Open source and automation deliver essential support during a crisis
The Department for Work and Pensions
COVID-19 had a huge impact around the world, and the UK was no exception. While many local government support networks closed down in response to the global pandemic, millions of people in the UK lost their jobs or had their incomes reduced. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)—the largest UK central government department—needed a more distributed infrastructure to support the processing of benefit claims.
DWP Digital was processing more than ten times the normal traffic across its infrastructure, as millions of citizens were relying on them for financial assistance; it was critical to keep all systems operational. DWP worked with RedHat to help build a platform to host their strategic API service that enabled process automation through a series of connected APIs. With the help of Red Hat technologies, expertise, and services, DWP Digital was able to manage the sharp increase in Universal Credit benefit claims for those who had lost their job, in addition to providing retirement pensions, bereavement benefits, and Universal Credit for low-income households.
DWP acts as a safety net for UK citizens, a position put under immense strain at the start of the COVID-19 crisis when lockdown measures were introduced. Around three million people lost their jobs in the early period of the pandemic, including younger adults with families who were struggling to meet their most basic needs. DWP needed to speed up processes to provide that critical support in a timely manner.
Key to achieving this was ensuring that DWP Digital could access and share data easily across its internal systems with other government departments and third-party private sector partners, such as utility companies or local authorities. The pandemic caused a surge of more than ten times the normal processing requests, so DWP needed automation and scaled services to ensure that claims processing ran smoothly and efficiently, despite the spike in volume.
Identity verification for new claims was crucial; people were no longer able to walk into a local office to prove their identity. DWP Digital needed reliable systems that could verify identification quickly to ensure that citizens received essential support.
With Red Hat’s help, DWP Digital developed a plan to create an ecosystem that allowed data to be shared with other government departments and third-party partners without sacrificing security and compliance. Its strategy was to build an API event-driven architecture, with DWP at its core. Specifically, it needed to remove the need for citizens to present physical proof of identity in person, and so set about developing a system that could automate numerous processes through a series of connected APIs.
The department chose a suite of Red Hat open source products that enabled collaboration and flexibility. Building in the open empowered DWP Digital to experiment and use the best proposed solutions for any given situation, allowing staff to access market expertise quickly while also using its own engineering expertise. Having previously used Red Hat Enterprise Linux® and being familiar with Red Hat’s capabilities, the solution’s enterprise support made it the obvious choice.
DWP Digital deployed Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform within its DevOps tooling. This created pipelines for deployment, production, and other environments. It also enabled self-service functionality around the various new services created.
DWP and Red Hat are innovating together. We’ve created a co-located team to work closely in a single team. It goes beyond just a vendor and customer relationship. We’re experimenting and creating the platform together. This has been groundbreaking work is also a key enabler to us accelerating delivering our transformation.
DWP Digital’s collaboration with Red Hat has yielded impressive results. Service automation for processes, including monitoring and logging, has significantly reduced development time. It also removed the need to build common components repeatedly and increased the quality of cross-team communication.
Working with Red Hat Consulting also accelerated DWP Digital’s ability to create communities of practice around finding open source solutions to challenges. Red Hat’s expert consultants encouraged a more collaborative, shared experience across the Integration Product Delivery Unit at DWP Digital, breaking down silos, promoting collaboration and experimentation, and sharing reusable assets.
This broad cooperation inspired a series of ‘hackathons’ focused on pooling external engineers and those in DWP and other government departments. DWP Digital was quickly able to identify opportunities to improve processes, paring down the time needed to move code safely into production from nine hours to just 15 minutes. This resulted in delivering vastly improved claims-processing and turnaround times. At the height of the pandemic, despite the huge spike in claims, citizens could access the funds they needed to help support their basic needs including paying housing costs and food for their families.
The process has also enabled DWP to become a trusted source of data across the government. Other government departments rely on it to deliver additional services to support UK citizens.
The joint partnership between DWP and Red Hat has helped us and made our transformation succeed at pace. We’ve changed how we work and have solved some of our skill gaps; this has enabled us to transform quickly.
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