A year in the making – Newcastle Digital Delivery Centre

This is my last blog as Head of the Digital Centre and, as the year heads to a close, perhaps a good time for a look back over 2014. Has it really been almost a year since we started the journey in setting up the centre? Time really does fly, but what a journey it’s been.

I have to say HMRC are taking digital seriously. It is engrained in its overall strategy - a real digital transformation, and that’s what excited me about the role in the first place. Being able to make a difference on how HMRC delivers digital services to 50 million customers, and building a true agile and collaborative digital centre, is a role that doesn’t come around often.

I started way back in January this year with my ‘A-team’ to begin in earnest building, creating and designing the centre. We were literally starting from scratch, as if you were building a new digital start up. How exciting is that! Oh, and we had small challenge that it needed to be up and running in April!

My first thoughts were that I didn’t just want to create a functional place to ‘do’ digital. Installing desks and some white boards doesn’t make you agile or digital.

The vision and ethos was to:

  • Design, build and setup a completely new digital centre in Newcastle
  • Create an outstanding functional environment to build digital products and services centred around our customers
  • Create a true agile and collaborative working environment, and foster a great digital culture
  • Implement new modern, vibrant office space and design
  • Employ experienced talented people and commit to develop our in-house capability
  • Build a digital ‘Centre of Excellence’
  • But most of all make it a great place to work!

The journey so far…

Having to completely start from the beginning with new technology, new accommodation, new people, new processes – yes, new everything - was a challenge, but an exciting one.

We actually did complete the first phase of the centre in April. Hurray! I have to say many thanks to my mobilisation team who worked with me on this, you know who you are. It was a pretty crazy few months, but worth it!

We built an amazing environment in such a short time, and we had quite a few teams up and running too, actually building digital services in the middle of building the centre. I really believe we have created a digital environment that you won’t see in many private sector companies, never mind public sector.

It’s not just a development centre. We do everything from design and UX, development to user research. Yes that’s right, user research - we build digital services that the users really want and have had a say in how it’s being created.

We hired some great new talented people, and you may have read my previous recruitment-themed blogs throughout the year. But we’re also really committed to developing people who were already in HMRC that we brought into the centre. Most had little or no agile or digital experience, but had a wealth of experience and knowledge of HMRC, which is extremely valuable.

I am pleased to say that this group has truly excelled - some of them have been promoted and moved into such roles as Scrum Masters and Product Managers, and become outstanding advocates of digital and agile.

Seeing people change in such a positive way by giving them a great environment and working culture – one that allows them to grow and develop - makes this all worthwhile. I am extremely proud of these guys.

The amount of interest we have had from other departments and government agencies has been mind-blowing. I’ve almost had a second vocation as a tour guide! And of course, enjoyed doing it. Seeing people going away positive and invigorated about how they can implement what we do in their departments is great. Some have already booked further visits to bring others!

The centre is growing rapidly and we are now at over 225 people in less than a year! Incredible. All building and delivering digital services and we have had a few already gone live, and on time. An amazing effort and well done to everyone.

What may come as a surprise to some is that we are at the very forefront of new technology and are completely open source. We’re using technologies such as Scala, Selenium, Jenkins, Github, Jira and MongoDB amongst others. These are exciting tools and, yes, we really do agile properly - not Wagile or WaterScrum! Not what you would expect from public sector is it? HMRC are seriously leading the way. How many people can say they build digital products and services that effect up to 50 million customers?

The centre is still expanding, both in terms of accommodation and also people, and you may have seen the first blog from our new Digital Transformation Director – Mike Potter - on our latest round of recruitment. If you haven’t, then do check it out. We have hired great people and we’d love you to be one of them.

For me, I now hand over the digital centre. Looking back over the year, I can’t help feeling a great sense of personal achievement and what a significant highlight of my career this has been. But the biggest highlight is seeing what we’ve created - a real digital transformation and a great environment, but also with fantastic people. Hearing people talk about how much they enjoy working in the centre makes this the vision I had at the start come to life. I am very proud to have been part of this.

Thank you - Jason

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Michael posted on

    Jason, I have seen the centre and it's unlike anything in government it's brilliant. You can feel the difference just by walking in. We need you to do more of this, so hopefully other departments are speaking to you. Good Luck