Rapidly replacing legacy government systems Home Office

A regulator’s legacy technology needed replacing with a GOV.UK-compliant system whilst maintaining business continuity

The challenge

In 2017 a regulator reached out to us for help replacing their legacy digital system. The system is used by scientists to apply for and manage licences, and by the regulator to grant or refuse those licences.

The existing system, built in 2012, had a number of problems including:

  • licence applications were emailed in paper format and staff had to input them by hand
  • the system wasn’t optimised for mobile working, a serious drawback for staff doing on site inspections
  • the system wasn’t technically robust and work sometimes failed to save
  • licences were issued as encrypted PDFs that some people couldn’t open
  • the design wasn’t intuitive - users had a steep learning curve to understand how to perform simple tasks

“This system is the last place I’d look for licensing information” Scientist

These problems were reflected in a failed government service assessment, with just 3 out of 18 original Service Standard points being met.

Designing the new service

The contract with the legacy supplier was due to expire in August 2019. Our brief was to replace it with a compliant service with minimal impact to the regulator’s operations.

We started by identifying the highest priority user needs. We then carried out rapid development cycles as we researched, designed and tested different features of the new service. In total we held 222 research sessions over 2 years and iterated our designs 2 to 3 times on average.

Mapping the needs of users Mapping the goals and needs of people who use the system A service map for the service A hand-drawn image of a new page from the service

Our solution:

  • digitised and improved the application process, removing the need for manual data entry
  • digitised and improved licences, making them easily visible to authorised users
  • was more technically robust and designed to support mobile working
  • was clear and intuitive for first time users
A service map for the service
An end-to-end service map visualising the new service

Preparing to go public

The riskiest part of the service involved migrating over 18,000 licence records from the legacy supplier into the new system.

We created a data migration strategy that involved automated and manual checks of the data and data cleansing. A risk report detailed the most serious risks and the mitigating actions we’d take should anything go wrong.

Once the data was migrated, 15 research establishments with the most complex datasets were invited to check their data before we went live.

Switching on a better service

An image of a mocked up example of a licence in the new service
A mocked up example of a licence in the new service

The new service went live on time and the legacy system was turned off. There were no disruptions to the regulator’s operations with the new service going live over the weekend.

“The new system saves us so much time and is so much better. We are happy to pay even more fees to keep up this level of improvement and change!” Establishment licence holder at a major UK corporation

The service passed 3 government alpha assessments and is already delivering benefits including:

  • a 50% reduction in the number of iterations of draft project licence applications from 4.8 to 2.5, decreasing time and burden on senior staff assessing applications
  • a 50% reduction in the time taken by staff to process personal licence applications

“Overall this project and the work the team are doing is really impressive” Government service assessor

This service features in a blog post for the services in government blog.

Read more about this project

An image of a mocked up example of a licence in the new service
Unlocking the power of digital in UK biosciences

Get in touch

Whether you’re ready to start your project now or you just want to talk things through, we’d love to hear from you.

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