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My industrial placement experience with HMRC

A head and shoulders portrait of MuhammadHi, I am Muhammad Mota, a University of Bradford student currently on an industrial placement with HMRC. I am studying accounting and finance but, due to my interest in IT, I opted to work in the digital world for my placement year. This blog is about the work I’ve been doing with the team on the Secure Data Exchange Service (SDES), which went live with phase two in March this year.

Early life at HMRC digital

When I started in September 2018, I joined the SDES agile project team. The whole experience of a working environment was new to me, so there was a lot to take in at first. It was very different to life at university, so I had many questions and was eager to know how the service and team worked.

My colleagues were patient and helpful, which meant I settled in and got up to speed with the service quickly, although did take a couple of weeks to get used to working five days a week! Understanding the service was difficult at first as I had to take in a lot of information in a short amount of time. But, with help from my colleagues, I was able to understand this a lot quicker than I thought.

What is SDES?

Secure Data Exchange Service (SDES) is a free, secure and user-friendly way for companies and other government departments to transfer data to and from HMRC. The service is still in private beta and we have just released phase two, making the service scalable and robust. The service is secure and handles data files of any format up to 10GB in size. It also keeps a full audit trail.

Improving all the time

We are using agile rather than waterfall methodology to delivery SDES, which means is there is a constant dialogue with the people who use the service.  Once we deliver the basic product we then continue to improve the service with their help and feedback.

When I started working in the SDES team, phase two was already under way and, even in the short time I’ve been working on the service, we’ve made a lot of improvements. We’ve introduced a new streamlined approval system and simplified the process for requesting and approving data movements. We’ve also streamlined the registration and on-boarding process and, based on customer feedback, improved the user experience.

Real achievements

The work we do isn’t just for HMRC. Since SDES launched, we have supported some major government initiatives like Eurotunnel. What’s really encouraging for the team is to see the tangible benefits being realised by our work.

For example:

  • We delivered the Minimum Viable Product within 9 months
  • Since phase two launched in March, the service has been used to transfer over 5,000 files
  • We have significantly simplified the request and approval process for users – requests can be raised and approved in under 30 minutes now, where it used to take 2-3 working days
  • We’ve had some great feedback

‘Easy to use’

‘SDES has a simple interface’

‘Is that it? It was very easy’

Muhammad Mota standing with other members of the project team
Muhammad, far right, with some of the SDES team members


I have now spent just over six months with the SDES team, and in that short time I have seen the service improve considerably. Of course problems do arise, but I’ve been impressed by the composed manner of the team and how quickly they work when they deal with issues. It’s been a real eye-opener to see the different scenarios we work with and the journey we take to make the service better.

As is the nature of a service, there is always room for improvement. Right now, we’re working on several enhancements that include providing post-live support, prioritising fixes, and creating new features with help from our users. We’re also introducing more frequent releases for service enhancements and features.

What I have learnt from this experience so far

Since I started in HMRC, I feel I have gained an abundance of knowledge. Before I took up my placement, I knew I would get good experience and learn a lot, but I never thought I would learn this much just from a placement year.

Thanks to the people around me, I have been able to understand many areas of how a business works. Some of the main things I'll take away with me are around the importance of solid and regular communications with stakeholders, how important user research sessions are to gain feedback, as well as many, many more valuable life skills and experiences.

I have around three months left on my placement year here at HMRC and will take all I’ve learnt back to university with me. The placement year has been the stepping stone for my career and I am glad that I have been able to learn as much as I have, thanks to the SDES team.

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