I’m Kelvyn Hipperson, HMRC’s Deputy Director of Workplace and Corporate Services. We’ve talked a lot through this blog about customer-facing digital initiatives like the Personal and Business Tax Accounts. What’s less well known is that we’re also building a digital workplace and it’s becoming the key enabler for the success of HMRC’s ambitious transformation programmes.
Like many government departments and large organisations we’ve had to work hard to keep up with the consumer world of IT. Only a few years ago we were just moving from XP to Windows 7. Large and complex projects were needed to update services like email and storage, and our devices were slow and completely locked down, making them hard to use.
So how have we gone about tapping into the benefits of consumer IT, whilst still ensuring that we continue to run our services safely and securely to deliver HMRC’s vital purpose? Well, very much like the rest of the digital revolution, a relentless focus on user need and an agile approach, but with more of a focus on devices, infrastructure and end-to-end services than code development.
Our first alpha was fairly typical. We trialled tablets for senior managers to enable paperless meetings and mobile access to email without the complicated dongles and PIN codes we used with our earlier, rather chunky laptops. The portability was great and some innovative ways of working were set up, but we had a real problem with app compatibility. So in the next iteration we stepped up to a 2 in 1 device.
With the slightly larger 2 in 1 tablet format, suddenly we had a device that could be used as a tablet in paperless meetings, laptop mode for fully productive work when on the go and, when plugged into a docking station, was a more capable desktop than the rest of our existing estate. This was the real game changer. Our pitch moved from just providing senior leaders and field workers with the new 2 in 1 devices, to being able to use them to transform the ways of working for everyone in HMRC.
The smartphone is another example of where consumer tech has opened up a range of possibilities beyond the closed business world of locked down devices, corporate apps and long development cycles. All major smartphone platforms offer ways of managing access to corporate apps alongside app stores and cloud services, and support mobile working. We’ve kept abreast and have just finished a successful smartphone trial which we’ll be rolling out across HMRC over the next few months. But it’s where our users are finding and sharing good ideas without formal projects, release schedules or training programmes that’s showing everyone the way forward.
Collaborative ways of working
Apart from the devices, we’re using advances in collaboration capabilities to make teamwork a genuine group activity again, with the added benefit that everyone doesn’t have to be in the same location. Take a typical business process in which various documents or electronic content are received, they’re usually passed around by email or messaging service, stored centrally with different people carrying out sequential process steps. Crucially, the gaps between the steps can take anything from a few hours to weeks or even months.
Repetitive processes can of course be automated and that’s just what we’re doing with robotics and AI. But a lot of what we do in HMRC is knowledge-based and relies on the skills and experience of our staff. Collaboration applications provide the means to use all that brainpower, with simultaneous group review and editing of documents, monthly performance meetings with shared data, video conferencing and instant messaging. Collaboration and flexible working are the key themes for our business transformation programmes and optimising the places we work and this is where our new regional centres come in.
Looking to the future
We’re bringing together everyone in HMRC into 13 modern regional centres, five specialist sites and six transitional sites in one of the largest office property programmes in the UK. Several of the sites will also be government hubs, working alongside other departments such as NHS Digital in Leeds.
The offices are being equipped to provide working environments to maximise the opportunities for flexible, collaborative working. Very high bandwidth, resilient networks, ubiquitous Wi-Fi and audio/video capabilities that use the same collaboration toolset as all our other devices mean a consistent user experience anywhere and on any device is fast becoming a reality. Video content is also expected to grow exponentially, again mirroring the consumer experience of video streaming services as the norm for finding answers to anything from simple IT problems to complex research.
For me, the really exciting part of the story is that all this is just the beginning. The real prize is to redesign the whole of our organisation, its processes and ways of working. Using all the elements I’ve described, we can deliver the full potential of the digital workplace and become one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.
Kelvyn Hipperson, Deputy Director of Workplace & Corporate Services
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