Unlocking the power of digital in UK biosciences

Home Office

Overhauling a regulator’s digital operations boosted staff efficiency, and customer satisfaction from 47% to 78%

The challenge

In 2018, we replaced a legacy IT system for a body who licenses scientific research in the UK. After making our service live we were engaged again to add additional features.

Our original service allowed scientists to apply for licences online and the regulator to grant or refuse licences. New features requested included:

  • digitising licence assessment processes
  • digitising compliance processes, such as annual reporting used to produce government statistics
  • allowing advanced search of licences to support evidence-based policy-making
  • creating a dashboard with performance data for managers

Building safely on a live service


A photo of a workshop with service users
Running a workshop with stakeholders in the biosciences industry

As the service was live it was important we continued to maintain it and add new features in ways that weren’t disruptive to users.

Any bugs were reviewed as soon as they were raised and prioritised for fixing by the development team. In the meantime the research and design team explored how to incorporate new features into the working software.

In total we carried out over 270 research sessions as we designed, tested and iterated the new features before making them live.

Together with the regulator we agreed a communication strategy to keep licence holders informed of changes to the system. This included weekly emails and presenting at industry conferences.

"[The regulator] seems to have focused on customer service a lot more in the last two years, they listen to us and ask our views on things. The online service has been a major shift - the change has been expertly managed with lots of clear communications."" Feedback from a research establishment

Iterating on existing designs
Exploring ideas for improvements to the existing service

Upgrading people’s experience

A new feature allowing the regulator to forecast revenues
A new feature allowing the regulator to forecast revenues

The new features have given the regulator many benefits. These include being able to forecast revenues for the coming year or respond more quickly to critical COVID-19 issues, for example by searching for projects that use species thought to spread the virus. It has also been invaluable to staff working from home.

“For us as a business to be able to carry on [during COVID-19] is just incredible...I am not comfortable travelling and I would not have been able to do anything without [the new system] at all.” Inspector

User satisfaction has also increased substantially. A survey of scientific establishments who use the system showed:

  • satisfaction has increased from 47% in 2018 to 78% in 2020 – this includes a rise in those very satisfied from 5% to 33%
  • confidence in the regulator’s ability to provide an effective service has increased from 77% in 2018 to 85% in 2020 – this includes a rise in those very confident from 15% to 46%

The service is now an exemplar for large-scale digital transformations and features in a blog post for the services in government blog.

Read more about this project

An image of the homepage of the service
Rapidly replacing a legacy government system

Talk to us

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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