IBM Consulting with the Department for Work and Pensions

Performance Improvement in the Public Sector

Reopening the Apply for National Insurance number service for the UK

The pandemic has had a far-reaching global impact, putting enormous pressure on public services, creating an urgent need for remote working. This drove organisations to drastically rethink how traditionally face-to-face services are delivered, offering opportunities to both improve the citizen experience and service performance. The team adopted experience-led methods, engaging over 1,100 users and stakeholders throughout the delivery, creating opportunities for citizens and operational staff to refine the service.

The Apply for National Insurance number service is a critical service that provides new citizens with a National Insurance number, essential to individuals seeking employment and wider services. The pandemic brought the service, previously depending on face-to-face appointments, to a standstill in March 2020 to protect the safety of citizens and staff. This created a backlog of applications, impacting half a million citizens. To reopen the service, DWP needed to develop and implement rapid change, mobilising new infrastructure, engaging users and creating a remote delivery model across DWP and partner teams.

DWP and IBM partnered to redesign the service, bringing industry and technical experience into a joint multi-disciplinary team of experience design, research, cloud development, DevOps and business specialists. DWP and IBM’s one-team approach and shared vision, with embedded operations experts, enabled great collaboration across organisations at all levels. The joint team redesigned the service in eight weeks, replacing clerical face-to-face processes with a new digital service. This unblocked the service with 90% of applicants no longer requiring an appointment, whilst improving customer and employee experience with an 81% customer satisfaction score and created a model to deliver considerable operational savings.

Recognising the need to deliver fast, the joint team quickly identified and delivered the critical elements of the service, enabling fast delivery of essential features before incrementally expanding the service to build a more advanced experience. Rapid change and performance improvement was achieved through tight collaboration across business and digital stakeholders. Agile delivery methods and DevOps automation created a foundation for rapid delivery and agility, enabling value to be continuously and incrementally released. The re-design transformed the service performance by enabling citizens to self-serve online with concise easily understood guidance, creating an immediate 57% reduction in time taken to complete applications while avoiding customer travel.

Over 1,100 citizens and employees participated in the design, adopting qualitative and quantitative research methods including interviews, usability testing and data analytics to understand needs and behaviours, feeding the experience design. By iteratively testing concepts with users, putting feedback and analytics at the centre of the design, the team steered each iteration of the service to build on the user experience.

Working together to quickly reopen a COVID-interrupted service, the new digital service was launched within eight weeks. Since launch, the team has released service enhancements every 2 weeks introducing continuous performance improvement while rapidly reacting to changing needs in a volatile COVID climate. Each release was targeted to enable the move away from outdated legacy systems and to recognise significant savings through automation, bringing rapid incremental value and improvement to service performance.

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