When you think of HMRC do you think of civil service IT projects: months to gather requirements, years to build, and not a customer in sight? The truth couldn’t be more different. HMRC is already one of the most digital organisations in the government and our plans are much bolder: by 2020 we will be one of the most digitally-advanced tax authorities in the world.
With 50 million customers to serve, 60 thousand staff to support, and £500 billion to collect to fund UK Plc, our IT outfit is huge. We’re also in the midst of probably the biggest transformation in our history and all of that together means unique opportunities to introduce and exploit some of the latest technologies. Here are three of the biggest and coolest things HMRC is doing right now…
Implementing one of the globe’s boldest API strategies
Well that’s what one commentator called it, and we certainly think it’s pretty exciting! We’ve talked in previous blogs about how HMRC is using APIs to transform the tax and business software market. By releasing richer ones, developers can build new commercial products that can interact with HMRC systems in a far more sophisticated way. It puts the customer at the heart of the experience, because developers are able to build software that their customers and clients want to use, based on real data, in real time. This is ground-breaking stuff!
We certainly have some of the brightest and best working for us at HMRC, but that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on innovation. Opening up our software through APIs is allowing developers to innovate in ways that just isn’t possible for an organisation as big as HMRC. We’re working closely with more than 40 developer organisations in our current pilots, have released 18 new production APIs, and there are 23 software products already using them.
Moving to the Cloud and Virtualising one of Europe’s largest IT estates
Our aim is to run most of our IT applications on cloud architectures and virtualised infrastructure so we’re not dependent on our own physical datacentres. Over the last 18 months, we’ve virtualised more than 60% of our IT estate – from a starting point of just 7%! This has so many benefits: we can scale things up quickly to handle peaks in demand, improving customer experience and the platform’s stability, and then scale down when demand isn’t so high so we don’t pay for resources that aren’t in use.
We’ve recently virtualised our huge SAP estate, refining our approach as we went along which we’ll now use as the template for how we tackle the remainder of our estate. Moving away from an outsourced IT contract means taking charge of our own destiny as an organisation, and we’re proud to have driven all of this work ourselves within HMRC. Customer data remains secure through virtualisation, and we’re also very proud of some world firsts with tokenisation and encryption to make it even more secure.
To make HMRC more resilient still, we’re moving services to the cloud. We have developed the ability to move work and traffic dynamically between cloud providers (yes brokering!), so if one cloud service fails we can quickly switch to an alternative with virtually no disruption to services. The next stage of our journey will include increasingly exploiting the benefits of a commercial hyperscale cloud, which we expect will be able to handle our future data storage and compute requirements even more cost-effectively.
The biggest virtual contact centre on the planet
One of the biggest changes brought about by the phased exit from Aspire has been our ability to create what we believe is the biggest virtual contact centre on the planet. Having a huge amount of scope to flex our resource to meet demand, bringing more advisers online in various locations as and when we need them, means we can manage our peak activities like tax credits renewals or the Self Assessment deadline far better than in the past. In other words we move the work to our people rather than move our people around to where the work is.
It also means we’ve been able to introduce new ways for customers to get the help they need from us. For the increasing numbers of customers choosing our digital services, they can get help through our webchat service, from our increasingly sophisticated virtual assistant, and even through Twitter and Facebook. And for those who do still need or would prefer to call us, we’ve introduced voice ID to make it simpler for them to confirm their identity, while at the same time enhancing security.
For me personally, as an IT professional, this is the only job I want to be doing right now. The size and scale of what we’re doing to transform HMRC is unprecedented. Without doubt, we have some of the most exciting digital projects anywhere, and a bunch of amazing and dedicated people delivering them.
If you’re looking for a tech job where you can really make a difference and have fun, then get in touch. We would love to hear from you.
Pete Schofield, Director of IT Development Testing & Operations