlight every day and will be rolling out to up to 80,000 users across DWP and other government departments.
And we’re proud of all the positive feedback we’re getting:
- "It’s so good that you’re actually talking to the people who use it – usually we just get something that’s ‘new’ and have to deal with it"
- “You can link this back to the workshops – you can see where the design came from”
- “It’s like booking holidays on your iPad – it’s pretty self-explanatory”
- “Thank you ever so much for introducing this system. It’s far better than the previous system and gives me in-depth information and its helping me to deal with my work.”
- “There are team members who don’t want to use the old system anymore because they think Searchlight is the best thing since sliced bread!”
Looking to the future
I’m excited to see the continued benefits Searchlight will bring to the organisation and how we can also help other emerging services and platforms within DWP Digital integrate with it. We’ve still got a raft of features to introduce and move the application to AWS but hey, we love a challenge!
It’s a privilege to work on digital projects (award-winning digital projects!) that have a real impact on people’s lives, and as part of a great team too who inspire each other to learn new things and deliver results. If you’re interested in being part of something big, check out our DWP Digital Careers website for current vacancies and have a look at our LinkedIn page.